Marie Dunnion is one of IMPACT’s Facilitators, currently working on a project on Direct Payments in BAME communities based in Leicester, and is also a trained psychologist. For Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke to Marie about different ways to maintain good mental health.
During my time as IMPACT Facilitator, I have been speaking to people in receipt of Direct Payments. One factor which has emerged as crucial to mental health, is the importance of people being able to do what they enjoy in life. As humans, it is not enough that we are just supported to maintain our physical health – we also need food for the soul. Just like we all have different likes and dislikes in terms of what we eat, we all have our own individual pathways to maintaining what mental health means for us. Thinking about the people I have spoken to over the past year, and what works for me in my own life, I have shared some simple ways in which I think we can proactively seek to optimise our mental wellbeing.
Optimise our mental wellbeing
Getting outdoors has so many health benefits; not only is walking good exercise but being in green spaces and listening to bird songs has been shown to reduce anxiety (the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2023). In Japan, they have coined the term “Shinrin-Yoku,” which translates as “tree bathing,” to encourage people to walk in the forest, having discovered that trees and some herbaceous plans give off phytoncides, a group of volatile organic compounds. Pytoncides have the benefits of lowering cortisol (the stress hormone) and our heart rate, so definitely a reason to spend more time around trees! Read more here about the positive effects of walking among trees.
Being around animals can reduce stress and anxiety; perhaps accounting for why so many people enjoy having pets in their home. Even if you cannot have your own, you can always enjoy watching animals in nature; in your own garden or whilst out about, you will usually spot some wildlife – whether a bird, squirrel, or flitting butterfly!
Religion / Spirituality / Positive Psychology
Having a belief system, no matter what that might be, can help to give your life personal meaning and act as a buffer against stress. If feeling anxious, it can be helpful to spend time each day practicing your beliefs, whether through prayer, reading, or a visit to your place of worship (if applicable).
Whilst talking to people who draw on care and support, the vital role of community shone through. People have a natural inclination towards wanting to be with other people. This is why people can get lonely when at home alone. Finding a place in your own community can offer a valuable lifeline for your mental health, and there are lots of options – joining a book group, learning a language, arts and crafts – the list goes on! For inspiration, check out: Meetup.com
Friends and Family
In recent years, there has been an increasing link made between loneliness and mental health, with feeling lonely generally having a negative impact on mental health. It can help to reach out to family and friends but, for various reasons, this might not always be possible. Mind have some helpful tips for managing feelings of loneliness and getting support: Tips to Manage Loneliness
Food / Drink
Sometimes it really is the simple things – how often do we all look forward to a specific treat or drink as a reward at the end of the day/week? Obviously, everything in moderation, but give yourself something that you enjoy, remembering that what we eat can affect our mental health. For example, foods rich in polyphenols (e.g. chocolate!) are associated with improved moods. You can read more about the role of polyphenols in this interesting ‘Inspire the Mind’ blog: Does What We Eat Impact Our Mental Health?
It is now well known that exercise increases endorphins which, in turn, improves our health and mental wellbeing. Everyone’s physical health and fitness will vary but there are gentle exercises which can be done from home, even for those who may not be able get to the gym or do more strenuous workouts. It is always best to check with your GP first before attempting any new exercise. For inspiration, take a look at these NHS – Home Workout Videos
Sleep deprivation can adversely affect mental health, meaning it is crucial to get proper rest to remain your best self. Generally, having a well-established routine of when you go to bed and get up is best, with experts recommending that we aim to get seven to nine hours sleep per night.
Our physical surroundings can have a powerful impact on our mood, which is why I am a huge fan of decluttering. You can tackle a different area of your home each day to feel more empowered (e.g. sorting items to recycle, throw away, give to charity, etc.), helping you feel better about the space you are living in. Once decluttered, you can brighten up where you live with positive quotes, flowers, photos, memories of good times, and anything that causes your spirit to soar and infuses your home with a sense of peace and wellbeing.
I love this concept and it is one I try to practice. We can all be our own biggest critic, which is why it is important to nurture a kind and loving inner voice – think of how you would speak to a friend or child, would you be as judgemental or fault-finding as you sometimes are of yourself? If we can each learn to love ourselves, it will likely lead to better mental health, a sense of inner peace, and an outer way of relating to the world that is more loving and kinder.
Help and Support
As a psychologist, I have spent a lot of my life thinking about the mind, how it works, and what leads to better mental health. Whilst I firmly believe all of the above can help, I appreciate that sometimes it is just not possible to do it all by yourself. There are times we need to ask for help and support and that is perfectly okay, and to be encouraged. If you’re having a difficult time, the Samaritans offer various ways to get in touch: Contact Us | Samaritans