When we get a cut or an injury, we don’t hesitate to clean the area and dig into our trusty first aid kit. We administer band-aids and tinctures, apply ice packs, and rest as needed to ensure that the wound doesn’t fester or cause any more pain than necessary. However, it seems that when it comes to mental health, people are more reluctant to take the same time and necessary measures to tend to hurts and illnesses. It needn’t be this way. You can start to heal and, indeed, alleviate suffering today with these simple tricks taken from your ‘mental health first aid kit.’
1. Get a Breath of Fresh Air
It’s no coincidence that Bell Let’s Talk falls in February. Incidences of severe mental illness, especially those leading to suicide, peak during the imminent Spring months. One great way to get a mood boost, especially during the bleak months of Canadian winter, is to get outside! Studies show fresh air can improve memory, boost mood and even fight depression. We know it’s cold outside, but dig out those snow pants, put on a scarf and breathe some fresh air! Your mental health will thank you.
2. Engage in Daily Physical Exercise
After the New Year’s surge at the gym, it’s time to recommit to your exercise regime. Physical exercise has been shown to increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Long story short, this is great news for your mental health! Neurogenesis (quite literally brain-building) in this particular part of the brain is connected with improved memory and the ability to flexibly process new information. This flexibility is key in fostering new and positive habits that will help you successfully navigate any challenges that life may throw your way. Whether it’s walking to work, hitting the gym at lunch hour or keeping pace with your busy kids, get moving today and EVERY DAY.
3. Try Meditation
Everyday stress and anxiety can trigger depression. Meditation is one simple way of tending to these inevitable stressors and giving them their dues before they wreak havoc on mental health. As a first aid practice, try to devote a quiet time in your day to sitting or laying comfortably, closing your eyes and letting your mind wander. Acknowledge thoughts and feelings (including any stressors) but try not to place judgment on them. Instead, hone in on your breathing and the pleasant sensations of your healthful body relaxing. If you’re new to the practice and want some guidance, try a YouTube video, find a local meditation class or search for an App on your smartphone.
Social connection can increase longevity just as predictably as genes, physical exercise and diet according to psychologist Susan Pinker. That’s a pretty big deal! In an increasingly online world, however, it is often our social connections that take the biggest hit. This year, why not commit to reconnecting face-to-face with friends, friendly work colleagues and family members? After-work drinks, conversation over a cup of coffee, a favourite outing—there’s no sting in these first-aid remedies!
Sleep and mental health can have a bit of a snowball effect on one another. When one suffers, the other suffers. Though it can be tricky getting out of this cycle, rest assured, there are a few simple tricks to get you on track to some quality shuteye. Sleep experts suggest, first of all, keeping a regular routine. This can begin with a simple adjustment like getting up at the same time every day. Oftentimes, a more regular sleep pattern will follow. You can also work to create a sleep-friendly space in your bedroom, the most important aspects being dark, quiet, cool and tech-free.
Recent studies have shown that three or more hours of screen time a day is linked to depression and general unhappiness. This can be a tricky problem to address in a world that is increasingly online in both the social and occupational domains. Still, it is important to remember that ultimately it is you who is in charge of your relationship with technology. Be mindful of your habits when it comes to screen use and, if necessary, establish ground rules for yourself. These might include turning on your smartphone’s do-not-disturb function at a pre-determined hour, sticking to designated screen times only, putting aside tech gadgets during meal times or fostering other screen-free hobbies.
This February, challenge yourself to extend all the same kindnesses and cares to your mental well-being as you would your physical health!
It’s time we started talking openly about our mental health. Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 30, and help end the stigma around mental illness. For every text message (not iMessage) sent and mobile or long-distance call made by Bell Canada, Bell Aliant and Bell MTS customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for anyone sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But talking about it is just the first step: Visit letstalk.bell.ca for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.