Supporting our mental health and wellbeing

My name is Dervla Fahy and I am a Support Worker at Jigsaw Galway, and also a student of NUI Galway. Jigsaw Galway is a free, confidential and non-judgemental service which supports the mental health and well-being of young people (aged 15 – 25) in Galway City & County.

Source: http://inner-healing.tumblr.com/image/98052737400

Source: http://inner-healing.tumblr.com/image/98052737400

One in three young people in Ireland experience mental health distress (My World Survey, 2012). We all experience distress at different times in our lives and can all relate to dealing with it in one way or another. Knowing how to cope is essential to overall wellbeing as we negotiate challenges and difficult experiences in life. As you can see from the illustration, there are a number of important elements and activities that ensure active coping. In this article, I am going to briefly discuss five key coping strategies for supporting our mental health and wellbeing.

Managing Negative Thoughts: Negative Automatic Thoughts are present throughout our daily lives. Unconsciously, our thoughts can become catastrophic where we think the worst possible outcome is going to happen without any evidence to back it up. Grounding our thoughts by putting things in perspective helps with the management of negative thoughts.

Ask yourself is the thought a fact or an opinion? Try to engage with fact-based thoughts and look for evidence for opinions rather than accepting them. It is important not to compare yourself to other people, and minimise the use of self-critical thoughts. Thoughts can become overly negative and distorted when mental health issues are present so it can help to talk to someone who can help and support you. Search for ‘Dove Real Beauty Sketches’ in YouTube for an illustration of how we perceive ourselves versus how others perceive us.

Acceptance of self: The most important relationship we will ever have in our lives is the relationship we have with ourselves. The relationship we have with ourselves is the relationship most-likely neglected but the one most fruitful in life. It is a lifelong endeavour. Accept yourself; perfection is not realistic nor does it exist. Recognise your strengths as a person but also your weaknesses. Being able to confront your weaknesses rather than trying to hide them helps with self-acceptance.

Try not to compare yourself to others – you will never be anyone else. Develop your own self-worth internally and do not look for it from other people. Forgive yourself, rather than berating yourself, for the mistakes you have made. Mistakes are where the most of the richest learning happens. Make a list of your positive qualities and give examples of these qualities. Search for the ‘Power of Vulnerability’ on YouTube. Rene Brown illustrates how vulnerability can help us on our search towards self-acceptance and the freedom that provides.

Self-care: Self-care is one of the most important elements for supporting our mental health and wellbeing. Sleep, diet and exercise play a fundamental role in mental and physical wellbeing. During stressful times in college it can be tempting to not give priority to self-care. It is important to remain focused on the benefits of balancing self-care with study and exam preparation. Care is needed with caffeine, energy drinks and sugar loaded items which can make us feel lethargic after an initial boost. Exercising for 20/30 minutes can release endorphins which promotes a positive feeling in the body (WebMD, 2016).

Self-care also means saying no and protecting ourselves and our time. Protecting our time whether it is to study, to go to bed early or to go for a walk is extremely important. Allowing external factors to impede on this time can cause stress. Self-care needs to be prioritised to ensure overall positive mental and physical health.

Emotional Awareness: Being in tune with our emotions is very important for supporting our mental health and wellbeing. It is important that we do not try to block out negative emotions. Acknowledging negative emotions and accepting them as a normal response to a situation is a crucial step in coping with them. Using alcohol or drugs to cope with negative emotions further compounds the emotion once the substance has worn off and it can also damage our health. It is important to notice the thoughts, emotions and behaviours we experience when feeling overwhelmed. Identifying what it is that makes us react with strong emotions allows us to recognise what is in our control to change and more importantly what is not.

Talk about it: People who share their problems enjoy better mental health (My World Survey, 2012). Talk to a friend, family member or person you feel most comfortable with. It can be difficult sometimes to reach out and speak to someone about your mental health. Start small and build up trust. Some people find it easier to talk to someone outside daily life and may want to link in with the services available to you, like the ones listed below. You can also talk to your GP about your mental health and wellbeing.

Useful numbers and websites:

NUIG Counselling Service: 091 492 484   http://www.nuigalway.ie/counsellors/

NUIG Student Health Service: 091 492 604            http://www.nuigalway.ie/health_unit/

Jigsaw Galway: 091 549252                                           http://www.jigsaw.ie/jigsaw_galway/

Samaritans: 116 123                                                        http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

For more information on Mental Health and Wellbeing: http://ie.reachout.com/

-By Dervla Fahy

Image from Tumblr.

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