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Everyone knows that exercise is good for our physical health. In fact, you’ve probably heard that in order to stay fit and healthy you should get at least thirty minutes of exercise every day.

But did you know that our mental health also needs looking after in a similar way?

You might be asking, “how do I look after your mental health then?”

Well, let’s start by understanding what it is.

What is ‘mental health’?

Our Mental health has a number of ingredients.

One way to think about mental health is as if it were a cake.

The ingredients of a cake—like butter, sugar, flour and cocoa—are all important, but they can’t make a cake on their own. They all work together to make the cake. In the same way, our mental health includes the important ingredients of our emotional health, our psychological health, and our social well-being. When combined, these aspects form our mental health and affect how we think, feel, and act.

Just like our physical health, there’s quite a lot of different things we can do to improve our mental health. And when our mental health is strong, it’s much easier to deal with stressful life events and have positive relationships. There are also things that can have a negative impact on our mental health and when your mental health is struggling, the things that normally should feel easy feel incredibly hard.

We all experience ups and downs in our mental health, but if you always feel down and can’t find a way to pick yourself up, the best thing to do is to reach out for help. There are a lot of different reasons your mental health could be struggling so it’s good to find out why and put a plan in place.

Situations that can impact our mental health

It’s normal for our mental health to be impacted by the things happening in our lives and around us in the world. Some examples include:

Big life or world events

An example of a big world event that has impacted many people’s mental health is COVID-19. It’s no surprise that a lot of young people are finding it hard to cope with all the uncertainty, fear, life-disrupting rules and new regulations that can impact our work, school, social life and daily routines.

When you experience bullying

If you are being bullied, you can feel frightened, angry, confused or a number of other emotions that can impact your mental health.

When you’re facing challenging relationships

This could include relationships with friends, your family, or teachers to name a few. Maybe something has happened, or something has changed and it has made you feel down.

When you feel alone or isolated

Especially during lockdowns, you may be feeling separated from friends and loved ones that you would have previously seen regularly.

Signs that your mental health may be suffering

There’s a bunch of ways that poor mental health can come out in the way you think, feel and behave:

  • Often feeling stressed or anxious in a way that you can’t control
  • Feeling irritated and unable to relax
  • Regularly having negative thoughts
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Having difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep
  • Not having an appetite or alternatively, overeating
  • Easily becoming aggressive or emotional
  • Separating yourself from others even when you’re feeling lonely
  • Relying on substances to cope e.g. alcohol or drugs
What poor mental health can look like

Ways to improve your mental health

Luckily, there are a number of ways you can easily improve your mental health by yourself. These are some of the most basic, yet most important principles for living an all-around healthy life:

  • Eating well. That’s right, more veggies and less junk food!
  • Getting enough sleep (roughly 8 hours per night)
  • Exercising regularly – this will give you an endorphin boost (happy feelings in your brain)
  • Learning some relaxation techniques like deep breathing or yoga
  • Zenning out with mindfulness or meditation
  • Speaking to friends and family for support
  • Spending time in nature far away from your screens
  • Spending time with your pets
  • Doing nice things for others without being asked. Yes – simple acts of kindness help you feel good
  • Choosing to be thankful for what you have
Improve your mental health

When should you ask for help?

If you’ve tried everything from the list above and continue to feel down, or feel like you could be a risk to yourself or others, you should seek additional help from a professional. There’s nothing wrong with seeking help! You can visit your GP and they will conduct a mental health assessment to see what the best course of action might be for you. Typically, this could include a referral to a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

If you do not feel comfortable visiting a GP, you may want to consider speaking to your school Guidance Officer, or alternatively speaking with one of the counsellors at Kids HelpLine. They want to make you feel as comfortable as possible and have a number of different ways for you to reach out. For more ways to find help for your mental health, check out our support page.