What is mental illness?
Mental illnesses are conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood or behaviour, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Such conditions may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic) and affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day.
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.1 Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health. Mental illness, especially depression, increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, particularly long-lasting conditions like stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Similarly, the presence of chronic conditions can increase the risk for mental illness.
What are the symptoms of mental illness?
The most common physical signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating and loss of appetite. These symptoms are triggered by a rush of stress hormones in our body – otherwise known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. It is these hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which raise our blood pressure, and increase our heart rate. It also increases the rate at which we perspire, preparing our body for an emergency response. They also reduce blood flow to our skin and can reduce our stomach activity, while cortisol - another stress hormone – releases fat and sugar into the system to boost our energy.
How can you relieve stress and improve mental health?
Physical exercise can be very effective in relieving stress. We all know that physical activity is good for your body – having a healthy heart and improving your joints and bones are just two, but did you know that physical activity is also beneficial to your mental health and wellbeing? Research on employed adults has found that highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active.
During the long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature. Going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies, and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health. As some Covid-19 restrictions are relaxed, it’s going to be a time of excitement and opportunity for some people. For others, these changes can cause stress and worry, with readjustment being difficult for our mental health.
Whatever your views are on easing of lockdown, we’re still living through a period of high stress and uncertainty, so building and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is more important than ever.
Being active doesn’t have to mean doing sport or going to the gym. There are lots of ways to be active – just find the one that works for you!
You don’t even have to be good at sport, or join a gym - even a short burst of 10 minutes brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positivity. Physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on our mood. A study asked people to rate their mood immediately after periods of physical activity and periods of inactivity (ie reading a book or watching tv). Research found that the participants felt more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to periods of inactivity.
So basically – GET ACTIVE!
Here are some steps to help you achieve your activity goals:
Time – assess what time you have available for exercise. Try and rejig commitments to make room for extra activities. If this isn’t possible, choose an activity that fits into your busy schedule.
Be practical – will you need support from family or friends to complete your activities? Is there a chance your active lifestyle will have an impact on others in your life (i.e., children and childcare). Is it affordable – find out how much it will cost, and if necessary, what you can do to make it affordable.
Is it right for you – would you prosper in a home environment or do you fancy a change of scenery ie indoors or outdoors.
Make it part of daily life – exercising can be as simple as doing daily tasks more energetically or making small changes ie walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift.
Start slowly – don’t try and run a marathon straight off! Build up your ability gradually. Focus on small goals, and increase them once reached for ultimate motivation.
Good luck – and good mental health!
If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available here: