Train your brain: how to boost your emotional wellbeing

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If you're often tempted to take good emotional wellbeing for granted, it's time to train your brain...  

The figures are pretty startling: every year, one in five Australians is affected by a mental health issue. Anxiety affects around 14 per cent of Australians (especially women aged 16-54) while depression is one of the more common problems managed by GPs in Australia.

But just as there are things you can do to help maintain a healthy body, there are positive steps you can try to help improve your emotional wellbeing.

Here are ten top tips from the team at Bupa...

1. Make time for family and friends

Support from other people is the glue that helps hold us together in difficult times. It also helps protect us from being socially isolated – a risk factor for poor emotional wellbeing.

Close relationships with partners, friends and family members are important but so is being connected to the wider community. For example, going along to community events, being a good neighbour, joining a reading group, being active in a school community or volunteering – anything that brings you in touch with other people and helps build support networks. Being with others can be important to help you feel accepted, valued and connected.

2. Find and develop an interest or a passion

Absorbing interests are good for your emotional wellbeing – they can be both satisfying and provide a valuable distraction from things in your life that may be causing you to stress. For some people this may be work, or it could be sport, a hobby, a cause such as belonging to an action group or a charity or learning something new.

3. Look outside yourself

If you’re prone to feeling anxious or depressed, dwelling on it can make things worse. But focusing on an enjoyable activity that engages your mind can help to keep you from ruminating.

4. Get moving

Regular physical activity can work in different ways to improve emotional wellbeing. Apart from stimulating the release of brain chemicals called endorphins that make you feel better, exercise can also help to distract your mind from stressful thoughts and give you a sense of achievement and control.

It’s important to choose an activity you enjoy that fits easily into your lifestyle, not one that creates more stress. Research suggests that both aerobic activity (exercise that significantly raises your heart rate, such as jogging cycling and swimming) and resistance exercises (such as weight training or Pilates) may be helpful for depression. No matter what activity you choose or what intensity you exercise at, every little bit can be beneficial to help improve your wellbeing.

5. Picnic in the park or take a bushwalk

Green spaces like parks, gardens, forests and other natural environments like the beach have a way of lifting the spirits. Australian research suggests being close to green spaces is linked to decreased depression and anxiety.


6. Clean up your act

Healthy habits that keep us in good shape physically can be good for your emotional wellbeing too. So stay-smoke-free – smoking can increase the risk of depression - and avoid drinking too much alcohol as well. Although depression can cause people to drink more, alcohol abuse may also increase the risk of depression.

7. Eat smart

Enjoy a healthy, well-balanced diet. Research suggests that food may affect your mood. Mediterranean-style diets, rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and fish have been linked to less depression, and Australian research found links between a diet higher in fruit, vegetables and leafy greens and less junk food and better mental health in teens. However, more research needs to be done to confirm the relationship between food and mood.

8. Think positive

The way you think can increase your risk of being anxious or depressed. If you tend to exaggerate the seriousness of situations and picture the worst possible outcome, try challenging this thinking. Train yourself to ask ‘will this matter in 10 years time?’ or ‘on an awfulness scale of 0–100, how awful is this?’ or ‘what’s good about this situation?’ These may give you a new perspective to see the bright side of your situation and help to improve your mood.

9. Be flexible

Some people are prone to the kind of rigid thinking that says ‘I should never make mistakes’, or ‘everyone should always like me’. This can set you up for feeling gloomy or inadequate when reality doesn’t meet your expectations of yourself and/or others. Be more flexible in your thinking. It may be more helpful to reframe your thoughts, such as changing from ‘the world should be a fair place’ to a more realistic ‘I’d prefer the world to be a fair place – but I accept that life is often unfair’.

To find out more about changing your thinking to be more positive, see the For More Information section below.

10. Get the balance right

Juggling the competing demands of work, family, relationships and other commitments isn’t easy, but trying to balance work with time for relaxation can help your emotional wellbeing. And it’s okay to say ‘no’ sometimes.

Do you feel that you need help to cope with problems of anxiety, depression or stress?

Everyone has bad days, but if the bad days are becoming a constant in your life, or if they’re affecting your ability to carry out your everyday tasks for two or more weeks, it may be time to get professional help.

Know when to seek help

There is no shame in getting help if and when you need it. Signs that you may need help with your mental and emotional wellbeing include:

  • Difficulty sleeping or waking up too early in the morning
  • Increased tiredness
  • Physical symptoms like a feeling of tightness in your chest, tension in the neck area, increased heart rate or more headaches than usual
  • Emotional symptoms like feeling sad or down, feeling overwhelmed, weepy or anxious, loss of confidence and feelings of hopelessness
  • Having difficulty concentrating or feeling your thoughts are ‘racing’
  • Behaviour changes such as being easily irritated or short-tempered, having difficulty making decisions and procrastinating
  • Using too much alcohol or other drugs, or comfort eating, in order to feel better.

Your GP is a good place to start looking for help. You may also be eligible for a Medicare rebate for up to five visits to a psychologist over a 12-month period – your GP can tell you more.

Further information

  • Beyondblue  
  • The Mood Gym - a free, interactive online program that anyone can use, with self-help exercises to help challenge unhelpful thinking and help you work out how to handle life's challenges more effectively 

Sources

Black Dog Institute. Facts and figures about mental health and mood disorders. [online] Randwick, NSW: Black Dog Institute. c2010 [accessed 24 May 2011] Available from: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au
Edelman S. Change Your Thinking. Da Capo Press: Cambridge, MA. 2007.
Oddy WH Robinson M Ambrosini GL et al. The association between dietary patterns and mental health in early adolescence. Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2009 Aug; 49(1): 39-44.
SANE Australia. Anxiety factsheet. [online] Melbourne, VIC: SANE. 2011 [Accessed 4 Jul 2011] Available from: http://www.sane.org/


Don't forget, the Rock Solid Suicide Prevention Program aims to build emotional resilience and prevent suicide among workers in the male-dominated resources industry, while also arming families with practical strategies to survive and thrive the challenges of working away, long hours on the job or shift work. It's a joint initiative between Mining Family Matters and Wesley LifeForce. For all the details please click here.


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