Mind

How to look after your mental health and wellbeing

Taking care of your mind and happiness is more important than you think.

By Bronte Chaperon and Jacqui Maguire
Of all the things we're not taught in school (like how to do taxes or what to do when you're a week from payday and have already spent your paycheck on takeaways and cute dog outfits), not learning strategies to improve and take care of our mental health is a big loss (don't worry guys, you can always use trigonometry or 10th grade economics to help you cope with your relationship breakdown.)
Growing up, we don't learn how important our mental health really is, at least not extensively. We take physical education classes, learn algebra (why?) and write 2000 word essays on Macbeth, but there doesn't seem to be a focus on teaching us how to spot signs and cope well if we are struggling.
This needs to change - our mental health is important.
Our mental health is worth more attention than a standalone check up after a sad event. And it's worth more than a single half-hearted mindfulness session.
It's important to maintain our mental health and check in with ourselves regularly. And while we don't need to be happy all the time of every day, we should do what we can to look after our happiness and minds.
This can at times feel easier said than done. To help us us increase our knowledge about mental health and learn skills known for boosting our wellbeing, we've enlisted the help of registered clinical psychologist and managing director of Umbrella, Jacqui Maguire.
Jacqui Maguire, managing director and registered clinical psychologist at Umbrella.

Why is mental health important?

Jacqui describes mental health as a positive state of wellbeing, and says: "It describes our ability to manage life's daily challenges, utilise our strengths, engage in meaningful connections and lead a purposeful life. You can think of mental health as a continuum."
There seems to be an incorrect perception and stigma associated with the term mental health, where people often think of mental illness and sadness. It is important we nip that in the bud right now.
"We ALL have mental health, and we all need to prioritise fostering it. Flourishing doesn't happen by chance or fluke, it is generated by meaningful small everyday actions," says Jacqui.
What is 'flourishing' you ask? It's pretty much what we all want:
"Optimal mental health is called 'Flourishing' which describes a sustained state of positive emotion, connection and psychological wellbeing. The research connects flourishing to:
• Improved physical health
• Strengthened relationships
• Prosocial behaviour – like helping someone in need
• Enhanced engagement in education and work
• Improved productivity
• Academic and career success
• Higher satisfaction with life
"At the other end of the scale is languishing. Languishing can be defined as 'emptiness and stagnation, constituting a life of quiet despair… individuals who describe themselves and life as hollow, empty, a shell or a void' (Corey Keyes)." In other words, Jacqui describes languishing as a bit like feeling lost without knowing quite how to grasp hold of the compass.
Where we sit on this continuum can always change. Practising techniques that have been shown to help our mental health (see below) can help boost our mental health, buffer us from challenges and enable us to recover faster when life throws curve balls.
So now I've piqued your interest, how exactly do we look after our mental health? Well, there's a lot you can do!

How to look after your mind and mental health

Registered clinical psychologist Jacqui Maguire tells us how we can look after our minds:
PHYSICALLY:
Activate and move: When we are physically active our body releases serotonin and endorphins. These neurochemicals have many benefits, including fostering active recovery, improving our mood and enhancing concentration.
Disconnect from screens: Our brains weren't designed to be on all the time, so living amongst technology can create mayhem for our wellbeing. Create periods of your day where you can unplug and reboot.
Prioritise sleep: A good night's sleep is known to lower stress, improve move and boost memory, concentration and creativity.
Nurture your body: Choose the most nutritious foods you can and stay away from the processed, energy-sapping choices.
MENTALLY:
Be mindful: Mindfulness is about being present, aware and non-judgemental in the moment. Mindfulness lowers your stress cortisol, heightens empathy, improves sleep, aids concentration and boosts your immune system. You can mindfully brush your teeth, walk between meetings, talk to a friend... Headspace and Calm are two great apps to try for mindful meditation.
Take mini recovery breaks: Taking breaks between mentally challenging tasks enables us to sustain our wellbeing and performance over time. It also reduces mental fatigue.
Learn new skills: Perhaps a new hobby (I have started knitting!), work skill or anything that will test your brain. The Mental Health Foundation highlights learning and development as an important wellbeing booster.
SOCIALLY:
Develop high quality connections: Social relationships boost our mental health, support recovery and add purpose to our lives. Who in your life leaves you positive and with energy? Schedule in time with them!
Mentally show up: When with people actively listen, look them in the eye and put your phone, fitbit and any other devices away!
Be kind: Research demonstrates that when we are kind to others dopamine (our reward hormone) is released, and it has a two hour lasting positive impact on our body as well as helping us feel connected to others.
OTHER:
Let nature in: This is the theme of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week. Being in nature is associated with reduced levels of stress, anxiety and depression. It has been shown to increase resilience, engagement with learning for children and adolescents otherwise disengaged from the education system, improved self-esteem and increased capacity to engage socially (according to Deakin University).

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, call 0800 111 757 or text 4202 to talk to a trained Depression Helpline counsellor for free. For other mental health issues, call Lifeline on 0800 543 354, the Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0508 TAUTOKO or Youthline on 0800 376 633.
For more information, check out the Mental Health Foundation or depression.org.nz.
Other helpful avenues:
Jacqui Maguire is the Managing Director of Umbrella, an organisation of clinical psychologists that support NZ businesses and their people to thrive. Jacqui is passionate about using her voice to share the psychological science of wellbeing to help Kiwi's live their best lives. Saturday morning walks with her husband and dog Ted, good coffee, old friends, F45 and learning how to knit all support Jacqui to maintain her own mental health and wellbeing.