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Lifelong Health
10 October, 2017

Strategies for positive mental health

Lifelong Health

Dr Mike Musker, Mental Health Nurse, and Taryn Lores, Psychologist, both from SAHMRI’s Lifelong Health theme, recently ran a 10 week course on depression and being overweight. The course used Cognitive Behavioural Strategies and positive lifestyle changes to help people improve their health. Below are some basic changes that you can consider to improve your own physical and mental health:

Sleep more

An hour before midnight is worth two hours after. The most basic change you can make to improve your mental health is to improve your sleep hygiene. Your body has its own amazingly accurate clock and you should work with it. Have a routine time to go to bed and to get up in the morning, and try and get a minimum of seven to eight hours sleep. Turn off your multimedia at least one hour before bed, your Facebook will wait for you until morning. The bedroom should be an area of low stimulation, so no televisions or computers. Try and go to bed earlier this week.

Move more

Think about how many hours you are awake in the day, then work out how much time you spend being sedentary. For example, if you wake up at 6:00 am and go to bed at 10:00 pm (awake for 16 hours), it is quite possible that you are sitting or lying for up to 12 hours (eight hours at work, four hours in the evening watching TV, with four hours moving). Get yourself a smart watch and count your steps each day. You should be moving at least 6,000 steps per day, but aim a little higher to average out the underactive days. If you work in an office environment, then you should try and get out of the office at least once per day for a short walk. Your step counter will help you set a goal for this. Adelaide has many beautiful areas, such as the Torrens, or the beaches (Glenelg / Henley Beach) where walking trails abound. Get off the bus or tram one stop early and walk.

Eat well

If you eat a lot of processed food it will affect your mental health. Wherever possible, eat fresh food that you have prepared yourself. Preparing food provides the best appreciation for what you are eating. Plan a trip to the Adelaide Central Market and get some interesting and fresh vegetables that you may have never tried before.  Avoid dieting and just eat healthy.  Diets don’t work, but planning to eat healthy in the long term (life-long) is the better way to go. Avoid fast foods, sit back and think of ways of preparing food for a few days, such as extra portions of salads that can be stored in the fridge for around three days. Eat more salads and vegetables, whilst reducing carbs, such as rice and pasta.

Easy goals

Set yourself a small goal about moving more, such as one short walk per week. Then tick it off and bask in the glory of achieving it. The following week increase your goal, and if it was too much, go back to your first goal. People tend to set themselves crazy goals by joining the gym then going every day, but suddenly stopping. Anecdotally, this usually lasts about three weeks, then people go back to their usual behaviour of doing nothing. Gradual lifestyle changes that can be maintained for the rest of your life is what you should aim for. Set yourself a small and achievable goal this week.

Mindfulness / relaxation / massage

There are a number of smartphone based apps that will help you practice mindfulness; this is based on Zen Buddhism, and is a way of relaxing for a short period of time of around five to 10 minutes. If you are feeling a bit stressed, you can use these tools at your desk.  A free example of this can be obtained from Smiling Mind.

You can also use Progressive Muscle Relaxation, which gradually asks you to tense muscles in your body and then relax them, usually working with the complex muscles in the face, and then gradually relaxing progressively towards the feet. An audio file is available at this site to help you have a go.

If you have never had a massage, then you haven’t lived! This is one of the best ways to treat yourself well; relaxing the body and mind at once. Book yourself a massage and reap the benefits.

Be positive and kind to yourself

One of the key issues we come across in mental health is how people are hard on themselves; feeling that they have done things wrong or let others down. It is too easy to fall into this negative mode of thinking, so a way to change this is to make a list of positive things about yourself. When you start to get these negative thoughts, use your list to remind yourself that you have achieved quite a lot and that you undoubtedly work very hard. Additionally, when you do think negatively, don’t just accept these thoughts; challenge them.  These activities can increase your self-esteem and self-worth. Write something positive about yourself now.

Be grateful

This is another aspect of thinking positively in that there are so many challenging aspects to our lives, that sometimes we forget to think about the good things. Especially nowadays when we are bombarded with news of terror from the media. For a start, we live in one of the most liveable cities in the world and when compared to some countries, we are all very privileged. We often have first-world problems that in the scheme of things are quite petty.  So being grateful about things that are happening in your life can counter some of the negatives. Challenge yourself now to think of one thing that you are grateful for.

Be kind to others

Doing something for someone else is one way of feeling good. Say hello to a work colleague that you haven’t acknowledged before. Think of a relative or friend that you haven’t thanked for a while and perhaps get them a small gift. Doing things like this out of the blue, not only makes you feel better, but will brighten up two lives. We don’t send letters anymore, so there is a lost art in telling people how much we care. Writing to someone to thank them is also helpful, providing you take the time to think more deeply about how you want to thank the person. They will appreciate the time you have taken to write them a note. Buy a thank you card for someone and say something nice.

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