This World Mental Health Day, do a quick checkup on your state of mental well-being and find out how to help yourself.
10 October is World Mental Health Day, a day to remember to love ourselves and to take care of our own mental well-being. The Bible says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Prov 23:7) It is for this reason that keeping oneself mentally healthy lies at the root of a healthy life overall.
Taking care of our mental health is not very different from taking care of our physical body. In the same way no two people are exactly alike in their physical health, mental well-being lies on a continuum as well.
At a virtual missions conference organised by City Harvest Church’s The Harvest Network in November last year, Eliora Chiam, a member of the Chinese service staff, conducted a workshop on maintaining mental wellness. She has been leading cell groups and the Chinese Service greeters for more than 10 years. The mental health of her family and members has been one of her main concerns and the driving force behind her teaching.
City News presents Eliora’s key points from her workshop.
MENTAL WELL-BEING IS LIKE A CONTINUUM
Mental health is not all or nothing, but falls on what is called the Mental Health Continuum. On the one extreme, there is being totally mentally healthy and on the other, there is being mentally unwell. A human being can move along any part of the continuum depending on his or her circumstances.
People who are at this point of the continuum are generally satisfied and happy with their lives. They are emotionally well-balanced, stable, and cope with the normal stresses of life and the challenges that every day brings. They are able to contribute to their community. Many people practice good self-care such as healthy sleep patterns and regular exercise. In addition, they have social support.
People who are at this point may show some distress such as irritability, impatience, nervousness, sadness or being overwhelmed, signs of forgetfulness, low energy and muscle tension. These are mainly due to acute stress such as work deadlines, exams, or the loss of a loved one. They may show some inability to cope but are still capable of performing daily life functions.
People who are at this point may be in distress and exhibit the inability to cope over a longer period of time. They find their stresses are not easily alleviated by their typical coping strategies, like comfort eating, shopping, being with friends, or watching their favourite shows. This inability to cope starts causing an impact on their ability to perform daily life functions. They start showing signs of anger, and may feel pervasively sad, anxious and hopeless. Their bodies will also experience more aches, pains and fatigue.
This is the end of the continuum, and as the name suggests, people falling under this category are unable to cope with stress and exhibit significant changes in their thoughts, behaviours and actions. Their symptoms can be significant and prolonged and they will require professional help.
WAYS TO WELLBEING
The good news is, one doesn’t have to stay stuck on the less well parts of the continuum. Psalm 103:1-5 reads, “Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
With effort and the help of the Holy Spirit, one can reverse the scale and slide back to the healthier end of the continuum. Here are five steps to take:
A person who is experiencing distress tends to want to shut others out of their lives. However, research has shown that allowing people into our lives matters to our quality of psychological well-being at every age.
There are two important types of social relationships we have to build and maintain for the sake of our mental well-being.
Firstly, relationships that are strong and deep. These are relationships with people who are close to you, such as family and friends. This type of connection takes time to develop but they will provide support, enjoyment, encouragement and meaning to our lives at our lowest point.
Secondly, relationships with a broader circle. These relationships may be more superficial, but it is not any less important. Connect with others in your community and the wider world. These relationships provide a sense of familiarity, connectedness, and self-worth.
God made human beings for relationships. Our relationships with others contribute to our sense of well-being so it is important to connect with others socially wherever possible. There’s no need to pull out that dusty address book—just start with the one or two friends around you. Think about that friend who always makes you laugh and ask them out for a coffee.
This may sound ironic, especially to those who feel so drained that they have nothing else to give. But no matter what you are facing, there is always something you can offer the community around you. Whether it’s a smile, saying “Thank you” or a kind word to a stranger, every small act counts.
Slowly build up to bigger things, such as helping a friend out, or even volunteering at a local community centre. Whether big or small, giving to others makes you feel happier and more satisfied with life. It also goes towards building your relationships with others around you.
Research suggests that people who give their time to others are rewarded with better physical health—including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan. Helping and working with others can also give us a sense of purpose and feelings of self-worth. Research shows individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to consider themselves happy people.
3. Keep Learning
Learning something new is not only fun, but it can also boost our self-confidence. When we overcome little hurdles to learn a new skill, it gives us a sense of satisfaction and reminds us of our own capability.
It can also help us see things in new ways, and thus find new meaning and purpose in life. Studies have shown that learning throughout our lives can help us enjoy life more, and improve our knowledge, thinking skills and ability to cope with stress. Broadening our minds helps us gain insight into our lives and the world around us. These are all good things for our well-being.
4. Be Aware
We can be aware of our thoughts and feelings as they arise without getting lost in them. This awareness increases our ability to keep calm when we are triggered and gives us a chance to bring our stress level down. Once we recognise our own behavioural patterns, we can then take a step back, breathe deeply and think clearly. This enables us to cope better with difficult situations and improves our overall mood.
Many studies have shown that thinking about the past too much and worrying about the future too often are strongly linked with anxiety and depression. When you find yourself overthinking and worrying, focus on your breathing instead: In, in, out. In, in, out. Repeat this pattern four to six times.
Start to practice gratitude. Feelings of gratitude directly activate brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine helps us feel good, which is why it’s generally considered the “reward” neurotransmitter. It is also important in initiating action. When we do an action that activates dopamine, it will make us more likely to repeat the same action. It’s the brain saying, “Oh, do that again!”
5. Be Active
We tend to think that the mind and body are separate entities but what you do with your body can have a powerful effect on your mental well-being. Evidence has shown that regular physical activity has a number of positive effects on the mind.
It causes chemical changes in the brain that positively impact our mood. It helps to prevent and reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. It strengthens our heart, lungs, bones and muscles which gives us increased energy and strength. It improves our quality of sleep, adds brain cells and builds new connections between those cells throughout our lives. It increases blood flow and oxygenates the brain. All these contribute to lifting our mood.
These five steps may sound overwhelming to a person who is already stressed out by every day life, but it is okay to start by doing just one thing that seems enjoyable. Perhaps meeting a friend for a coffee sounds like fun? Do it. Painting sounds relaxing? Do it. Taking a walk at a nearby park sounds manageable? Do it.
Make a plan and stick to it. If you fail, don’t worry about it. Make another plan, and stick to that one. Taking even the smallest steps will slowly lead you back to being mentally healthy.
If you feel you are on the wrong end of the Mental Well-being Continuum and need help, CHC’s community services arm CHCSA has resources and sponsored counselling to offer. Click here