Many of us routinely have annual check-ups with our general practitioners, medical specialists and dentists, but what about our mental health? October is mental health awareness month so perhaps it’s a good time to check in and think about our mental wellness.
Sociologist, Aaron Antonovsky was surprised when research he conducted on concentration camp survivors showed that a significant number of them were well-adjusted, despite what they had endured. What had given these people the strength, despite their experiences, to be “well adapted and to maintain what would seem to be the capacity not only to function well, but even to be happy”?
Antonovsky concluded that we have been asking the wrong questions. Instead of focusing only on what causes disease, we should be asking what enables us to keep well, both physically and mentally?
For my PhD, I researched what it is that predicts psychological-wellbeing in children with life threatening long-term illnesses. My research confirmed that even children with diseases like cancer are able to maintain psychological well-being. Children that cope well psychologically when dealing with life threatening long-term illnesses are more likely to:
- Have social support from family, peers and their community
- Be able to make sense and understand their experiences through the way that they think about them
- Have a belief system (religious or spiritual)
- Have hope
- Think that their experiences are helpful to others.
How we respond to our circumstances, and the environment in which we experience them, directly influences how we cope and the lasting impact that it has on our mental wellness.
So how do you create a life space that enhances your mental wellness? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have people in your life that make you feel supported and connected? The value of positive social relationships and support cannot be underestimated, including those that involve spiritual or religious activities.
- Do you have interests that you can do on your own and with others outside of your work? Groups of interest could include creative activities, physical activities and educational or hobby courses.
- Have you thought about goals and wishes for things you would want to do even if you can’t do them now…things that would make you excited for the future?
- When you experience ongoing symptoms like insomnia, irritability, low mood, anxiety or loss of motivation, consider that this may be a warning that all is not well in your internal world. Rather than ignoring these symptoms, use them as an opportunity for growth and change.
- Do you engage in small acts of kindness? Doing things for others can make a big difference to your mental well-being. Taking it one step further, being involved in a group that helps others can also be uplifting.
- Do you spend too much time on social media? Social media can be educational and fun but it can also have the opposite effect. We can even end up neglecting our “real” lives and relationships for our on-line worlds. Consider a social media detox if you are spending too much time on-line.
Mental illness is as important as physical wellness. Just as you would visit the gym and eat well to keep your body healthy, think about how you can create a life that nurtures your mental wellness.
We acknowledge the daily struggle of those that suffer from serious mental illness, and their families.