September 21-27 is mental health awareness week. So I thought this was a good time to pen some thoughts I’ve been turning on the subject. Especially as so many of us are finding this year especially hard to deal with and make sense of.

Mental health is defined as a ‘person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being’ – and this is any person, all persons – not just those suffering from clinical depression.

In many societies, mental health is something we never talk about, because it’s equated to mental illness. On the contrary, mental health is a human being’s (or any being’s really) emotional and psychological standing.

Mental health is an integral part of living a healthy, balanced life. It includes not just a person’s physiological and emotional well-being but also social well-being. Therefore mental health impacts the way anyone feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts on a daily basis.

This is something many of us have struggled with during 2020 and the Coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and social distancing measures – as well as life as we knew it coming to a complete standstill – has had a significant impact on how we interact with others, how we work, study, play, and so on. While the changes in how we do these things have opened up new avenues to do things differently and efficiently, change is also never easy – especially when there’s so much of it happening at once, mixed in with worry and anxiety. So it is understandable and acceptable to feel sad, stressed, worried, confused, angry and a myriad of other negative emotions – at any time – but especially in the time of a global health emergency.

Taking care of your emotional and mental health is important because it impacts your productivity and effectiveness in life, work, school, etc. “It plays an important part in the health of your relationships, and allows you to adapt to changes in your life and cope with adversity.” So taking care of our mental health is as important as taking care of our physical health.

I’ve siphoned a few suggestions made by the mental health foundation UK, on how we can take care of our emotional wellbeing, and added one or two of my own as well:

  1. Talk about your feeling – But choose someone near and dear to you, someone who you know loves you and accepts you completely – be it a family member or a close friend. It’s a given that you can’t and shouldn’t bare your soul to anyone and everyone.
  2. Keep active – Experts say that exercise releases the feel-good chemicals in your brain. It also helps you feel good, relax, and sleep better.
  3. Eat well – eat a well-balanced meal. While chocolate has been known to be consumed in large quantities when one is feeling down, excess chocolate actually does the opposite of making us feel better.  So eat sensibly
  4. Keep hydrated – drink plenty of water. Drink (alcohol) sensibly
  5. Practice gratefulness – think of something you are grateful for every day
  6. Connect with people – talk to your friends and family as often as possible. Thanks to modern technology this is hardly a task and costs you next to nothing. So keep in touch, have a laugh, reminisce… If you are not in a lockdown state and can actually meet people face-to-face, then meet up for lunch or a coffee with a friend. Invite people over for a cuppa. We need human connection, so take steps to connect with the people in your life.
  7. Ask for help – Don’t try to do everything alone, ask for help.
  8. Take a break – A change of scenery is good for your mental health, even if it’s a five-minute break from whatever you are doing. Take a walk during your lunch hour, feed the ducks, enjoy the sun, and stretch your legs,  have a tea/coffee break when you need one, just give yourself some ‘me time’ several times a day in several small doses.
  9. Do something you are good at, something you love, something you enjoy immensely.
  10. Do something for someone else – This one is a good one. Doing any small random act of kindness for someone else always makes someone else happy while also making our selves happy. It’s a win-win.

Expanding a little more on that last point. I was thinking of a few ways that I can be kind to someone else; whether it’s a random person I meet, a colleague, friend, or family member. Here are a few simple ideas I’ve thought of; none of them are groundbreaking but just things I thought would make me feel happy if someone did for me.

  1. Let someone take your place in line
  2. Pay it forward when you buy your next coffee
  3. Slow down so someone can merge in front of you
  4. Give someone your seat on a crowded bus/train/waiting room etc.
  5. Help someone struggling to carry their groceries
  6. Offer to return the grocery trolley to the trolley bay
  7. Say something encouraging to a parent struggling with a vociferous toddler
  8. Pay someone an unexpected but genuine compliment
  9. Listen – really listen when someone is talking. Even if that’s all you can do for them. Just be there, and lend a shoulder.
  10. Put together a small pose of flowers from your garden and leave on a co-worker’s desk, your neighbors door-step, etc. You can also add an encouraging note to it if you like
  11. Volunteer your time to help out at various charity organizations or events happening in your community
  12. Talk to a stranger at a party/gathering who looks like they don’t know anyone
  13. Smile at people and say good morning/afternoon/evening
  14. Take some home-baked goodies to your local hospital/fire station/police station etc. just to encourage them to keep doing a good job – because let’s face it sometimes these jobs are thankless.
  15. Wave good morning to your neighbor
  16. Create a ‘free library’ cart/shelf/box for your neighborhood and put book sin for your neighbors to borrow, and invite them to do some of theirs
  17. Make a double batch of cookies/cupcakes – whatever you are baking and take some to work/to your neighbor
  18. Call you mom and dad just for a chat
  19. Tell your friend how much you appreciate them and your friendship
  20. Give a friend a book you think they would enjoy
  21. Write a sweet, loving, and encouraging note to your child and put it in their bag/lunchbox (of course, your child needs to be able to read for this to work 😀 – if he/she is still pre-literate tell him/her how much you love them and give them a great big hug. It’s amazing how well they understand that)

So there you go a very short list of random things we can all do every day for others around us and ultimately for ourselves. There are about a gazillion more am sure…

However sometimes when we can’t get ourselves out of the melancholy, we do need to talk to someone who can help us. This doesn’t mean that you are weak or that you are diagnosed as clinical. It just means that we are human and we all need some extra help sometimes. I know there is still a stigma in many societies when it comes to getting psychological help, and this judgment is what keeps those who really need that extra help from reaching out for it – it’s what can lead someone to take some drastic measures to rid themselves of the dark cloud.

So, if you were someone who has looked at mental health and related issues with some negativity, take a moment and be kind. We don’t know what someone is going through, so we are in no position to judge, belittle, or brush off another person’s emotions and needs.

P.S. I saw this photo and it spurred on another bout of thing I wanted to say – the male of our species is as human as their female counterparts. They have the same emotions, they get sad, they get hurt, they need love and support too. So don’t shame your sons, brothers, husbands, male comrades for shedding a tear or feeling their feelings. Please be kind, be a true friend, a loving parent, a supportive sibling, a caring spouse, a kind random bystander… Leave the old way of thinking where it belongs – in the past… Boys are human too!

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