Anxiety, mental health and taking good care of you
When you hear the words “mental health”, what comes to mind? Anxiety, stress, psychology?
In this blog, we will look into what mental health is and also look a little deeper into anxiety.
It is amazing how much our mental and emotional health can impact on our physical bodies. Our mental health or emotions can manifest in other ways, such as headaches, back pain or that feeling of a twisted tummy.
I recently completed studies in emergency first aid, and was fascinated to hear how important it is to provide emotional support and comfort in emergency situations. It can help our blood pressure slow down, our heart rate settle and put the body in a better state of rest, which can help calm down an arterial bleed, for example.
I had always thought it was useful to calm down those in a state of shock, but had never thought of the significant impact that emotional support could have on the physical state. Isn’t it amazing!
These findings and thoughts have lead me to this blog post on mental health and specifically, anxiety.
So, what does “mental health” refer to?
The World Health Organisation (2007) describes mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
A person who is in good mental health will feel in control of their emotions, have positive interactions with others and have good cognitive functioning (Mental Health First Aid Manual, 2013).
Depression and anxiety disorders are the more common forms of mental illness. About one in five Australians have experienced a common mental illness at some point within a 12 month period (2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing).
What is anxiety?
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “anxiety” I start thinking of heart palpitations and the giddiness that it can sometimes bring!
Everybody experiences anxiety at one point or another, in some form. Words to describe anxiety can include frazzled, worried, nervous, uptight or tense.
Anxiety can come about from perceived threats in the environment. The severity can vary, from mild uneasiness to intense panic attacks.
Anxiety is considered a problem if it is more severe, longer lasting and interferes with a person’s relationships, work and other activities.
Signs and symptoms
Here are some of the physical, psychological and behavioural signs and symptoms of anxiety. This is not a comprehensive list, so if you would like to learn more about these, check out the websites listed a bit later on in the post.
Some of the physical signs of anxiety can include chest pain, rapid heartbeat, headaches, sweating, shortness of breath and/or stomach pains.
A few psychological symptoms of anxiety can include an excessive worry and fear about past or future events, a racing mind, going blank, diminished concentration levels, impatience or confusion.
Some of the behavioural signs of anxiety can include avoidance of situations, increased alcohol or drug use or obsessive behaviours.
There are also different types of anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. But, rather than delve deeper into all the different types, let’s explore how we can take good care of ourselves and take a proactive approach to our mental health.
Proactive steps toward good mental health
Before we chat about strategies to stay mentally healthy, should you feel you’d like to chat to someone about your mental health, please take a look at the contact details provided further down. I’d certainly encourage you to speak up and connect with the services available to help you.
OKAY! Let’s put our best foot forward in terms of maintaining good mental health. Please note, these strategies are tried and tested and recommended by trusted organisations such as Headspace.
Stay connected with your friends and family
Isolation is not a healthy practice. Sometimes we might feel like we just want to hide away for a while when we feel a bit sad or down in the dumps, believing that then we will come back refreshed and better. However, it is important to keep connections and have supports throughout these times. We are social creatures, created to live in community and connection. Booking in catch-ups ahead of time can help you stay connected as well.
Do something nice for someone else
Take the focus off yourself and think about something nice you can do for someone else. It could be buying your colleague a coffee, writing a card for a friend, or taking a loved one out for lunch.
Set small fun goals to achieve
Build your confidence by setting yourself a small goal, at first. For example, read that book you’ve been wanting to read for ages, knit a scarf or learn to cook a new dish.
Eat healthy foods
Nourish your body with the foods it needs to function well. Eating junk foods may give us a moment of pleasure, but are more likely to make us feel more tired and lethargic than if we ate fresh healthier options, such as fruit and veggies.
Stay in the present moment
Bring yourself back into the moment when you notice yourself drifting into the past or worrying about something that could happen in the future. Take a few slow breaths, focus on the smells around you and take a look at your your surroundings to help you.
Have a good, trusted friend or family member to chat through difficult emotions or situations
Have someone to de-brief with when you’ve had a hard day or are going through a difficult time. It could be your mum, dad, a close friend, relative or a counsellor.
At the end of each day, write three things that you are grateful for. Even if there weren’t strikingly obvious things to be thankful for, think up even the little things that made you smile or made your life easier that day. Maybe you received a loving text from a friend, or you relaxed and watched one of your favourite movies. It is the practice of recognising things to be thankful for that starts getting you into a habit and feeling more thankful and peaceful.
Other helpful tips:
- Prioritise a good night’s sleep each night
- Practice some breathing exercises, meditate, and/or pray
- Exercise regularly (such as going for walks or going to a class e.g. yoga, pilates)
- Be kind and accepting of yourself
- Learn from others experiences of anxiety and how they managed it
Who can you contact?
If you’d like to get in touch with someone to have a chat about your mental health, a number of health professionals can assist, including GPs, psychologists, counsellors and psychiatrists.
I would encourage you to not be afraid to speak to your GP. They may refer you to speak with a psychologist. I have previously attended a few sessions with a psychologist in my early 20s and found it to be a positive, interesting and beneficial experience.
There is also Lifeline available should you ever need someone to chat through some emotions or concerns with on 13 11 14.
Visit these websites for more resources:
Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia: www.mifa.org.au
Black Dog Institute: www.blackdoginstitute.org.au
Beyond Blue: www.beyondblue.org.au
Mind Australia: www.mindaustralia.org.au
Kitchener BA, Jorm AF, Kelly CM. Mental Health First Aid Manual. 3rd ed. Melbourne: Mental Health First Aid Australia; 2013.
World Health Organisation. Mental Health: Strengthening Mental Health Promotion (Fact Sheet No 220). Geneva: WHO; 2007.
Want to read more? Here’s some extra blogs I’ve written on mental health:
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