This blog is the first in a series of posts related to depression. Over the next few posts we will be dealing with a range of topics related to depression, from helping your children learn to cope with strong emotions all the way through to dealing with adversity. We start the series with 5 steps you can take right now to improve your mental well-being.
To kick of our series on depression, I wanted to look at a series of strategies that can help improve your mental well-being, and giving you the tools that can aid in managing stress and improve symptoms of depression. As we come out of the summer period, and start to knuckle down in our jobs, it is easy to fall into a repetitive pattern, where every day feels the same. Perhaps work is gearing up for the end of the financial year, and there is a lot of pressure to perform or meet deadlines at work. The cooler months can make us less inclined to venture out and engage in activities.
One of the most common aspects of depression that I see at Grove Psychology, is that as we start to feel stressed and our mood drops, we want to take care of ourselves by staying home and withdrawing from our usual activities. This is a completely normal step - when we get sick, we stop what we are doing and rest. Naturally, we do this when we are feeling stressed or depressed. Unfortunately, in this scenario, the rest can be a doubled-edged sword that can maintain or worsen our low mood. Depression can be quite insidious - it sneaks up on you and all of sudden, you've stopped doing activities that you enjoy, stopped seeing your friends, and you can't find anything interesting to watch on Netflix. Everything becomes effortful - getting up in the morning, going to work, thinking about what to cook and so on.
Five Steps To Improving Your Mental Wellbeing and Resilience
The best type of defense is offense, and that applies to your mental health as well. These strategies are useful in maintaining a healthy wellbeing as well as improving your mental health, and reducing depression.
1. Engage in meaningful activities
As I've mentioned in a previous blog, engaging in meaningful activities can improve our mental wellbeing, and also has added properties of inoculating us against depression. A meaningful activity is something that gives you both enjoyment and enrichment - there is a sense of purpose after completing the activity. It doesn't have to be a massive project, and can simply be spending a few hours with the kids, building forts in the backyard, or helping a friend, or following through on a "to-do" item that keeps getting put off.
2. Re-engage with hobbies
Hobbies are one of those activities that can drop off easily particularly as other time demands come into play. But the benefit of a hobby is that it can take your mind off what is stressful, and give you an opportunity to relax, or focus your attention on another problem. As is often the case, our minds can usually solve problems when it is distracted by another task.
3. Set a routine for life and exercise
Just about everyone should know that exercise is important for mental health and wellbeing, yet the most common excuse given is lack of time. What that comes down to is a) prioritising it and b) setting up a routine to achieve it. Exercise releases hormones and chemicals in our brain that make us feel good. If you set a designated time to exercise and make it part of your routine, you will start to feel more positive about doing exercise and you will likely experience an improvement in your mental wellbeing.
Just like exercise, meditation needs to become part of your daily routine. There is good scientific evidence for the benefit of regular meditative practice on mental health and wellbeing. And just like exercise, the usual excuse is a lack of time. Meditation can take as little as 5 minutes to as long as an hour (for the experienced). Start with 5 minutes of meditative practice per day, picking a consistent time to practice, and notice how you feel afterwards.
5. Reframing to positivity
The last strategy that I suggest as a way of improving your mental wellbeing and resilience is reframing events to the positive. The buzz word right now is 'growth mindset' - changing your attitude around failure or blocks in the road, to one as an opportunity to grow. It can be a challenging mindset, but one that can provide more opportunities and help develop resilience to stress. Imagine a task that has had you stumped - this could be at work or home - and it's really causing you a lot of stress or angst. You may have even been avoiding it, because it brings up uncomfortable feelings. Instead of avoiding the problem or accepting that you can't do it, what if you were to change your mindset to one of growth? If you could ask yourself, how else could you reframe this? I'll give you a real-life example. I was looking at my daughter's maths test, and I noticed a lot of small errors. She told me that "I'm just not good at maths Dad". When we discussed it further, she identified that she tends to rush, and she reframed her initial "I'm no good" to "I can slow down and be more careful". This change in mindset encourages continual practice, rather than giving up, and it's still framed within the reality, eg she didn't reframe her statement to "I'm amazing at maths", which may not be true.
You can implement these five steps right now and notice, with continual practice, benefits to your mental health, wellbeing and resilience. I'd love to know how you go.