You’ve probably heard the statistic that 1 in 4 people will experience a common health disorder each year. And by common health disorder we’re talking about things like anxiety, stress and depression.
That number seems high, doesn’t it? I know when I was growing up mental health was hardly ever mentioned, so why now? There are a couple of reasons; one is that we’re talking about it more. So it’s not that people didn’t used to get ill, they just wouldn’t talk about it. You were expected to have a ‘stiff upper lip’ and just get on with life.
But the second reason is that our brains simply weren’t designed for the way we live our lives today. Advances in technology have accelerated the pace of change and the way our minds work is at odds with how we live our lives. We were designed for 8 hours work, 8 hours rest and 8 hours sleep. But now we’re switched on 24/7 and we’re taking in far more information than we have the band-width for.
How the Brain Works
I’m massively oversimplifying this but basically, we have 2 brains. The first is our rational, intellectual brain which we’ve developed since cavemen days. If you look at the skull of a caveman, it’s flat, as it hasn’t developed that intellectual brain we use to run our daily lives. This is the part of the brain we use at work, to take exams, solve problems.
The second brain is our primitive, emotional brain. This we share with all other animals and its purpose is to keep us safe. Maybe you’ve heard of the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response? Think back to caveman days, when you might be out hunting and you come across a sabre tooth tiger. You’d have one of three options; run away, hide or fight back. I know which I’d choose!! Now that’s a great response when you run into a tiger. But not so helpful when your boss shouts at you, or you get cut up in traffic, or you’re being trolled on social media.
These days, those responses turn into anxiety (run away), depression (hide) or anger (fight back). When we feel under attack, our brains will generally step in to help by provoking one of these 3 reactions. And whereas in caveman days, we might come under attack every week or so when we went out hunting; these days the threats are constant. You wake up, scroll through social media and see some emotional posts. You check the news and it’s all bad! You look in the mirror and worry you don’t look as good as the people you follow on Instagram. And that’s all before you’ve even left the house! No wonder our brains feel under attack and feel compelled to keep us safe in the only ways it knows how.
Top Tips for Good Mental Health
So, what can you do about it? Here are my top tips for good mental health. I’ll be exploring these in more detail over the next few weeks in my Wednesday blog posts.
- Limit time on social media/ news channels. Bombarding ourselves with negativity is quite literally making us ill. A friend of mine has a family rule that all devices go into a basked at dinner time. That’s their time to talk and reconnect.
- Schedule regular breaks, time to be alone and just stop. Things like meditation, mindfulness and deep breathing all help us to relax and process the events of the day. We need this to stop us getting overloaded.
- Get outside. Even 20 minutes spent in nature is enough to boost mood. Doing this at lunch-time will make sure you get a break and give you more energy for the afternoon
- Exercise – it’s great for brain chemistry. You don’t have to slog it out at the gym, dance around the kitchen if that’s what you enjoy! Walk the dog or go on the kids trampoline
- Spend time with friends and family, have fun and laugh. Give the soaps a miss and watch something light-hearted and fun.
- Train your brain to focus on the positive (thinking negatively leads the brain to feel under attack). So, try writing down ‘what’s been good’ at the end of every day. Ask the kids ‘what went well today’
- Get enough rest and enough sleep, both essential for good mental health. You can’t expect to run around until 10pm then get into bed and drop off. You need a good bedtime routine that involves relaxation.