October is Mental Health Month and today, 10 October is World Mental Health Day.
Last year, we focussed on the impact the pandemic was having on our mental health, particularly after the recent catastrophic bushfires – and flood.
Here we are, one year later and, for many people, the past year has only compounded their stress, anxiety and/or fear of an uncertain future. We know from recent data that Australians are reporting a significant increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety related to the pandemic and its flow-on effects.
Many people are still without a home or sense of community after the fires or floods tore their lives apart. It would be a challenge for anyone to cope with so many cumulative traumas.
Other people have found the disruption to their routines of work, play and family lives have caused them to experience mental health issues for the first time. We are social beings; we need to feel a sense of connection with our loved-ones and community if we’re to feel secure and happy. Our relationships contribute to our sense of self, our value and connection to other people. Many people have suffered through the lack of being with friends and family at meaningful moments of loss, grief, acknowledgement or celebration.
And sadly, there are many stories of people feeling trapped in a damaging or violent relationship from which they are unable to escape. Long-term feelings of hopelessness, helplessness or feeling trapped leads to serious consequences for our mental health.
For our happiness and peace of mind, we need a sense of autonomy and personal control over our lives, our choices. Many people have struggled with the imposed restrictions we’ve all endured and have felt an unease at the loss of their freedoms.
The past year has been particularly difficult for our young people who’ve missed so many important milestones – graduations, formals, schoolies, a shared pride in, and celebration of, their achievements. They may have lost out on establishing, or cementing, the life-long friendships that often develop in the more senior years of schooling and/or university.
One in five Australians are affected by mental illness, yet many people don’t seek help. The World Health Organisation expects that by 2030, depression will have become the largest single healthcare burden – and that was before the many traumas of 2020/21. It is not enough to hope that things will get better. We often say at Quest,
“hope has to have legs”,
it has to be underpinned by effort.
It’s important to prioritise your mental health every day of the year. If you do, then when the unthinkable, the unexpected or the unimaginable happens in your life, you’re more able to embrace your challenge in a resourceful and skillful way.
Here are our top tips for prioritising your mental health:
Regular exercise is great for the mind and body. Doing gentle exercise like walking or yoga are mindful practices that can bring you into the present moment and quieten the chatter of the mind. Walking outdoors in nature is a great way to breathe in some fresh air and get some Vitamin D naturally from the sunshine. Exercise reduces stress hormones in the body.
Taking time to rest
Prioritise your sleep and seek help if you’re experiencing poor sleep. Sleep plays an important role in every aspect of our lives, and it has a great impact on our mental health. Without restful sleep, we can feel exhausted and become irritable which may impact our relationships at work, with family and with friends. Long term sleep deprivation affects your mental health, your physical health, your safety and your overall quality of life. A lot happens when you’re asleep to support your good health and good memory, and in children and teens, sleep is essential for growth and development.
Start a new hobby
Find a hobby that’s just for you, something that really makes you feel good. Learn a new language, play an instrument, learn to paint, to knit, or play bridge. Find a creative way to express yourself. Learning something new and focusing on another goal will help you stay in the present moment.
Setting healthy boundaries
Living in a world where we can be connected 24/7 whether by phone, email or social media, it’s important to set healthy boundaries so we don’t feel overwhelmed. It’s ok to disconnect from the digital world for a day – or longer! It’s ok to say ‘no’ to social invitations, to not answer a phone call – let it go to voicemail. We can choose when we want to talk to someone. If we answer the call, we’re answering to them. When we make the call, the person is answering us. Your family and friends will understand your need to take timeout for yourself, and, if they don’t, then you’ll have more information about the people from whom you can expect to receive support! Don’t share your vulnerabilities with people who don’t respect the tenderness with which they’re held!
Share what’s on your mind
Find someone you can talk to regularly who’ll listen generously and without judgement. Our mental health is affected when we bottle things up instead of talking to someone. If, for some reason, you’re not comfortable sharing what’s on your mind, write your thoughts down in a journal. Getting things out of your head and onto paper is extremely helpful because it’s no longer a private unexpressed anguish. You’ve found the words to express it in writing and this reinforces our sense of being more than whatever it is we’ve expressed.
Read a book
Reading a book or listening to personal development books or podcasts is a great way to prioritise your mental health. There are so many tools and techniques available through books or online courses and these can help you learn more about yourself and how to manage the more difficult days. One of those techniques for example might be meditation or learning more about mindfulness.
Taking the time to meditate each day can help bring you into the present moment and quiet the chatter in your mind. A few minutes in the morning each day can completely change your mood and how your day will unfold.
We have a Default Mode Network (DMN) in the brain that causes much of our inner chaos until we ‘wake up’ and learn to engage our Task Positive Network (TPN). The DMN replays memories, holds our “I’ll be happy when…” stories along with the patterns or our behaviour that were laid down in our very early years. When the DMN is active we experience the inner chatter, or commentary about everything, that most people are very familiar with. As soon as we focus our attention on a hobby, a conversation, an object or through meditation or mindfulness, the DMN quietens as we engage the TPN. These two systems – the DMN and the TPN – cannot operate simultaneously. Meditation is the practice of engaging the TPN. Simple, but not always easy!
Mindfulness is about bringing attention or awareness to the present moment – engaging our TPN. This is a universal human capacity and can be fostered in the young and refined as an adult. It sounds easy enough, however many people find their DMN is full of worry, anxiety, concern about the future or rehashing the past. Petrea’s Coming to Your Senses practice helps you engage your TPN and can be used at any time.
Health and Wellbeing Challenge
If you’d like to regain some control in your life and put healthy, mindful habits in place, please join Quest for a 30-day Health and Wellbeing fundraising challenge – starting on 18 October. Fundraising is optional and you’re very welcome just to enjoy the challenges, however every dollar raised will go towards helping people who are struggling with their mental health. Learn more about the Health and Wellbeing 30-Day Challenge
Quest for Life Programs
All of Quest’s programs can help you find hope, healing and peace of mind. We provide a safe, nurturing and compassionate space to focus on your needs and learn valuable life skills. Learn how to relax deeply, sleep soundly, reduce stress, resolve conflict, create an environment for healing and feel empowered to make informed choices in your healing journey. Learn more about Quest for Life’s Programs