Stress less and laugh more!

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SO, ITS Mental Health Awareness Week – and that in itself immediately got me all stressed up. 

Apart from hearing about it from the media and witnessing some of my relatives and close friends dealing with some sort of anxiety over the years, I don’t know about you but I’m really confused about what it really means to the majority of us?

For every year that we are reminded to be aware of it, does it equate that at some point we will all be affected by it and actually need help? Or just because a reported 1 in 4 suffer from stress related symptoms, would it be right to call everyday stresses such as loss of a job, the death of a loved one or divorce a mental health issue? 

“We take life too seriously which only leads to more stress.” 

There’s no escaping the fact that we are immediately assessed on the state of our mind – just look at your life insurance policy or even some job applications. But, is mental health a label or a stigma? Or both? Whatever it is – is it preventable?

Put yourself in the picture

I know by experience that mental health can be debilitating and destructive and I put myself in the picture here as I’m not ashamed to say I suffered mentally during a hostile relationship, subsequent marriage break-up and after the death of my mother. What did I do?

Even though I am a qualified psychologist I realised no woman is an island; I too needed help if only to keep myself sane!

I sought counselling for many months and let me tell you, I had no qualms about giving up buying a pair of the latest Manolo Blahnik’s for the price of buying some peace of mind.

Was I being kind to myself? Yes. Was I taking my life too seriously? Yes.  And that I think is the problem with too many of us – we take life too seriously which only leads to more stress.  

There’s so much negativity around us that if we take it all on board we would explode under the pressure. And sadly, we only need to walk down our local high street to see some negative behaviour no doubt precipitated by negative news.

Whilst some of us do need professional help, we can all empower ourselves through regular MOTs.  We do it for our car, our teeth, our pets – so why not for our mind?

In all these circumstances we shouldn’t wait for the symptomatic issues before we seek help. As my dear mother used to say: “prevention is better than cure”. 

“Sometimes we just need to stop amongst all the noise and confusion.”

I really did enjoy some ‘preventative’ measures last weekend. I stayed in my PJ’s all day and in fact encouraged my partner to do the same.

We enjoyed coffee in bed, binged on Netflix, enjoyed more coffee, apple turnovers and ice cream – it now being about 5.00 pm! But we thoroughly enjoyed it. Sometimes we just need to stop amongst all the noise and confusion.

“Did you know it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile?”

Whilst we cannot change those disturbing figures above, or indeed society’s mis-values, we can change our attitude towards mental health issues.

We can resort to self-help. It’s not about turning our backs on it, it’s about support, not criticism; after all, those figures are rising and one day you too might be a victim.

Be a victor, not a victim

Essentially, we are each custodians of our own mental health and should be encouraged to realise our own potential, cope with normal stresses of life, work productively and make a contribution to our community and positively affect the next generation. 

Here are some practical things I’ve found that helps to ease stress related issues:

  • Talk about your feelings – this helps to release anxiety and increase our coping capability
  • Stay physically active – physical activity boosts our mental powers
  • Maintain a nutritious and balanced diet – vitamins, minerals and nutrients keep the body and mind strong and healthy
  • Avoid isolation – spending time with people whom we trust and who care for us improves self confidence
  • Ask for help – this acknowledges our vulnerability and prompts intermediary action
  • Do something you’re good at – this improves motivation and productivity
  • Accept who you are – this increases self-respect and positive self-image
  • Care for others – this gives us a sense of purpose and satisfaction

Don’t take life too seriously

Mental health is everyone’s business. It’s all around us, in your family, my family. We can acknowledge it. We can accept it. But we should never disown it.

Instead try to counteract it.  Did you know it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile?

That’s definitely telling us something positive.  Here’s some ‘behind the scenes’ tips you can try at home from time to time: look in the mirror and laugh at yourself – yes don’t be afraid to give out a big belly laugh! Its healthy; phone a friend and tell them a crappy joke. It’s naughty. 

Buy a diary and journalise your thoughts. It’s cheap.  But, so what? Life is too short to miss out on all the opportunities we can enjoy regardless of our mental state.

Visit: diahanne@diahannerhiney.com and Twitter on @diahanneuk

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