I have been fortunate in my life to have had the opportunity to work with many different people, whether that be as a counsellor, a music psychotherapist, an educator or as a businessperson working in different corporate sectors. One commonality I have found is this, no matter who we choose to be or what part we choose to show of ourselves, it is at the core of our being that, the truth and essence of who we are resides. Therefore it is essential that we take time to know us, in the way we would a dear friend, a partner, a valued work colleague, child or pet. That we invest time in ourselves and build an intra-personal relationship with ourselves, rather than just inter-personal relationships with others. If we consider that all that we do, all that we hear and all that we respond to, comes first through the filter that is ‘us’, then it seems worthwhile to ensure that we invest time in ‘us’ to support our hearing, reading, understanding and responding to circumstances and events in the most effective and accurate way we can through first knowing ourselves.
The term ‘Mental Wellness’ suggests that the focus is on the mental aspect of our being, but if we consider that at the core of our being all is connected, then our physical health, mental health, emotional health and spiritual health (in whatever shape that takes for you or means to you) all contribute to our overall state of ‘Mental Wellness’. An example of this connectedness which Jonathan Goldman author of ‘Healing Sounds,’ applies to the human body, helps us understand the nature of this connection. Jonathan shares; ‘Let us conceive of the human body as a wonderful orchestra which is playing this marvellous symphony. When we are in a state of health, the entire orchestra is playing together. However, when disease sets in it is as though a player – the second violin for example – has lost its sheet music and begins to play in the wrong key and the wrong rhythm. First it begins to affect the rest of the string section. Ultimately this person causes the entire orchestra to sound poorly.’(Goldman, 1999, 13-14).
Now, for any of you who have listened to an orchestra or a band you will notice that one musician that may be playing out of time, out of tune or just simply in the wrong key impacts the sound of the whole performance. This metaphor, in turn can be applied to us and our health, for we like the orchestra are made up of different parts and if one part of our health is not performing or operating at its best, it in turn can impact on another part of our health. So rather than seeing an aspect of our health in isolation, it is best to consider the totality of all of our parts and how they are interconnected in contributing to our overall sense of wellbeing.
So, what is ‘Mental Wellness’ and what is ‘Mental Health?’ Beyond Blue on their website (www.beyondblue.org.au) note that while the term ‘mental health’ is frequently used, it is readily misunderstood and is often used as a substitute for mental health conditions – such as depression, anxiety etc. Whereas the World Health Organization defines ‘Mental Health’ as ‘a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’ In this definition, we can understand that ‘mental wellness’, like ‘mental health’ is focused on a state of well-being and good ‘Mental Health’ through adopting practices and strategies which we can integrate into our lives to enable us to live a fruitful, meaningful and well life.
Eight tips you may wish to consider implementing into your life to help support ‘Mental Wellness’.
Implement a sleep routine to support you in optimising your capacity to get good rest as well as to replenish and recharge your body, mind and soul. A Harvard Health letter advises that ‘blue light’, light that has ‘blue wavelengths—which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood—seem to be the most disruptive at night. And the proliferation of electronics with screens, as well as energy-efficient lighting, is increasing our exposure to blue wavelengths, especially after sundown.’ Furthermore, that ‘we may be paying a price for basking in all that light. At night, light throws the body's biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack. Sleep suffers.’ Adriana Huffington in ‘The Sleep Revolution – Transforming your life one night at a time’ advocates that we should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and ‘if you value your brain, get more sleep.’ (Huffington, 2016, p.103). To support us in creating a better sleep cycle, aim to limit technology and those blue wavelengths two hours before sleep and start to dim the lights around you. Be mindful of florescent and LED lights which have a higher degree of blue light, so consider switching to a dimmer light with warmer tones as part of the lead up to your sleep routine.
Engage in some Mindfulness Based Activities:
The Positive Psychology website (https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-mindfulness/) states that, ‘It’s not uncommon for people to equate mindfulness with meditation. It’s true that meditation is one extremely powerful way to practice mindfulness, but that’s not all there is to it’ Jon Kabat Zinn, founder of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) states that ‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.’ Based on this description, below are a few ways you could integrate mindfulness-based activities into your life:
Walk purposefully in nature where you are fully present and really notice all that is around you. The types of the trees, the colours, the shape of the leaves on the trees, the flowers, the birds that may be present, the sun that may be breaking through the clouds and illuminating the leaves on the trees to create a glow about them.
Practice Tai Chi or Qi Gong and be fully present with each movement.
Take a yoga class or engage in your own yoga practice and be fully present with each posture.
Meditate – this could be a guided practice, or one you have created. You may have candlelight, some relaxing music in the background, someone guiding you through the process, or you may be in complete silence and just focusing on each breath as your anchor to meditation.
Create and Maintain Support Networks:
Develop a personal support network to enable socialisation rather than isolation, and regularly interact with people either directly or where required or necessary virtually. If you have a limited personal support network; perhaps you are new to the location you are residing, the country you may be living in, or friends or family have moved away, then cultivate new ways to establish your network. You may choose to take up a hobby, join a sporting group, engage in a creative pursuit with others, join a support group, or undertake some studies in an area of interest to meet new people and make connections.
