Looking after your mental health

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When you consider or take out life insurance, you might think more about the importance of being healthy. But taking care of yourself isn’t all about physical health – your mental health is important too.

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Around one in four people in the UK have a mental health problem each year, according to Mind, with worries around things like money, work and benefits making it harder for people to cope.

Mental health problems can come in lots of different forms, from things like anxiety, depression, anger and loneliness, to specific disorders such as bipolar and post-traumatic stress. You can find lots of information about this on the Mind website.

Steps to look after your mental health

If you’ve had a mental health diagnosis, or you feel like you might be suffering, it’s advised that you speak to your GP. But for many of us, there are lots of simple and practical things we can do every day to look after our mental health. The Mental Health Foundation suggests 10 ways we can help ourselves:

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Talk about your feelings

Talking to someone can be a good way of coping with a problem that’s been bothering you. Whether it’s a family member, friend, health professional or simply someone you feel comfortable with, being listened to can help you feel supported and less isolated. If you’re struggling to open up, Mind has lots of helpful tips to help you start a conversation.

Keep physically active

Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem, help with concentration and sleep, and generally make you feel better. The NHS recommends that adults do 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, as well as strengthening activities. But remember it’s not just about going to the gym or playing sports, things like walking, gardening and carrying heavy shopping bags all count! Take a look at the NHS website for more information.

Eat a healthy diet

What you eat can have a big impact on your mental health. Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet, including a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, dairy products or alternatives (like soya) and proteins such as beans, pulses, fish, eggs and meat (limiting red or processed meat). Drink plenty of water and fluids, and avoid having too much caffeine or sugar. Take a look at the Eatwell Guide for guidance on eating a balanced diet.

Be sensible with alcohol

While alcohol can have a positive impact on our mood temporarily, once the drink wears off withdrawal symptoms affect our brains and bodies and can make us feel worse. Drinking isn’t a good way to cope with difficult feelings, and it can cause big problems for our mental health in the long term. You can still drink alcohol and be healthy, but it’s advised that people stay within the recommended weekly limits (14 units per week for both men and women). Visit Drinkaware for more information about alcohol and mental health.

Keep in touch with loved ones

Support from family and friends can make you feel cared for and help you deal with stresses. They can talk things through with you, offer their views and suggestions, and support you in solving problems. Remember, all lines of communication can be helpful – if you can’t see someone face-to-face, phone calls, letters, texts or emails are still great for keeping in touch. If you don’t have anyone to talk to and are feeling alone, visit the Campaign to End Loneliness website, which offers suggestions and support services that can help.

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Remember to take breaks

Your mental health can really benefit from a change of scenery or change of pace. Taking a break can mean different things to different people – whether it’s making a cup of tea, going for a walk, taking a proper lunch break or having time away from your phone – but it’s really just a chance to de-stress and give yourself some ‘me time’. If you find yourself needing to relax, try some gentle yoga, meditation or deep breathing, which you can do anywhere. 

Do something you’re good at

When you’re enjoying yourself it helps to relieve feelings of stress. Plus, if you’re good at something and doing it well, it can also boost your self-esteem. Think about what you love doing at the moment, or an old hobby or interest you used to enjoy – it could be anything from drawing, writing or doing puzzles, to singing, gardening, volunteering or playing sports. Just make sure it’s something you can easily fit into your day-to-day life.

Accept yourself

Everyone is different and it’s important to accept that. Recognising what we’re not so good at and focusing on what we do well can really help us to feel good about ourselves, boosting our confidence in lots of different ways. Take a look at Mind’s tips to accept yourself and improve self-esteem. And, if there’s something about yourself that you do really want to change, think about whether it’s realistic and then take small, achievable steps to get there. 

Care for others

Caring for others can help you feel needed and valued, which is great for self-esteem. You can do this with loved ones, or you could try volunteering at a local charity or organisation – visit the Do-it website for information on how to start. Caring for pets is also very rewarding and can improve your mental wellbeing. We tend to form strong bonds with our animals, and doing things like walking your dog can help you to be more social with other people too.

Ask for help if you need it

We all need help sometimes. If things are getting too much, your family or friends may be able to offer support. Alternatively, there are lots of great resources, services and organisations that can help you if you need it, whether you want to take steps to improve your mental wellbeing, or you require more urgent mental health support.

Urgent help (24 hours)

  • NHS (England and Scotland): 111
  • NHS (Wales): 0845 46 47
  • Samaritans (England, Wales and Northern Ireland): 116 123
  • Breathing Space (Scotland): 0800 83 85 87
  • Lifeline (Northern Ireland): 0808 808 8000