We’re living in stressful times, and there’s probably plenty weighing on your mind at any given time. Your mind needs looking after just like your body does. This guide will get down to the basics of what mental health is, and how to start thinking about taking care of your own mind and mood.
What is mental health?
While physical health refers to your body, you’ve probably guessed that mental health refers to everything going on in your mind. Your mood, your thoughts, and even your behaviour are influenced by your mental health.
Why does it matter?
Your mental health governs your mood, so it’s what helps keep you feeling happy and positive in day-to-day life. When you have strong mental health, you can cope with small challenges without getting too upset or overwhelmed. On the other hand, when you are struggling with your mental health, you might have trouble regulating your mood, dealing with minor setbacks, or motivating yourself to concentrate on school.
Periods of poor mental health tend to have effects on your physical health, too: you might sleep way more or way less, lack the motivation to exercise, or turn to smoking, drinking, or drugs to cope with your feelings.
How can I improve my mental health?
Much as we wish it weren’t true, there’s no such thing as having perfect mental health all the time. We all go through periods of sadness, stress, or anxiety. But there are definitely ways to make sure your baseline level of mental health is as high as it can be, and to help you push through those difficult times.
- Practise mindfulness (check out our guide here).
- Get plenty of sleep (yep, we have a guide for that, too).
- Learn to manage your stress (...and for that).
- Maintain strong friendships. Having people to share your thoughts and mood with is really helpful.
- Get exercise (you can learn about yoga and pilates, two exercise practises that are particularly linked to reducing stress, here).
- Speak to a counselor or therapist. You don’t need to be in a crisis or have a diagnosed mental health disorder to benefit from therapy.
Our Know-How Library has tons of guides to dealing with specific aspects of mental health, from anxiety to stress - you can find them all here.
What are mental health disorders?
Though we all experience periods of poor mental health, for some people, these episodes become something more serious, disruptive, or long-lasting. In other words, they’re a mental health disorder, a condition that has adverse effects on your mental health that simple things like sleep, exercise, and mindfulness can’t tackle.
Some common examples (click the links to learn more):
- Depression: a consistent, long-lasting sad mood. (https://www.unifrog.org/student/know-how/wellbeing/accessing-help-for-depression)
- Anxiety: feelings of tenseness or nervousness that disrupt your life. (https://www.unifrog.org/student/know-how/wellbeing/accessing-help-for-anxiety)
- Behavioural disorders, including ADHD: difficulty focusing and prioritising tasks.
- Eating disorders: an obsessive relationship with food.
- Addiction: an inability to stop using or consuming a substance, usually drugs or alcohol.
- Suicidal thoughts: imagining harming or killing oneself.
If you think you may be suffering from one of these disorders, speak to your GP or to the health or counseling services at your school or university. Just like maintaining physical health often requires a doctor, mental health disorders usually require a professional to help you find a manage. With certain important exceptions like eating disorders, mental health disorders usually can’t be cured - but there are definitely ways to manage them so that they don’t have as much impact on your day-to-day life.
What causes mental health problems?
When it comes to mental health disorders, the simple answer is… we don’t really know. It seems to be a combination of genetic predisposition and life experiences, especially severe stress and trauma.
Milder episodes of poor mental health are usually brought on by external factors, though biological things like changes in your hormones due to your age or your menstrual cycle can also have an effect. Certain medications, especially hormonal ones, can also alter your mood. But often, it’s things like big changes, traumatic events, stress at work or school, or conflicts with our friends and family that can trigger a difficult mental period.
The most important thing to know is that everyone’s mental health changes throughout their life. If you’re struggling with sadness, anxiety, or other mental health problems, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The feelings will pass - and if they don’t, there are people who can help you cope.