You plough through the rush hour traffic, made worse by rain, to reach work a little later than usual. As you enter the office, your manager reprimands you for being late for the third time in a week – not knowing you had stayed up all night to finish the presentation he requested.
You skip breakfast to attend your first meeting of the day, then work through lunch hour to get more things done, and by the time the day is over, you’ve barely had a breather. As you pack your laptop to leave, your manager calls you in for a discussion on another project. In the discussion, you realise you are tired, overworked, overwhelmed and have no time or space for yourself or your thoughts.
Like many others who are going through this silently, your hectic lifestyle is causing you to burn out. In the long run and if left unaddressed, this could lead to common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or panic attacks. In some severe cases, coupled with genetic or biological factors, it could cause substance abuse or personality disorders. It is estimated that by 2020, close to 10% of Malaysians will be diagnosed with a form of mental disease.
With that startling figure in mind, how can we live our lives in a way that promotes mental wellness? What changes can we make to our lifestyle for good mental health?
Keeping yourself mentally healthy means practising good habits for your mind, body and soul. Here are some simple ways to keep your sanity in check
- Talk about your feelings
There is no shame in being honest about your feelings and what you are going through. Talking to someone is a good way to cope with issues you are facing in your life, and this helps to put matters into perspective and may help you find a solution for your problems. If you are not able to talk about it, write it down in a journal to help you organise your thoughts and reflect on the situation.
- Have a plan for stress management
There is no way to escape stress, but there are ways to manage it. Identify the main causes of stress in your life. Perhaps you are worried about the health of your family members. Take a step back, identify what you can do to take control of the situation, but also acknowledge that some factors are out of your control and let those go.
- Give way to positive thoughts
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude to nurture contentment and positive thoughts in your mind. Studies have shown that practising gratitude lowers blood pressure, strengthens the immune system and promotes good mental health. A simple way to practice this is to end the day by listing down three things you are thankful for. If you follow this for a month, you will have a list of almost 100 items to be grateful for!
- Stop procrastination
Procrastination on certain tasks can induce feelings of anxiety, fear and depression, so it has to be managed. Our distinctive character traits determine the reasons for us putting things off. So whether you are a perfectionist or one who completes tasks for realistic results, it always helps to compartmentalize your goals. Rank your priorities and keep a to-do list as a self-reminder. Learn how to say no to certain tasks, all for the sake of your wellbeing and healthy striving.
- Be physically active
Regular exercise is a quick way to improve your mental wellbeing. Studies have shown exercise to have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, stress and ADHD. Start by exercising at least 30 minutes a day, three days a week and see how differently you feel at the end of the week. In fact, programmes such as AIA Vitality even reward you for being active.
- Practice healthy eating
The saying “you are what you eat” holds true here. Limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine, sugary snacks and fried food, as these adversely affect your mood. Up your intake of foods that boost your mood, such as fatty fish and nuts (which are rich in good fat), leafy greens and fresh fruits.
- Have sufficient rest
Whether your body runs on 5 hours or 9 hours of sleep daily, form your personal sleep schedule. Having insufficient sleep or rest can be detrimental to not only your mental wellbeing but also your physical health.
- Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a technique used in therapy, where you are focused on your present moment in a calm manner. By focusing on the “here and now”, you will be less likely to be caught up in remorse about the past or worries about the future. Instead, you will be focused on having a deep connection with your present. Have a quiet moment each day to practice mindfulness in a meditative manner, as it can help to promote calmness and improve your state of mind.
- Lend a helping hand
Where and when you can, lend a helping hand to a person in need or a charitable cause. When you use your time, ability and privilege to volunteer at a soup kitchen or spend time with the elderly, you are nourishing the growth of society.
- Pick a new hobby
Keep your mind engaged in a healthy or beneficial activity. By focusing your effort and energy on picking up a new skill or hobby, you are increasing your level of concentration and engaging your mind fully. Whether it’s spending the time to tend to your garden or completing a crossword puzzle or Sudoku a day, find something that you enjoy doing and do it daily.
We had a few moments with Joanne Kam, our guest comedian at the AIA World Mental Health Awareness Day. This was what she had to say about mental health.
- On the perception that “Comedians make a living making people laugh, so they must be happy all the time.”
Joanne: There is a misconception that comedians are never depressed. Well, we are still like any other normal person and we do experience our bouts of downtime. The difference, I guess, is that we see the humour in the drama of our lives. Instead of letting it bring us down, we find a way to make it funny for others!
- What are your thoughts on how awareness of mental health has evolved over time?
Joanne: When I was young, I had a very close family member go through depression. We didn’t know what we were dealing with back then. There was no internet access like we have today, and information was scarce. Today, you can have so much information in an instant – online forums, websites to seek help from – it’s amazing.
- Has that changed people’s perception of mental health or mental illness?
Joanne: Mental health is a difficult topic for many because there is a stigma surrounding the people who do step out to acknowledge that they have an illness. But this must stop. We must realise that mental illness is just like any physical illness – it can be diagnosed, and it can be managed, with the help of medication or modern technology, or a combination of both.
In all entirety, a healthy mental wellbeing does not mean that you won’t encounter challenging or negative life experiences. A healthy state of mind ensures that you would be able to cope when times are tougher than usual. Prioritise yourself and take action towards a healthier mental wellbeing, because the decision to lead a fulfilling lifestyle is yours.
The above articles are intended for informational purposes only. AIA accepts no responsibility for loss, which may arise from reliance on information contained in the articles.