Some benefits of good mental health are obvious, like being able to enjoy our daily lives and relationships. But we sometimes take other aspects of good mental health for granted.
What exactly is mental health?
Mental health has to do with our state of mind, and refers to our psychological, emotional, and social well-being. Our state of mental health influences how we think, feel, and act. It also affects how we cope with stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health, like physical health, is important at every stage of our lives, right from our childhood and adolescence to adulthood.
People sometimes use the term ‘mental health’ to mean the absence of a mental illness. Even though the two terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same thing. We can experience poor mental health without actually having a mental illness. In the same way, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can still experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.
But just because we don’t have a mental illness doesn’t mean we can take our mental health for granted. To have good mental health, we often need to make a conscious effort.
How important is mental health?
The importance of mental health is something we often overlook, even though our mental health can affect the quality of our daily lives, relationships, and even our physical health. It also works the other way around: our relationships, physical health and other aspects of our lives can impact our mental health. Issues like stress, depression, and anxiety can all affect mental health and disrupt our lives.
Your mental health is also important because it can affect your physical health. For example, mental disorders can raise your risk for physical health problems such as stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Consciously caring for our mental health can help us appreciate and enjoy life. But doing this means striking a balance between the various aspects of our lives: our desires, responsibilities, achievements, losses and more, and which often takes effort.
Mental health is important because it affects how we:
- Cope with the stresses of life
- Take care of our physical health
- Approach our relationships
- Contribute to society
- Work productively
- Realize our potential
Benefits of good mental health
Just like good physical health, good mental health lets us enjoy our life, our environment, and our relationships. When we are mentally healthy, we can be creative, learn, try new things, and take risks.
One of the most important benefits of good mental health is that it lets us cope with difficult times in our personal and professional lives. Even when we feel pain, confusion and anger at the death of a loved one, a setback at work or problems in our relationships, good mental health lets us deal with these things in time, and allows us to start enjoying our life again.
Another benefit of good mental health is that it can help us prevent or fight mental health problems often caused by chronic physical illness. In some cases, it can even prevent the onset or relapse of a physical or mental illness. Managing stress well, for instance, can have a positive impact on heart disease. Too much stress can also cause decreased concentration and memory, confusion, loss of sense of humor, anger, irritability, and fear, and good mental health helps prevent excessive stress.
In short, the benefits of good mental health are many, such as (but not limited to)
- Reduced anxiety
- Improved moods
- Clearer thinking
- A greater sense of inner peace
- Increased self-esteem
- Reduced risk of depression
- Improved relationships
Habits to improve mental health
Taking care of our mental health may sound like a big task, but there are many small habits that we can include in our daily routines that do just that. In fact, many of us may already be doing these things without realizing that they contribute to good mental health.
Here are a few things that each of us can do to stay in good mental health.
1. Get plenty of sleep
Sleep allows our body to rest and our mind to reset, getting ready for the next day. Sleep also lets our subconscious mind process the day’s experiences and store them as memories. Lastly, sleep can affect our mood. If we aren’t getting enough sleep, we can easily become irritable, have trouble with memory or with thinking clearly, and constantly feel tired. Both our physical and mental health rely of getting enough sleep.
2. Eat healthy
Healthy eating habits aren’t just important for our physical well-being. Eating healthy foods that are full of vital nutrients help us deal with stress and allow our nervous system to function well, so that we can be both mentally and physically healthy.
3. Get plenty of exercise
Along with eating healthy, exercise can also improve our overall mood and help us fight anxiety and depression. Because our body produces the mood-uplifting hormones serotonin and dopamine during exercise, we usually feel happier and more content after a round of exercise.
4. Connect with others
Humans are a social species, and social interaction plays a big part in our lives. Connecting with other people, whether it’s family or friends, can help us fight the stress that has become a part of our everyday lives. Volunteering for a cause or doing something for the larger community can be even more beneficial for your mood and overall mental health.
5. Consciously relax
One of the ways to fight the stress that tends to build up in our mind is by training it to relax consciously. Not only does this fight stress, it also lowers blood pressure and helps ease muscle tension. Deep breathing and meditation are just two of the many techniques you can use to consciously relax.
6. Practice gratitude
It’s easy for us to focus on the negative aspects in our lives and let them overwhelm us. But each of us have things to be grateful for, and consciously remembering those things goes a long way in helping us stay more positive. Writing down the things we are grateful for and reviewing the list each day is a great way to keep a positive outlook towards life.
Why mental health awareness is important
Awareness of mental health is more important now than ever before. The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a whole host of mental health issues, and the first step to dealing with them is awareness.
Anyone can struggle with mental health, whether it’s someone in our family, our neighbour, our co-worker or our children’s teacher. Sadly, many of us who are dealing with mental health issues don’t seek help, mainly because of the stigma attached to mental health.
Even though the perception of mental health has improved in recent years, the stigma against mental illness is still powerful. People tend to attach negative stigmas to mental health conditions far more than to physical diseases and disabilities like heart disease or cancer. Stigma and misinformation can feel like overwhelming obstacles if we are struggling with a mental health condition.
That’s why, the more we know about mental health, the more power we have to help ourselves and those around us. Better mental health awareness increases the chances that we or someone we know can seek help early, and help us or them recover more quickly.