Our body and mind are interconnected, so it makes sense that mental health can affect physical health, and vice versa1.
There are many types of mental health conditions and disorders. The most common are:
- affective disorders, including depression and schizophrenia
- substance use disorders, including alcohol use.
Research shows that people with a mental health illness are more likely to develop preventable chronic disease, such as:
- heart disease
- digestive issues, or
- chronic pain1.
Poor mental health can also impact daily quality of life. Depression, for example, can come with headaches, fatigue, and digestive problems, while anxiety can lead to insomnia, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating1.
Those living with mental health conditions are also more likely to make poor behaviour choices to cope, like smoking, drinking at risky levels and being less physically active2.
Poor mental health impacts all of us
According to a 2020-21 National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, around 4.2 million Australians aged 16–85 had experienced a mental illness at some time in their life and had symptoms of that illness within the past 12 months. Of these people, 42% also reported having a long-term physical health condition3.
The effects of this are far-reaching, impacting a person’s quality of life, healthcare needs and life expectancy. It can also impact family life, including a family’s standard of living, childhood development, and level of education, leading to greater health inequity2.
Prevention and early intervention are, therefore, key to managing mental health and reducing chronic disease.
7 ways to look after your mental wellbeing
1. Get moving
Physical activity releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins and serotonin in the brain to help improve mood. Engaging in physical activities with others, whether as a shared experience or in a group, also helps build social connections, which further protects your mental wellbeing. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity each day, though even a 10-minute brisk walk can help boost mental alertness, energy and mood. Finding an activity that you enjoy, like walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, or gardening can help make regular physical activity more attainable.
2. Eat well
The food we eat can influence the development, management and prevention of numerous mental health conditions, including depression and dementia . Eating a well-balanced diet that includes a healthy amount of protein, essential fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water can improve your mood and your health.
3. Get enough sleep
Good quality sleep is an essential component to living a healthy life as it is the body’s opportunity to rest.
Try to establish a healthy sleep routine by going to bed and waking up around the same time each day, including on weekends or your days off. Adults need 7 hours of sleep or more each night, so send yourself to bed at an appropriate time.
To induce sleep, try and reduce your exposure to blue light from phone screens, TVs or computers at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
4. Quit smoking
Some people with poor mental health believe that smoking relieves their symptoms, but these effects are only short-lived.
In the long term, smoking actually increases anxiety and tension and encourages the brain to switch off its mechanism to produce the “feel good” chemical dopamine, creating a vicious cycle of nicotine addiction.
Talk to your doctor or contact Quit HQ for support to quit smoking once and for all.
5. Manage your stress
Stress can physically cause:
- changes in appetite
- changes in energy levels
- digestive issues
- headaches, and
- sleep problems.
Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way can help you become more resilient to life’s challenges, to maintain your mental and physical health.
Meditation is an effective tool for slowing down overactive thoughts, focusing on the present, and calming your body. Walking, yoga, or tai chi are also great ways to manage stress.
6. Take breaks from social media and news stories
It’s good to be informed, but a continual bombardment of negative news stories or comparing ourselves to others online can be upsetting.
Consider limiting your exposure to news and social media content to a couple of times a day. Focus instead on connecting with friends and family, reading, or getting outdoors and appreciating small moments in your everyday life.
7. Connect with others
Our need to connect socially as humans is as basic as our need for food, water and shelter. Feelings of loneliness or isolation can lead to poor mental health outcomes.
Reach out to friends and family regularly and schedule quality time together. Join a group focused on your favourite hobby or interest, or challenge yourself to try a new activity outside of your comfort zone and see if you like it.
Volunteering is also a great way to find more purpose in your life and to connect with new people. Having different types of people in our lives can provide a greater variety of perspectives to help us with life’s many challenges.
It’s a work in process
Remember, mental health can change over time, depending on many factors. Prolonged stress or significant life changes, like working long hours, caring for a relative, ending a relationship, or economic hardship can all impact mental health.
Embracing healthy habits and prioritising your mental wellbeing every day can help you weather life’s many challenges, while remaining in great physical health to live life to the fullest.