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What is positive mental health, and how can we foster it?
It’s well known that getting older can put some strain on our physical health, but it’s less commonly understood that it can also impact mental health. In fact, around 10-15% of older people living in the community suffer from anxiety or depression, according to The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Fortunately, there are many ways that you can foster positive mental health and combat some of the challenges that come with the retirement years.
What is positive mental health?
Good mental health, according to the World Health Organisation, is defined as a state of well-being where individuals are able to:
- Realise their own potential
- Work productively
- Cope with the normal stresses of life
- Make a positive contribution to the community.
Mental and psychological well-being encompasses the way you feel about yourself, but also the way you deal with external situations and the quality of your relationships.
It’s important to remember that positive mental health is not simply the absence of mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety. Being mentally healthy is predominantly about the presence of positive characteristics such as a feeling of purpose, contentment, maintaining fulfilling relationships and participating in life to the fullest.
Other features of positive mental health include:
- feeling positive emotions like optimism, happiness, love, compassion, satisfaction and joy.
- having confidence in new situations
- avoiding self-blame
- having good self-esteem.
Why is positive mental health important?
Positive mental health allows you to enjoy all the activities you want to participate in. It doesn’t mean you will never be sad or go through emotionally-challenging times. However, those with positive mental health will be able to bounce back more easily from these experiences - this is called mental resilience.
Having mental resilience means individuals have the tools to cope with adversity, trauma and stress.
Four ways to foster positive mental health and adopt a more positive mental attitude
1.Take care of your physical needs
We may be talking about the health of your mind, but mental health and your body are interconnected. ‘Healthy mind, healthy body’ goes the old Roman adage, and in many ways this is absolutely true. It’s very difficult to feel mentally on point if your physical needs are not catered for. For example, it's very hard to feel good about yourself if you feel unwashed or you’ve had nothing to eat.
When caring for yourself, you should make sure to:
- Eat nutritious meals that include all the main food groups: proteins, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and fats.
- Enjoy a good standard of bodily and environmental hygiene. This means washing yourself, your clothes and cleaning your living space regularly.
- Drink plenty of fluids, particularly water to avoid dehydration.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol that can adversely impact your mood.
- Avoid harmful activities such as smoking or drinking to excess.
- Get enough sleep. According to Better Health Victoria healthy adults need about eight hours of sleep every night.
2. Make time for social connection
Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted among us find comfort in the company of like-minded people. The best type of interaction involves face-to-face connection. Phone calls and video conversations are great for keeping long distance relationships alive, but nothing beats the closeness of a physical encounter. Having a chat with a friend or close family member also gives you the opportunity to air concerns or worries that may be weighing you down.
3. Exercise, physical activity and positive mental health
Exercise is a way to help treat mental health complaints, according to research reported by Health Direct. When you do physical activity your brain releases endorphins which help to lift your mood and also give you energy. Regular exercise can also help you to sleep better and feel more at one with yourself. And don’t think you need to be running miles or pumping weights in the gym. Simply going for a short walk or tackling weeds in the garden can elevate your heart rate and provide a good work out.
4. Use positive words to boost your mental health
There is an association between using positive words and positive mental health. When you’re not feeling great, it can be easy to slip into negative self-talk… and then it becomes a pattern. Often, you may not even be aware of your ‘inner voice’, until you consciously focus on what it’s telling you. Some ways to help curb the negative self-talk and boost the positive include:
- Be aware of and recognise negative thoughts, and how often you have them. Once you become aware, you may be surprised at how often you’re telling yourself negative things!
- Stop and challenge the thought. Often negative self-talk is not even based in reality e.g. “Everyone thinks I’m stupid”. We’re pretty sure that’s just not the case! Is there any actual evidence that supports your way of thinking?
- Try to balance each negative thought with a positive one.
- Consider how you would view the same situation if you had a positive mindset.
- Ask yourself if the negative thought is helpful in achieving your goals.
- Consider what you would say if a friend or family member was in the same situation. Can you apply those words to yourself?
- Write down (or just think about) all your positive attributes and things you like about yourself.
- When you catch yourself practising positive self-talk, or being kind to yourself, make sure you recognise that moment as progress.
It can take time to start reframing a negative mindset into a more positive mental attitude. So be patient with yourself. Just keep going and recognise each sign of progress.
For more practical ways to promote positive mental health, check out our mental health guide.
CBHS offers mental health programs for people at risk of or diagnosed with mental health concerns. If you’ve got Hospital cover, you could be eligible. Talk to us on 1300 174 534 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to see if you qualify for one of our Better Living programs.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10533549 [mental health in older people stat]
- https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/how-to-get-to-sleep/ [NHS]
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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