Maintaining good mental health requires just as much attention and care as maintaining good physical health. In reality, mental health is a continuum, a scale that ranges from mental wellness to serious mental health challenges. When someone experiences drastic stress in their life, their mental distress level rises. It is important to have adequate coping mechanisms in place to help reduce one’s mental distress level and maintain mental wellness.
The Canadian Mental Health Association defines mental wellness as “a state of well-being and the ability to function in the face of changing circumstances.” This includes handling stress and loss, relating to other people, and making decisions.
Dealing with stress though is not an innate trait in humans; it is a learned behaviour. Whether good or bad, we learn coping skills from our environment. Adding positive and healthy coping skills to our lifestyle is crucial to maintaining or gaining back mental wellness.
Depression is not always something that you can control—it may be related to a specific situation or it could seem to appear for no apparent reason. Depression may be triggered by loss—loss of a loved one, an important role in life, a job, loss of health or independence. Any of these losses create increased stress. Without coping mechanisms, someone’s mental distress level will climb and they may experience depression.
Depression after any type of loss is likely due to situational depression, and having the right coping skills will be highly beneficial. It is important to note that clinical depression is an illness that many people experience regardless of their coping skills. In either case, it is important that you speak to a doctor.
The Canadian Mental Health Association recommends a few key coping skills to help maintain mental wellness. By implementing these coping methods when you are feeling your mental distress level begin to climb, you may be able to maintain a higher state of mental well-being.
1. Read and Research
The more you know about depression and mental illness, the more empowered you are to protect your own health. You don't have to do this alone! Research can be overwhelming, ask someone you trust to help you learn more about mental health.
2. Change Your Thinking Patterns
Many depressed people have negative and anxious thought patterns. Learning to redirect your focus can improve your mental health. A great tool is to journal your thoughts and to track how you got to that negative thought. Remember to celebrate your successes; focus on your achievements rather than focusing on what you are unable to do.
3. Ask for Help
Requesting help is not a sign of weakness; rather, it requires the courage to reach out to others when you are in need. Create a support system of caring people whom you can call when you are feeling low. Have a list of 5 close friends you can count on; if one person doesn’t answer, you have 4 more names you can call.
4. Use Problem Solving
Determine which problems are stressing you, explore possible solutions, try a new solution (as the same old solutions will yield the same old results), evaluate the effectiveness of your new solution, and focus on the progress of your problem solving rather than on the problem alone.
When you are depressed, the last thing you may feel like is exercise, but the results make the effort worthwhile. Exercise increases the blood flow not only through your body but also to your brain. Increased oxygen flow to the brain improves mental functioning and mood. Your endorphins are also elevated through exercise.
6. Eat and Sleep
Eat a properly balanced diet, even if you have no appetite. Aim to maintain a regular schedule where you eat healthy food at regular intervals. Sleep on a regular schedule as well. Ensure that you get enough sleep, but do not oversleep. Most adults need an average of eight hours of sleep nightly.
Schedule yourself time to rejuvenate. Prioritize activities that bring you peace and pleasure. This may include: meditation, being outdoors, various hobbies, caring for a pet, having a massage, etc.
Do not cut yourself off from social connections during these difficult times. Social isolation only perpetuates depression. Socialize with close, caring friends who are compassionate and supportive. If you can't meet with your close friends, you can try to connect online through video calls.
9. Relax Your Standards.
Many people experience anxiety and stress because they are holding themselves to unrealistic standards. Determine to not expect more of yourself than you would expect of anyone else. Be kind to yourself—sometimes, we are hardest on ourselves!
A sense of humour can go a long way. Sometimes, laughter truly is the best medicine. You don't even have to wait for a comedy act to come to town; through the internet, you can search for endless comedies on YouTube and select comedies that suit your particular sense of humour.
If implementing these coping skills does not improve your sense of mental well-being or if you are currently experiencing other symptoms as well, you should see your doctor. Medication may be appropriate for you, or there may be a physical explanation for the mental distress you are experiencing. Your doctor can advise you best.
It is important to know that help is available. You do not need to live in a state of mental distress. To learn more about healthy coping strategies and ways to reduce stress, please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Locally, in Waterloo Region, we are blessed to have Here 24/7 — a service that is available 24/7 to assist with addictions, mental health, and crisis situations. The number is: 1-844-HERE247 (1-844-437-3247)