May is the international Mental Health Awareness Month, and as such, this post will be dedicated towards sharing a few tips on how I personally try to maintain positive mental health. It is important to note that as I write this, I have had the privilege of not suffering from any clinical mental illnesses. This post is written from the perspective of someone who struggles with mental health but not mental illness.
In the past, I’ve run into trouble trying to balance my anxiety and stress, which habitually rise as midterms, finals, and assignments near. Although it’s natural for our bodies to release stress hormones as a self-defence mechanism, it can sometimes be very overwhelming, and for me at least, they have caused panic attacks before. Through talking to peers and seeking counselling, I have found a few tactics that have helped me manage my mental health. I hope that through sharing my experiences, I can inspire and motivate you to find ways of balancing your own health as well.
To start, it’s important to recognize that everyone has their own unique experience with mental health. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental health “is a state of wellbeing, and we all have it”. Although some people may suffer from mental illness, we are, to an extent, still able to influence our mental health. Nonetheless, here are the two methods that I employ on a regular basis to try and better manage my mental health:
- Physical Exercise
Research has shown a positive relationship between regular physical activity and improved mental health. There have been documented improvements in things such as anxiety, depression, and reductions in day-to-day stresses in people who exercise frequently. This is due to the body’s natural response to physical exercise, which prompts the body to release endorphins (chemicals that help you relax and feel more pleasure) and it also reduces the amount of cortisol (“stress hormone) in your body. General physical activity helps to increase the heart rate and causes the brain to produce things like dopamine and serotonin, which are chemicals that help encourage you to be happy.
Here are a few tips to help you get started with physical activity.
- Start easy. Start with something simple and enjoyable. Go for a light walk around the neighborhood if you’re new to exercise, and slowly increase the pace and duration.
- Grab a friend. Doing exercise with a friend or with a partner can make things more enjoyable. In addition, the social connection that is created, can be another way of improving your mental wellbeing. It also creates accountability and reduces the chances of missing a workout.
- Create a schedule. Setting aside specific times to exercise and workout creates accountability. It also eases working out into your schedule and allows you to build it into a habit. Creating space in your schedule to take time for yourself is very refreshing. It forces you to take a step away from the stresses in your life, and gives you an opportunity to focus in on your own mental wellbeing.
- Practicing Mindful Meditation
Mindful meditation has been growing as a practice recently, and there have been more studies suggesting the positive impact that it has on mental health. The practice itself is quite simple – you sit somewhere, focus on your breathing, and bring your attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. Some people meditate for several hours a day, while others just do a few minutes. There is no specific requirement for this, and everyone is welcome to meditate for as long or short as they would like. This practice has been seen to have very positive effects for people who suffer from anxiety, as there are often many different thoughts that can impact a person’s concentration and mental wellbeing. As such, conducting mindful meditation on a regular basis can help people reduce the negative impact of their distracting thoughts, and it can help guide people in sorting through their own worries, thus reducing their anxiety.
A few tips on getting started.
- It might be a bit awkward if you have never done this before, but give it some time. Sitting in silence and focusing on your breathing is not something we do regularly, and it can take some time to get used to it.
- There are many different applications and online guides that you can use to help guide you through the meditation process. Here are a few:
- http://www.mindfulness-solution.com (A free resource created by Dr. Ronald Siegal, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School) It provides guides and other recordings to help you through your meditation.
- Headspace (A free application with purchasable upgrades created by Andy Puddicombe and Richard Pierson. Puddicombe was a former Buddist Monk, and Pierson was the creator of the application) This is a collection of recordings and guides that help you through your meditation as well.
These are a few things that I use on a daily basis to try and help maintain a positive mental state. I do admit that they were a bit tricky to get used to at the start, but they have helped me to maintain a positive mental state in times of great stress, especially during midterm and finals season. I hope that they are able to help you, too. But, of course, if you feel as though you are suffering from a serious mental illness, I would strongly suggest seeking professional help. Here are a few valuable resources:
- In an emergency, always call 911 and seek immediate professional medical assistance.
- Access and Assessment Centre (AAC) is a clinic that provides services to help those suffering from mental health illness. Their hotline is 604-675-3700.
- British Columbia’s Provincial Crisis Center hotline is 1-800-784-2433 which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Kids Help Phone is immediate support that children can access if needed. Their number is 1-800-668-6868
Written by: Nicholas Yu
My name is Nicholas Yu (he, him, and his). I am one of the blog writers for CheckYourHead. I grew up in Hong Kong and came to Vancouver for school. My aim with my writing is to be able share my experiences with various topics in hopes that my stories will be able to empower and motivate youth.
*All views expressed in this blog post belong to the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CYH.