It's Mental Health Week and appropriately enough the focus is on building awareness of mental illness, and what to do if you believe you or someone you know may be suffering from a form of mental illness.
And this is really important because there is a lot of it about. 1 in 5 Adult Australians will experience some form of mental illness in any given 12 months. That's 20 % of the population!
Greater awareness will also help reduce the stigma attached to mental illness, which is also really important because sadly stigma can lead to someone delaying access to help and ending up more severely affected than if they had sought treatment earlier.
All really, really important stuff. But this focus, highly commendable as it is, is still missing one essential component - PREVENTION!
The prevalence of stress related illness and mental health problems are escalating.
And it's all happening with a huge cost.
The 2012 paper "Counting the cost" from Ernst & Young and the Inspire Foundation that examined the human and economic costs of mental illness in Australia revealed that:
"Mental illness in young men aged 12-25 costs the Australian economy $3.27billion per annum or $387,000 per hour across a year in lost productivity."
This equates to the loss of over 9 million working days per annum, at an average of 9.5 days lost.
And that's just the cost for that one group.
The big question is WHY are we seeing so much increase in mental illness and what can we do to protect ourselves and stay mentally well?
The reasons are multifactorial but can be simplified down to the fact that as a society we are living in an increasingly fast paced world with increasing levels of higher expectation, greater challenges and complexities. This can lead higher levels of stress being experienced, which unless mitigated and effectively reduced is what can lead to mental health problems.
And because ANYONE can potentially be affected, this has to become a corporate responsibility in the workplace, to create a safe environment for all brains from the CEO down, to have access to and know how to implement effective stress reduction tools.
So what can make the biggest difference to staying mentally well?
1.Give yourself permission to take off that darned cape .
Having a strong work ethic and striving to do well are seen as positive work traits. But it's about balance. We are not machines and are not designed to work long hours continuously. Our brain works best in short chunks of focused activity of 90 minutes following our natural Ultradian rhythm. Trying to be the Super Man or Super Woman is a myth and we don't have to buy into it. Let's admit it, no one is perfect, we are all flawed in some way - and that's OK. Phew.
2.Exercise daily and move more.
Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise to get you sweaty and puffed is a great way to prime your brain for best performance, elevate mood and keep you in a more positive frame of mind. Exercising burns off excess stress hormones and increases endorphin release that makes you feel good. Instead of sitting all day at your desk, stand up and look for opportunities to move more, to improve cerebral circulation for better thinking and avoid sitting disease.
3.Unplug from technology regularly.
Social media addiction is real and can lead to: anxiety, sleep disorders, loss of empathy and phantom vibrations! It's about using our technology to serve us, and not let technology become our master.
It's also about choosing to regularly unplug from technology to recreate a boundary between work and the rest of your life and give your brain the time it needs to restore and rejuvenate.
4.Practice a positive mindset.
Listen to that little voice. Yes, that one chattering away in your head. Check in to what it is telling you. If negative, know that you can choose to reframe your viewpoint. Attitudes can change. A positive mindset keeps you solution focused and keeps things in perspective.
5.Practice an attitude of gratitude.
Keeping a gratitude journal or diarising 3-5 good things daily that you are grateful for, will make you feel happier and more relaxed.
6.Laugh and laugh often.
Allowing ourselves to be more childlike, to have fun and play strengthens social and emotional bonds. Finding the humour in jokes, watching comedy shows and laughing out loud reduces cortisol levels and builds emotional resilience to pain, both physical and mental.
7.Stay in touch.
Whether we are introvert or extrovert by temperament, we are all hardwired to be social. Maintaining regular contact with friends and family has been shown to be vital to staying mentally well. Our social networks have reduced by 1/3 over the last couple of decades through our increasing busyness. So it's important we make the time to keep up with acquaintances and talk things over. And doing something for someone else has been shown to be what gives us the greatest reward we can experience. So practice noticing who needs a helping hand - and give it.
8.Get enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture - because it works! Having sufficient sleep is vital for emotional regulation, learning and memory. Tired brains not only make more mistakes, they can make some pretty terrible decisions and take greater risks. So look to get 7-9 hours every night of good quality, uninterrupted sleep.
9.Look out for the false crutches.
It's very easy at the end of a long and hard day to look for some kind of reward to make yourself feel better. You may find you are smoking more. Or you may find that you are relying more heavily on alcohol or other recreational drugs to help you relax. All of which are double-edged swords putting you at risk of further health problems.
10.Be more mindful.
A over-busy mind can feel jumbled and stressed. We spend much of our time worrying about the future or worrying about what has already happened. All that worry is exhausting and leads to sleepless nights. Practicing being more mindful keeps you to be in the present moment, the here and now, which enables the brain to calm down, as the stress response is subdued.
It all boils down to lightening up, keeping things in perspective and taking time out to ensure you are enjoying the life you have. We all get such a short time on this planet, let's make it a great event and enjoy good mental health.
Does your organisation look after the mental capital of all its employees?
What policies could your workplace adopt to boost mental well-being and create a brain safe environment?
What method do you find useful to keep stress levels in check and keep mentally healthy?
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