Looking after your mental health: a guide

Fatmata Kamara
Mental Health Nurse Global Case Manager
22 July 2024
Next review due July 2027

You might associate mental health with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. But mental health is something we all have. And, just as it’s important to take care of your physical health, looking after your mental health is also essential to your overall wellbeing.

A group of people having a meeting

What is mental health?

Mental health covers everything to do with your emotions, and how you think and feel. Think of mental health as being on a scale. Good mental health is at one end and having a mental illness is at the other. We call this a ‘mental health continuum.’

Having good mental health doesn’t mean you’re always happy – everyone has good and bad days. It just means that you’re able to cope well with normal day-to-day stresses and challenges.

Between the two extremes, your mental health may impact how well you’re feeling or coping to different degrees. Everyone may be at different points on this scale at different times. And you can move up and down the scale all the time.

Signs of mental health problems

The signs that your mental health isn’t doing so well will be unique to you. Perhaps you’re having more trouble sleeping than usual. You might find your thoughts or feelings are getting harder to deal with.

You may be also going through a period of feeling sad, hopeless, or fearful. You may feel worried, tense, or afraid (a common experience called anxiety) in a way that doesn’t feel normal for you.

Mental health problems often have physical symptoms too. You might find you’ve lost your appetite or are feeling tired all the time.

Being aware of your mental health and what’s normal for you means you’re more likely to recognise these signs early on. And this means you can take steps to feel better.

Taking care of your mental health

Just like physical health, mental health is something you need to continue to work at.

Practising good mental health habits can help you maintain your mental health. That’s important even if you’re currently feeling okay.

Here are some ways to look after your day-to-day mental health.

  • Relax. This could be having a bath, going for a walk, or relaxing in front of the TV. It might sound simple, but with busy lifestyles, many of us don’t make the time to wind down.
  • Practise mindfulness. This can help you to focus on and appreciate the present moment.
  • Get outdoors. Spending time in nature can help your mental wellbeing. If you have trouble sleeping, spending 20-30 minutes in natural daylight may help improve your sleep too.
  • Have regular sleep patterns. Having a good sleep routine and getting enough sleep will make a big difference to how you feel. But research also shows that going to bed and waking up at the same time each day can help maintain positive mood.
  • Keep active. Regular exercise is key to healthy mood. It’s also been shown to help improve common mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Even some gentle exercise can help to give you a boost.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Your diet can affect your mood and energy levels, as well as your physical health. Eating more whole foods like brown rice and wholegrain breads can help keep your mood stable. Reducing your caffeine intake and making sure you eat enough fruits and vegetables is also helpful. Adding protein like lean meat, fish, eggs, tofu and legumes and healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados can benefit mood too.
  • Stay connected. Make sure you keep in contact with friends and loved ones – even if this is just by text or phone.
  • Avoid recreational drugs and alcohol. Using these to cope with problems can do more harm than good.

Its also important to recognise that you might not always be able to handle things on your own. It’s okay to ask for help – even if you’re not sure whether you need it.

Where to get help

There are many ways to seek support. You may find some options are more easily available or work better for you. Here are some of the main ones.

  • Your GP. They may be able to offer you support and treatment, including counselling and, if necessary, medication. They can also refer you, if appropriate, or recommend local options.
  • Trained therapists and counsellors. You may be able to self-refer on the NHS in some areas. This means you don’t need to see a GP first. You can also access therapists through certain charities, or privately.
  • Charity helplines and support groups. See the websites listed below for some examples.
  • Workplace support. Some workplaces offer mental health support services called an Employee Assistance Programme.

If you’re not sure where to turn, it can also help to talk to a trusted friend or loved one. They may be able to encourage and support you in finding the help you need.

Find free information, advice, and sources of support on our Mental Health Hub.

Further support and advice

Our health insurance allows you to skip a GP referral in some cases, and speak to a mental health practitioner. Learn more today.

Fatmata Kamara
Fatmata Kamara (she/her)
Mental Health Nurse Global Case Manager



Anna Magee, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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