We’re used to hearing about the importance of looking after our physical health – such as the advice to eat five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day – but we’re less used to talking about keeping mentally well. However, there are lots of things we can all do to look after our mental health – whether or not we’ve had any kind of long-term health condition.
We share here a number of practical ways that we can all promote our best possible mental health. And rather than thinking of good mental health as the lack of mental illness or the absence of worry and stress, it should really be seen as a set of coping resources that helps us deal with everyday life better.
Practical ways to look after your mental health
We provide below some practical suggestions of the kinds of steps you can take to keep well and look after your mental health.
There are five steps we can all take to improve our mental wellbeing. If you approach them with an open mind and try them out, you can judge the results yourself.
- Connect – connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships.
- Be active – you don’t have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling or play a game of football. Find the activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your life.
- Keep learning – learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and new confidence.
- Give to others – even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you, or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new relationships.
- Be mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including your feelings and thoughts, your body, and the world around you. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”, and it can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.
You can get further ideas here, with tips from Mind’s Five Ways to Wellbeing resource:
Also, the Mental Health Foundation has produced a guide: “How to Look After Your Mental Health” which you can download for free. This contains 10 practical areas that you can take action on.
The above list is not exhaustive. In order to maintain and strengthen your mental and emotional health, it’s important to pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Check out the section below on Mind Waves as well, with some extra “keeping well” tips and ideas, created by local people.
There are loads of great stories of how these five steps to wellbeing can be put into action.
You can find some of these stories on our Mind Waves website, the majority of which are created by our volunteer “Community Correspondents”. Use the Topics tab on the Mind Waves site to explore particular themes and issues and find other top tips:
- Exercise: Read how joining a gym helped me find myself and provided an escape from the pit of depression
- Giving back: Mind Waves community correspondent John describes the benefits he has received from giving something back
- Music and mood: how making a feel-good playlist can make you feel better.
Stressed? Get help and give help
We all have times when we have low mental wellbeing – when we feel sad or stressed, or find it difficult to cope. Sometimes, there is no clear reason why we experience a period of poor mental health but it is important to give yourself permission to feel your feelings; we all need to be better at acknowledging that there are times when “it is OK to not be OK”.
Whether you have a mental health problem or not, there may be times or situations in your life that are more difficult than others. For example, when we suffer some sort of loss; experience loneliness or relationship problems; or are worried about work or money.
It can be easy to turn towards negative things to cope when you are feeling down, for example: drinking too much alcohol. However, this type of behaviour will probably only make things worse in the long term and so it is important to look after yourself and actively engage in reaching, and maintaining, good mental health and wellbeing. There is a helpful guide from Mind that gives lots of practical pointers.
And how can you help someone else who may be struggling with stress? The award-winning Power of OK campaign from Scotland’s See Me programme gives some very practical advice (videos contains strong language)
What’s causing you stress? Get help
We know that there are lots of things that can cause us stress and impact on our mental health – we provide some information and resources below to help you with some of these issues too. There is also a stress section within Heads Up that has further information and advice.
One resource you may find helpful for coping with stress is the Steps for Stress resource – including a free guide to download, and relaxation videos. But there’s plenty of additional support available on a wide range of things that might be causing you stress. Try searching for specific resources on NHS Inform or via the ALISS info database or check out the resources below.
What’s worrying you? Get support on…
- Money worries – Citizen’s Advice Scotland
can provide advice on money worries and a wide range of other problems
- Relationship and family difficulties – Relationships Scotland website
- Being a carer – a wide range of information is available from Carers Scotland
- Sleep problems – there is guidance available from Mental Health Foundation with How to Sleep Better
- Dealing with loss and bereavement – Cruse Bereavement Scotland
- Being bullied, harassed or discriminated against – a range of helpful resources available from Scotland’s Anti-Bullying service Respect Me
- Being a victim of crime – resources available from Victim Support Scotland
- Affected by murder or suicide of a loved one – contact Petal
Social media, the internet, and mental wellbeing
Many people are finding that social media and the internet can be very beneficial in supporting mental health and wellbeing, but it’s important to find the most positive ways to use these technologies safely and avoid the pitfalls. Our colleagues at Outside the Box Development Services have been working with people who have experienced mental health problems to develop some guidance on getting the best out of the internet.
Here’s some background from Outside the Box:
“For many of us using the internet has become an essential part of everyday life. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how we did things without it. From finding recipes to booking holidays, the internet can make a lot of things simpler. Over time a range of internet services have been developed for people with mental health problems, including online community forums and places for advice and support.
“There are other ways we can use the internet to keep well, such as staying in touch with friends and family through social media. Sometimes we aren’t well enough to see people but we still want to chat to and feel connected to others. This can help us to feel better. However, people with poor mental health are less likely than the general population to use the internet and digital ways of communicating. They are less likely to have internet access at home.
“Outside the Box spoke to people with mental health problems to ask about the barriers that prevent them from getting online. We also heard about the benefits people get when they do have access to digital technology. We’ve used this information to put together some hints and tips about digital inclusion and mental health.
“Speaking with people also helped us to get an idea of some downsides to think about, so we’ve included a section about staying safe online. Digital inclusion is about ensuring that as many people as possible have access to and skills to use things like smart phones, tablets and computers, social media and the internet so they can participate and benefit in the new technology. We hope that many people find this resource useful.”
Mental health charity MIND has information on staying safe online and using the internet for positive mental health support.
If you are a carer, you may also find this Mind Waves piece from carers’ champion Tommy Whitelaw of interest: “When caring became too much, my blog became my pal”