This guide provides you with tips on how to look after your mental health.
Mental health is about the way you think and feel and your ability to deal with ups and downs. Being mentally healthy doesn’t just mean that you don’t have a mental health problem.
We all have times when we feel down, stressed or frightened. Most of the time those feelings pass, but sometimes they develop into a more serious problem, and this could happen to any one of us.
Read 'How to look after your mental health'
It’s important to take care of yourself and get the most from life. Below are 10 practical ways to look after your mental health. Making simple changes to how you live doesn’t need to cost a fortune or take up loads of time. Anyone can follow this advice. Why not start today?
Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled.
Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy.
Talking can be a way to cope with a problem you’ve been carrying around in your head for a while. Just being listened to can help you feel supported and less alone. And it works both ways. If you open up, it might encourage others to do the same.
It’s not always easy to describe how you’re feeling. If you can’t think of one word, use lots. What does it feel like inside your head? What does it make you feel like doing?
You don't need to sit your loved ones down for a big conversation about your wellbeing. Many people feel more comfortable when these conversations develop naturally - maybe when you're doing something together.
If it feels awkward at first, give it time. Make talking about your feelings something that you do.
Experts believe exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep and feel better.
Exercise also keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy.
“I get a huge buzz from my rock ’n’ roll class. Hours later, my legs ache, but I’m still smiling.”
Exercising doesn’t just mean doing sport or going to the gym. Walks in the park, gardening or housework can also keep you active.
Experts say most people should do about 30 minutes’ exercise at least five days a week.
Try to make physical activity that you enjoy a part of your day.
“It’s increased my confidence, as I’ve proved to myself that I can do things, and I’m also much fitter. We always have a lot of fun.”
There are strong links between what we eat and how we feel, for example, caffeine and sugar can have an immediate effect.
But food can also have a long-lasting effect on your mental health. Your brain needs a mix of nutrients to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body.
A diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health.
A healthy balanced diet includes:
- lots of different types of fruit and vegetables
- wholegrain cereals or bread
- nuts and seeds
- dairy products
- oily fish
- plenty of water.
Eat at least three meals each day and drink plenty of water. Try to limit how many high-caffeine or sugary drinks you have, and avoid too much alcohol.
Please Note: The advice on this page may not apply if your doctor or dietician have given you specific dietary advice, e.g. if you are a kidney patient or a diabetic.
We often drink alcohol to change our mood. Some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only temporary.
When the drink wears off, you feel worse because of the way alcohol withdrawal symptoms affect your brain and the rest of your body. Drinking is not a good way to manage difficult feelings.
Apart from the damage too much alcohol can do to your body, you would need more and more alcohol each time to feel the same short-term boost. There are healthier ways of coping with tough times.
Occasional light drinking is perfectly healthy and enjoyable for most people.
Stay within the recommended weekly alcohol limits:
- 14 units a week for both men and women
Many people also smoke or use drugs or other substances to change how they feel. But, again, the effects are short-lived. Just like alcohol, the more you use, the more you crave. Nicotine and drugs don’t deal with the causes of difficult feelings. They don’t solve problems, they create them.
Strong family ties and supportive friends can help you deal with the stresses of life. Friends and family can make you feel included and cared for. They can offer different views from whatever’s going on inside your own head. They can help keep you active, keep you grounded and help you solve practical problems.
There’s nothing better than catching up with someone face-to-face. But that’s not always possible. Give them a call, drop them a note or chat to them online instead. Keep the lines of communication open. It’s good for you!
If you’re feeling out of touch with some people, look back at our section on talking about your feelings and get started!
“Just chilling out with friends relaxes me. We have a laugh and I feel good.”
It’s worth working at relationships that make you feel loved or valued. But if you think being around someone is damaging your mental health, it may be best to take a break from them or call it a day completely. It’s possible to end a relationship in a way that feels ok for both of you.
It can be hard to cope when someone close to you dies or you lose them another way. Counselling for bereavement or loss can help you explore your feelings.
None of us are superhuman. We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel or when things go wrong. If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help.
Your family or friends may be able to offer practical help or a listening ear. Local services are there to help you.
For example, you could:
- join a support group to help you make changes to your life
- find a counsellor to help you deal with your feelings or make a fresh start
- call the council about noise nuisance
- visit a Citizens Advice Bureau if you want advice on debt.
Your GP may be able to refer you to a counsellor. You should consider getting help from your GP if difficult feelings are:
- stopping you getting on with life
- having a big impact on the people you live or work with
- affecting your mood over several weeks.
Over a third of visits to GPs are about mental health. Your GP may suggest ways you or your family can help you. Or they may refer you to a specialist or another part of the health service.
A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. It could be a five-minute pause from cleaning your kitchen, a half-hour lunch break at work or a weekend exploring somewhere new.
A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you. Give yourself some ‘me time’.
“Sometimes when I’m sitting on the bus, I let my thoughts flow and it really helps me.”
Taking a break may mean being very active. It may mean not doing very much at all.
Take a deep breath… and relax. Try yoga or meditation, or just putting your feet up.
Listen to your body. If you’re really tired, give yourself time to sleep. Without good sleep, our mental health suffers and our concentration goes downhill. Sometimes the world can wait.
What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? What did you love doing in the past?
Enjoying yourself helps beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it and achieving something boosts your self-esteem.
Concentrating on a hobby like gardening or the crossword can help you forget your worries for a while and change your mood.
“I’m learning the guitar. You have to really concentrate on getting it right so there’s no room in my head for worries.”
It can be good to have an interest where you’re not seen as someone’s mum or dad, partner or employee. You’re just you.
An hour of sketching lets you express yourself creatively. A morning on the football pitch gets you active and gives you the chance to meet new people.
Some of us make people laugh, some are good at maths, others cook fantastic meals. Some of us share our lifestyle with the people who live close to us, others live very differently.
We’re all different. It’s much healthier to accept that you’re unique than to wish you were more like someone else.
Feeling good about yourself boosts your confidence to learn new skills, visit new places and make new friends.
Good self-esteem helps you cope when life takes a difficult turn.
“Being happy with who I am now means I enjoy living in the moment.”
Be proud of who you are. Recognise and accept what you are not good at, but focus on what you can do well.
Work out if there’s anything about yourself that you still want to change. Are your expectations realistic? If they are, work towards the change in small steps.
Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together.
Why not share your skills more widely by volunteering for a local charity? Helping out can make us feel needed and valued and that boosts our self-esteem.
“Friends are really important… We help each other whenever we can, so it’s a two-way street and supporting them uplifts me.”
It also helps us see the world from another angle. That can help to put our own problems in perspective.
Find out more about volunteering at www.do-it.org.uk.
Caring for a pet can improve your wellbeing too. The bond between you and your pet can be as strong as between people. Looking after a pet can bring structure to your day and act as a link to other people. Lots of people make friends by chatting to fellow dog walkers.