Why Mental Health Matters in Everyday Life
In recent years, the idea of Mental Health has become a hot topic in the media, healthcare, and everyday conversations. But what exactly is mental health? According to the World Health Organization (WHO; 2022), it's all about being in a good mental state that helps you deal with life's ups and downs. Contrary to what some might think, it's not just about those with specific mental conditions like anxiety or depression; anyone can experience dips in their mental well-being (WHO, 2022).
In literature, we often use the Biopsychosocial model to explain how physical and mental health are shaped by a mix of biological (i.e., genetics, physical conditions of the body, etc), psychological (i.e., motivation, emotional regulation, the appraisal of the situation, etc), and social factors (i.e., interpersonal relations, early-life interactions, etc). For example, someone dealing with cancer might feel down not only because of the biology of their illness but also because they're separated from friends and family during treatment (social factors). This isolation can mess with their emotions and lead to negative thought patterns (psychological factors).
It’s also been seen that the amount of social support a person perceives can greatly impact their mental well-being. In a study conducted by Perez-Tejada et al. (2019), it was found that breast cancer patients that perceived that they had lower social support were more likely to be mentally distressed. Whereas, in another study conducted by Ye et al., (2018), it was found that breast cancer patients that had access to social support and those that had incorporated psychological strategies to cope (e.g., courage-related strategies, higher self-efficacy, etc) were the ones that were more likely to develop resilience and were less likely to report a poor mental health. While participants in both groups were exposed to the same stressor, participants had different well-being outcomes due to a difference in exposure to psychological techniques and social factors.
The Power of Lifestyle Changes
When we look at mental health through the lens of the Biopsychosocial model, we see that certain factors either shield us from mental distress or make us more vulnerable to it (WHO, 2022; Ye et al., 2018; Perez-Tejada et al., 2019). While we can't change our genetics or some biological factors, we do have a say in our lifestyle choices. These choices can help us better handle daily stressors and improve our mental well-being, according to various studies (Ye et al., 2019; Schäfer et al., 2022; Dominguez et al., 2022; Lau et al., 2021; Furlotte & Schwartz, 2017).
Some examples of lifestyle changes that we can include in you daily lives are mentioned below:
Change Your Perspective: When faced with a stressful situation, like a looming project deadline, instead of thinking "I can't do this," If we can psychologically restructure our thoughts from a negative to something positive like "This project may be tough, but I'll give it my best shot." This positive reframing can help you cope better (Pakrosnis & Cepukiene, 2015; Wright, 2006).
Practice Mindfulness: Engaging in mindfulness techniques like guided meditations, visualization, and journaling can declutter your mind, reduce overthinking, and combat negative thoughts (Gu et al., 2015; Bigham et al., 2014; Ullrich et al., 2002).
Stay Active: Regular exercise releases endorphins or "happy hormones" and has been linked to improved memory, attention, reduced negative thoughts, and overthinking which can contribute to a higher self-esteem and self-efficacy in individuals. Studies have found that even if a person is not engaging in intensive exercise daily and is simply engaging in routine physical activity to reduce the number of hours spent stationary, they have better well-being outcomes than someone who spends a large portion of their day not moving (<2000 steps; Saunders et al., 2020). So, even if you are not doing intensive exercise routines, walking 10,000 steps daily have been found to have improvements in mental health and well-being outcome (Hallam et al., 2018; Hallam et al., 2023).
Prioritize Sleep: A study conducted by Wickham et al., (2020) concluded that sleep quality is an important predictor of mental health such that too much or too little sleep were both associated with more symptoms of depression. Some easy ways to improve your sleep hygiene is to avoid or reduce your caffeine intake especially if it is closer to your bed-time, avoid or reduce nicotine intake, exercise regularly, reduce clutter and noise from your sleeping area, only use the room you sleep in to sleep (avoid doing work in this room), and try to maintain a sleep routine (Irish et al., 2015).
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