We all know how important it is to keep your body active and look after your physical health. But did you know it’s equally as important to look after your mind and emotions?
Mental health is about your well-being and how good you feel. You may not be able to eliminate stress from your life, but positive mental health can certainly help you tackle challenging times and bounce back from them too.
In this article we look at why your mental health is important, small changes you can make to improve your mental health, as well as where to find reliable information and help when you need it.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes mental health as, “a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
In other words, your mental health is about how good you feel. It’s about having a healthy and positive way of thinking, feeling and interacting with others.
It’s important not to confuse mental health with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Mental health, just like your physical health, can waiver from time to time depending on what’s going on in your life. You may feel sad, anxious, stressed or unhappy at times, but it doesn’t mean you have a mental illness. That said, just because you don’t have a mental illness it doesn’t mean you have positive or good mental health.
Why positive mental health is important
A little bit of stress can be good as it can be a motivator for change, however too much stress can be a problem.
Looking after your mental health is key to ageing well. Positive mental health has many advantages; it helps you to cope better with stressful situations, have positive relationships with the people in your life, as well as make you feel like you’re contributing to your community. It also improves your mood and helps you to feel more relaxed and engaged with life.
Your mental wellbeing and COVID-19
COVID-19 has changed the way we live and has introduced us to new fears and anxieties. You may be worried about contracting the disease, but also anxious about when you’re going to see your family and grandchildren again, especially if they’re based interstate or overseas.
The lockdown rules are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but unfortunately they can also lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. These feelings don’t bode well for your mental health.
The good news is, there are small changes you can make to improve your well-being and people you can speak to when you need help.
As a starting point, you can take an anonymous anxiety and depression test to see how you’re coping with life. It’s from Beyond Blue and it asks 10 questions about how you’ve been feeling about things over the past four weeks, and depending on your answers, provides information and suggests steps you can take.
If you’re finding it difficult to cope during COVID-19, you can find a range of helpful information for you or somebody you know at Head to Health.
How to improve your mental health
Connect with others
Research shows your level of happiness is linked to the relationships you have with others, whether it be family, friends or people in your community. It’s important to stay in touch with the people in your life and make an effort to get involved with local groups. Try video calling if you can’t see friends or family in person.
The Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) is a great place to start for information on how you can stay connected with other people over the phone, online, or in person. You can also find information on the Community Visitors scheme, a free government program designed to reduce loneliness and isolation by matching volunteers with older people.
Find volunteer work
It’s a great way to get involved and connect with your community while giving you a sense of purpose. There are online and remote opportunities available if it’s not possible for you to volunteer in person. You can find information on how to find volunteer work through your local council or websites such as Seek Volunteer and Go Volunteer.
Exercise your brain
There are a number of ways you can keep your mind healthy and active, including:
Play games. Crossword puzzles, number games, memory games, you name it. If you don’t have access to the daily paper or magazines, you can also find games and puzzles to play online like our Be Connected games centre .
Keep learning! There are plenty of online and face-to-face courses you can take on topics ranging from nature and history to cooking and photography. Take a look at what’s on offer at your local community college or do an online search for courses, there’s bound to be something that takes your interest.
Take up a hobby. How about writing? You can share your memories and tell your story on paper or online. Our short course on how to create a blog can help you get started. You can also try researching your family history, build a herb garden or join a local book club (ask your librarian if they know of any groups accepting new members).
Where to find reliable information and help
It's important to reach out to somebody when you need help. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to your doctor or a close friend, there are many free and reliable resources available. The following websites have a wealth of information about mental health and support services you can contact for help.