Given the increased media attention on mental wellbeing these days, you may think it’s a relatively new topic. But in fact, Vitality’s been focused on mental wellbeing for over a decade. In 2012, Vitality introduced an evidence-based Mental Wellbeing Assessment to nudge individuals to explore their own mental wellbeing and understand their stressors, social support, resilience and psychological wellbeing and how they might be able to improve each of those areas.
One reason mental wellbeing might feel like a new topic is that the different forms of lockdown we experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic exposed just how many people are suffering. These unfortunate circumstances helped elevate our discussions about this important topic. People can still be stigmatized for admitting they are suffering from any mental health issue, but generally, it is more acceptable to talk about it at home or the workplace in today’s climate. While it may be less taboo than it used to be to discuss, it can still be a struggle to maintain our mental health. Here are three things you can do to help boost your own mental wellbeing.
First, let’s never forget the power of physical activity to improve our physical health and our mental health. Our understanding of how activity can improve mental wellbeing gets better and better as neuroscientists and others explore what happens in the brain when we are active. Part of it is that the brain releases special chemicals called neurotransmitters that help brain cells talk to each other and activate or relax different parts of the brain. Two neurotransmitters that promote positive brain activity are endocannabinoids and dopamine. Both of these chemicals are released during and after exercise and can help us feel more relaxed and positive.
Next, commit to learning something new. This could be a skill or just learning more about a topic. As you become more knowledgeable about a topic or as you master a new skill, it can help you feel more empowered and confident. It can also leave you with a sense of purpose and a feeling of accomplishment. Spending time learning more on a new topic or practicing a skill also creates a situation of “flow.” If you are in a state of flow, then your brain is focused on that topic and not on negative thoughts that can creep in when you are down.
Finally, be present in your daily life whenever you can. Being present means you are tuned in physically to your senses and environment. It doesn’t require special skills or equipment, and you can do it almost anytime or anywhere. For example, it can be as simple as focusing on the feeling of the toothbrush on your teeth while brushing. Or, it can mean you listen to the sounds around you while waiting in line at the grocery store instead of taking that moment to respond to an email or a text message. Being present allows you to respond rather than react and can help make each day richer.
Even if you are trying all of these, you might still be suffering, or you might know someone who is. If so, try to recognize signs like sudden changes in behavior such as withdrawal from friends, family or normal activities, or other behaviors like a loss of interest or energy, or unusual jumpiness or irritability. If you spot any of these examples, remember there are resources to help, such as the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine (text or dial 988 or 1-800-273-TALK), Lifeline Crisis Chat (www.crisis.org), or the non-emergency National Alliance on Mental Illness line (1-800-950-6264).
With a PhD in Exercise Physiology, Jonathan Dugas spends his days thinking about how we can help more people be more active. With four Ironman finishes and 13 marathons and counting, he’ll see you out on the road.