ARE you thinking about what New Year resolution to make? There are many worthy things that you can do, both for yourself and for others, but I would suggest that enhancing your own mental wellbeing should be top of the list of priorities.
Many people set unrealistic targets for themselves, and then give up quickly when they ‘fall off the wagon’. Instead you should think about a long-term plan, one that does not cease to be your focus if you are derailed for a period. Set an achievable target and one that you can work on all year. Resolutions are for the whole year, not just for January!
Here are some starting points and suggestions to get you going.
There is a vital link between what you eat and mental health. The vast majority of the key chemical serotonin is produced in the stomach, and this plays a role in many aspects of your life – appetite, sleep and your mood. People with depression often have low levels of serotonin. Key actions include cutting back, or cutting out, processed foods and adding some extra pieces of fruit to your diet.
One of the quickest ways to relieve stress is to exercise. As little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise, four or five times a week, will help to keep your heart in good condition and boost your mood. This is because exercise increases blood-flow to the brain, enabling more neurotransmitters to be produced. The more neurotransmitters you have, the better you will feel. Key actions would include walking more – even around the office or at home – and using the stairs and not the lift at work.
It is impossible to stress how important good quality sleep is. Sleep deprivation leads to a failure to manage your mood, meaning that accomplishing even simple tasks becomes difficult. It is important to have downtime to refresh our bodies and minds, and to consolidate memories. Key actions would include getting rid of electronic devices from your bedroom and winding down for half an hour before you go to bed. Try to get eight hours sleep at night.
We hear a lot spoken about ‘me time’, but how many of us take this time? Smartphones and portable devices mean that for many of us we are never ‘off duty’. Succumbing to this bombardment of information can lead to stress, and we never have downtime as a consequence. Have you holidays at work that you didn’t take? If yes, take them. Key actions include spending time in meditation, listening to music or enjoying a relaxing hobby or pursuit. When did you last visit an art gallery and lose yourself in its beauty?
Having a plan helps to avoid emotional stress, and this plan should help you think about your priorities. This can, and should, lead to learning to say no at times. You cannot please everyone all the time – you have to think of yourself and your happiness. Expending energy on things that are unimportant means ignoring some things that are very important. This can lead to stress, conflict, anxiety and even depression. Key action is to make a list of five key priorities – personal and/or professional – and decide how you will allot time to make them happen.
If your thoughts are all over the place, it can be very helpful to carry a small notebook with you. Making to-do lists, or noting some thoughts you have, can be very useful for mental wellbeing. Seeing what has to be done written down in front of you can help to make them manageable, and transfers them from being overwhelming thoughts in your head to a list of tasks to be completed. Key action is to get in the habit of writing your thoughts down as they occur to you.
THERE IS NO SHAME IN SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP.
This message is so important that it needs to be stressed. Many people suffer symptoms of depression or anxiety, and this is not to be feared. Rather, it is important to seek help and support, in the first instance from someone you can trust. It is essential that you do not suffer in silence. Professionals can help you to see your problem in a different way, one that leads to a solution. Depression and anxiety do not go away on their own. Key actions are to share your worry, fear or anxiety with someone and to seek medical or professional help. You would do so for a physical injury – so why not for your mental wellbeing?
AWARE 1890 303 302
SAMARITANS Freephone 116 123
SOSADIRELAND 041 984 8754
PIETA HOUSE 01 601 0000
The Industry Assistance Programme (IAP) provides information, resources and counselling on all of the challenges that life may bring. This includes depression, suicidal thoughts, debt and money worries, health and wellness, emotional wellbeing, bereavement or loss, work/life balance, managing stress and relationships. The service is free, 24-hour and confidential and can be accessed by telephone on Freephone 1800 303 588, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Many thanks to Dr Aidan McGoldrick for his advice and support