Develop a professional network to have people to support you whether that be a qualified psychologist, social worker, counsellor or psychotherapist, or people to support you in other areas of your life like an Integrative Medical Doctor, a Naturopath, an Acupuncturist, an Osteopath, a Nutritionist, a Myotherapist, a Remedial Massage Therapist, an Exercise Physiologist and many more.Never underestimate the value of professional supportto also boost your sense of support, especially if your personal support network is limited.By nature, people generally wish to connect and belong, so spend time developing and maintaining these networks to help support your overall health.
To support your physical, emotional, and mental health, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Choose any exercise you desire. It may be walking, it may be jogging or running, it may be a workout with gym equipment, it may be taking an exercise class, it may be swimming, it could be dancing. Just choose an exercise you wish to do and engage in it, as exercise can help reduce the levels of the stress hormones in the body like adrenaline and cortisol, as well as simulate the release of endorphins (a type of neurotransmitter) that can not only help relieve pain and stress but which can also help create feelings of optimism and relaxation.
Eat Good Whole Foods and Stay Hydrated:
We are what we eat and what we drink. If we think about a car, we know if we service it regularly, put good high-quality fuel in it versus low quality fuel, that we will get better results. We are no different. We need a balanced diet with good food and nutrition rather than highly processed foods, as well as proper hydration to function well and to support our physical and mental health. Consider reaching out to a professional in this area to support you in establishing or re-establishing a balanced and healthy nutrition plan.
Nature as Healer:
Spend time in nature as part of your ‘green prescription’. Help reduce your stress levels and support your health through engaging with nature, whether you are walking, gardening or participating in a mindfulness-based activity. Also utilise the time to try and soak up some of the sun’s rays where possible by having sufficient but safe skin exposure to support your body’s production of Vitamin D. Vitamin D, whilst important for many functions within the body, plays a key role in mental wellness as decreased levels of Vitamin D have been linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)and also depression. Lower levels of Vitamin D can lead to lower levels of the mood regulator serotonin in the brain. You may wish to see a Holistic Medical Doctor for a pathology referral to determine if your Vitamin D level falls within the optimal range, or if not, if some supplementation may be indicated to achieve this.
Explore Your Creativity:
Discover or re-establish a creative pursuit as an outlet and one in which you can relax, have fun and just allow the creative energy to flow. You may wish to listen to music, or play a musical instrument, write music or lyrics, engage with art through drawing, painting, mosaicking, pottery, or writing. You may wish to create a journal as an outlet for your thoughts and feelings, or to dance to express what it is you wish to release. Whatever you choose, just allow yourself to have fun with it, to relax, enjoy and create some balance in your life.
Build your Intrapersonal Relationship & Practice Self-Compassion & Gratitude:
Spend some time to create a relationship with you, one where you prioritise yourself and practice self-compassion. Too often we leave ourselves last, focusing on meeting other people’s needs and expectations. By the time it comes to us, there’s either no time left in the day or no fuel left in the tank. Ask yourself, what is important to you? Each day identify at least one thing that matters to you and will make you feel good about yourself if you do it that day. It may be as simple as sharing something that matters to you with a friend, or doing a 5-15-minute meditation, reading a chapter in your new book, cooking a nutritious meal, taking a walk in nature, undertaking a creative pursuit or developing a positive affirmation. Whatever it is, commit to it like you would an important meeting or event. This is your contract with you to support building your intrapersonal relationship and your sense of value and capability. Most of all just be kind to you. Choose your words as well as your actions carefully and treat yourself as you would treat your best friend or loved one and be patient with yourself while you learn or understand how best to do this.
At the end of each day, find three things that you are grateful for. One of them may be the activity you undertook. Some days may feel harder than others to find three, but they don’t have to be big things. You may wish to write your three down, but when you have them, allow yourself to spend a moment or two to focus on each one. Just be really present with it and allow your brain to fully focus on something positive. Neuroplasticity has taught us that the brain has the capacity to adapt and that this isn’t just for children, it is possible for adults to. So, by focusing each day on something that we are grateful for, we are supporting the brain to adapt to this conditioning, this positive messaging. So, allow the feelings of gratefulness each day to wash over you and to help support you in your ‘mental wellness.
Natalie Daniel is an Educator with a background in Counselling, Music Psychotherapy and Business. Natalie has worked in tertiary education for over twenty years predominantly in the areas of Allied Health, Natural Health, Business, Fitness and Well-being. Natalie holds a Master of Counselling, a Post Graduate qualification in Guided Imagery and Music (a method of music therapy/music psychotherapy), as well as qualifications in business, training and assessment. Natalie’s previous clinical work has incorporated group work and individual work with a specialisation in utilising creativity as part of the therapeutic process, personal and professional development, grief, bereavement and crisis work, and transformational change.
Goldman, J., 1999, Healing Sounds – The Power of Harmonics, Element Books Limited, U.K.
2016, Huffington A., The Sleep Revolution – Transforming Your Life, One Night At a Time, WH allen, U.K.