Oh, the year that was. For many of us, 2020 turned life as we knew it upside down – affecting our daily lives, work, finances, social connections, and the clincher, our mental health.
Psychologist Tara Hurster says mental health issues present in different ways.
“Mental health issues include stress, anxiety, depression, hopelessness and more,” she told 9Honey Coach. “These can all be brought on by a raft of issues. Consequently, COVID-19 has led many of us to experience things like increased isolation, job loss and financial stress, just to name a few.”
Not surprisingly, this can massively influence one’s emotional state.
Learning to recognise your emotions, the signs and triggers, and getting the right support can not only help, but empower you – getting you back on track feeling better and brighter sooner.
Here are seven ways to improve your mental health.
1. Acknowledge your emotions
Understanding your emotions and acknowledging how you’re feeling is the first step in seeking the help you may need. Pay attention to how long your emotions last. If you’ve been feeling down, anxious or just not yourself for several weeks or more, it might be a sign you need to seek help for your mental health.
2. Know the symptoms
As well as the emotional signs mentioned above, mental health concerns like anxiety and depression can manifest in physical ways like headaches and muscle tension, a churning stomach, loss of appetite, rapid weight loss or gain, memory issues and poor concentration.
3. Identify your triggers
Self-awareness is a wonderful gift. Learn to recognise some of the triggers that have the potential to impact your mental health like being around certain people, social situations or vices.
“Turning to vices such as poor food choices, alcohol, and other unhealthy behaviours can be both a sign and a negative trigger,” explains Hurster.
If you’ve found yourself overindulging in unhealthy habits, you may need to ask for help.
“Vices are often seen as an escape from reality,” she adds. “These are mood-altering behaviours that momentarily give your brain the perception of sorting out the problem, but it’s only short term.”
Order a soda and lime instead of a wine. Do a 10-minute mindfulness meditation instead of binge-watching TV. Make a healthy Greek yogurt and carrot dip and ditch the chips. There are plenty of alternatives.
4. See a GP
Your GP is the first step to better health. They can develop a mental health care plan that includes actionable steps and recommend health professionals who can help.
A mental health care plan is a plan to treat your mental health issues. It sets the outcomes you and your doctor hope to achieve and lays out the steps to get there.
It might include appointments with a range of suitable professionals, like psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers or occupational therapists.
If you have a Medicare card, a mental health care plan will allow you to claim a rebate on up to 20 sessions each year.
“You don’t need a referral to see a psychologist, but if you’d like to access the Medicare rebate then your GP can provide a mental health care plan,” says Hurster. Having a mental health care plan makes psychologist visits much more affordable.”
And it’s not just psychologists who can help. There’s a range of great health professionals your GP can put you in touch with, from occupational therapists to psychiatrists, mental health groups, grief groups, community groups, relationship counsellors, and more, depending on your needs.
5. Find your right fit
You might “click” with the right professional from the get-go, but don’t be put off if the first one is not The One.
“You don’t need to stay with the first person you see,” advises Hurster. “You want to find someone you feel comfortable talking to, and who will help you stay on top on your mental health.”
Shop around, do some research and find the best fit for your needs. “The Australian Psychological Social website is a great source,” says Hurster. “Talking to friends or family can also be helpful, as they might know someone who has struggled with similar concerns themselves and perhaps had a really great experience.”
Otherwise, find a clinic or professional that’s close to home, or that has good reviews online, and give them a call – they’ll often be able to match one of their professionals to your individual needs
6. Empower yourself
Knowledge is power and arming yourself with information and strategies that will help you recognise your emotions, manage triggers and vices, and equip you with practical, tangible and doable solutions will not only empower you, but will pave the way to better mental health.
The right professional support can help achieve this, giving you the tools and knowledge necessary to continue improving and maintaining your mental health long term. Once you have some actionable strategies in your tool belt, you’ll be able to use them throughout your life in all sorts of scenarios.
7. Look after yourself
Just like a car needs a regular service, you need a regular check-in. Ask yourself: are you experiencing any signs or symptoms? Are you avoiding your triggers?
“If people are noticing that they’re not sleeping very well, then perhaps looking at ways to manage their sleep hygiene or taking nutrition into consideration could be a helpful step,” says Hurster.
“Ask yourself, ‘when was the last time I exercised?’ or ‘how much water have I had today?’ These kinds of things can be super helpful.”
Making lifestyle changes to do with sleep, exercise and nutrition can have positive impacts on mental health. Try these to get you started.
Making the decision to get help can be hard. You might feel uncomfortable asking for support or worry that your mental health isn’t ‘bad enough’ to bother a professional.
But, when it comes to mental health, there is no wrong time to ask for professional help.
If you’re not feeling like yourself, don’t ‘wait to see if things get worse’ before seeking help. Queensland Health has information on how and when to seek support —www.qld.gov.au/health/mental-health/get-started