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Looking after your mental health

Being healthy doesn’t just mean looking after the physical aspects of your health, it’s equally important to care for your mental and social wellbeing. Being in good mental health will allow you to enjoy life to the fullest and cope with the usual stresses of everyday life. Try following these ten top tips to keep you in tip-top condition.

Eat right

It’s really no secret – sticking to a well-balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Food is, after all, your body’s fuel. You wouldn’t put diesel into a petrol engine, so try not to fill yourself up on the wrong things – it will only make you feel worse. For instance, eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables each day, opt for wholegrain varieties of bread, pasta and rice, and try to limit how much sugar, salt and fat you eat.

Drink sensibly

Alcohol is a depressant and can affect the way your brain functions, so it’s important to take a measured approach to how much alcohol you drink regularly. Alcohol may give you a temporary ‘high’, but if you don’t drink sensibly, or you drink heavily over a long period of time, you may be at risk of developing mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression.

It’s not possible to be precise about how much is safe for individual men and women to drink. Current guidelines, however, recommend not regularly drinking more than three or four units a day for men, and two or three units a day for women. Although ‘Regularly’ means every day or most days of the week, it’s a good idea to have at least two alcohol-free days a week so you don’t go over the limits.. So over a week, men shouldn’t have more than 21 units and women shouldn’t have more than 14 units.

This doesn’t mean you can save up all the ‘allowance’ for a weekend binge. A drinking binge is generally defined as drinking double the daily recommended units in one session.

A large 250ml glass of standard strength wine (13% ABV) can be as much as three units, while a pint of standard strength lager (4% ABV) is more than two units. But don’t ‘save up’ your allowance for a one-night binge as this has a bad effect on your liver, which will leave you feeling worse too.

Also, don’t use illegal drugs, such as cannabis or ecstasy, because they have the potential to seriously harm your mental health.

Keep active

Taking part in regular physical activity helps your brain to release happy hormones (endorphins), which can improve how you feel. Do whatever you enjoy most; whether it’s team sports, dancing, cycling or walking, there’s sure to be something out there for you. Even low-impact exercise like tai chi can help boost your overall wellbeing. Government guidelines suggest 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise. This may sound like a lot but you can break this down into 10-minute bursts, such as regularly walking instead of driving short distances.

Also, try to stay active in terms of working, even if it’s volunteering. Having a fulfilling work-life builds a sense of achievement, provides social contacts and support, keeps you physically and mentally active, and gives structure to your day-to-day life. It’s been found that, particularly for men, not being in employment may give a greater risk of depression.

Take a break

Life-changing events, such as bereavement, remarriage, redundancy and retirement, can all take their toll on your mental wellbeing. Sometimes, you may feel as if everything is getting on top of you and that it’s all becoming too much. Stopping to relax, in any way that works for you – such as practicing meditation or a mindfulness technique – can help you to manage your emotions and reduce your stress levels. This may help you to enjoy and appreciate the positives in life.

Sleep well

Being tired can affect your ability to concentrate, demotivate you and leave you feeling drained of energy. This can affect your mental wellbeing, so it’s important that you try to get enough sleep to feel refreshed and able to carry out your daily activities. Simple changes to your bedroom can make all the difference. Find a comfortable temperature – not too hot or cold. Get thick enough curtains or blackout blinds to block out any light from outside at night. Try to go to bed and get up around the same time every day – establishing a routine can help maintain good sleep.

Talk about your feelings

Speaking with others about how you feel can help you to see things from a different perspective. Try talking regularly to people close to you, so that you have a chance to share any problems. If you prefer to air your worries with someone outside your situation, there are many support groups and professional counsellors you could choose from.

Ask for help when you need it

If you feel you aren’t coping on your own, don’t feel guilty or embarrassed about asking others for support. Bereavement and other life-changing events are often very difficult to deal with, but it’s important to remember that help is out there and taking advantage of it can make all the difference. Friends and family are a good starting point, but you may find support groups or charities can help you too, if you’re feeling particularly low or finding it hard to cope.

Accept who you are

There are some things in life that you can’t change, but it’s important to see yourself as a valuable person. Try not to judge yourself against impossible standards because this will help you to stay healthy and happy throughout your life.

Keep in touch with friends and loved ones

Maintaining good relationships with people builds up a support network, which is always important, but especially so in times of need. Even if you haven’t seen someone for a very long time, meet up for lunch, write a letter or send an email – it’s always good to catch up.

Smile and laugh

That’s it, plain and simple. Why not give it a go?


Produced by Louise Abbott, Bupa Health Information Team, September 2012.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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