Mental health. Where to start? This issue has always been an ever-present factor in our lives. However, with recent developments in the world, it’s become more important than ever to look after.

It’s easy to overlook. We constantly feel the pressures of keeping up and performing at work, balancing work-life commitments and looking after others, that we neglect looking after ourselves. We often think “if I just finish this, I’ll feel better.” However, the reality is that we cannot do well in the areas of importance to us in our lives if we do not look after ourselves first. As every airline company says: “put your own mask on first before helping others.” Unfortunately, most of us do not listen to the safety instructions.

Then 2020 happened, and as the devastating events of the coronavirus unfolded, we’ve seen a spike in job losses, financial hardships, direct or indirect contact with coronavirus itself, absence of family and friends and all the other bits and pieces that only exacerbate the impacts on our mental health.

It is for this reason that I’d like to offer a small Mental Health First Aid Kit for when you feel like a bird has flown into your engine, you don’t have enough fuel, or your plane is about to crash. Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional and have not been trained in that practice. However, I have learnt the following tips in a positive psychology and wellbeing course at the University of Melbourne and the methods are backed up by scientists and psychologists, some renowned, in the field of positive psychology. Additionally, they have proven helpful to me in my own battles with staying in control of my plane.

Keep reading for some quick and reliable mental health first aid tips!

Tip 1: Mindfulness

A meta-analysis (Khoury, Sharma, Rush & Fournier, 2015) looking into mindfulness-based stress reduction found that mindfulness exercises have significant positive effects on stress. Mindfulness has, over the years, has been defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 2005).

Essentially, what this means is being here in the present moment. In order to practice, all it means is focusing on your 5 senses. For example, when you take the first coffee sip of your morning, make sure you really taste it, feel the warmth, smell the wafts coming from your mug and feel it coat your mouth and throat. It is simply an observation, nothing more, on what is happening to you right now. Try not to think about what you need to do during the day, what you’ll have for lunch and all the deadlines looming. This moment is for you.

Mindfulness is more commonly practiced using breathing exercises and focusing on the breath. However, it can be applied in many different ways, making it adaptable for anyone! Other examples include body scans, object meditation and mindful walking.

Tip 2: Gratitude

Cicero once said that gratitude was “not only the greatest of virtues, but the parents of all the others” (“Quote of the Day”, 2020). So, what is it? How would you define it? I think a good definition is the “acknowledgment that we have received something of value from others” (Emmons & Mishra, 2011). So, this task is as simple as writing down 5 things you are grateful for each morning. Your reasons can be as big or small as you like.

There is a plethora of scientific evidence showing that practicing gratitude has tremendous benefits to our lives. See below for just some benefits that you could potentially see in your own life!

  • Gratitude is in the top 3 predictors of life satisfaction, together with hope and zest. (Park, Peterson & Seligman, 2004)
  • Practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%. (Emmons, 2008)
  • Improvement in hours of sleep and waking up feeling refreshed. (Wood, Froh & Geraghty, 2010)
  • Correlates with autonomy, personal growth and having purpose in life. (Wood, Froh & Geraghty, 2010)
  • Promotes relationship formation, connection and satisfaction. (Wood, Froh & Geraghty, 2010)

Tip 3: Check in on the people you “don’t have time for”

You know that person who you’ve been “meaning to call” but have just been “so busy?” Well, the truth is that there is no such thing as being “too busy,” only having different priorities. We make time for some things and not others because some things are just higher on our priority lists than others. As awful as that sounds, it is, nevertheless, normal and something we need to do to organise our lives and stay sane.

However, once in a while, we need to check in on people and maintain those social connections. This is especially important during the pandemic when the only people we see are those in our households, a few eyes above mask-covered faces at the supermarket and low-resolution portraits of colleagues in zoom calls. Maintaining strong, close, social connections has been proven reduce the likelihood of depression (Werner-Seidler, Afzali, Chapman, Sunderland & Slade, 2017). So, pick up the phone, shoot a text, squeeze it into your day and let someone know you care about them. You’ll thank yourself for it.

Thank you for choosing to fly with AMO. We hope tips will help you stop flying on autopilot and help you land the plane safely.

References

  • Emmons, R. A. (2008). Gratitude, subjective well-being, and the brain. In M. Eid & R. J. Larsen (Eds.), The science of subjective well-being (p. 469–489). Guilford Press.
  • Emmons, R., & Mishra, A. (2011). Why Gratitude Enhances Well-Being. Designing Positive Psychology, 248-262. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195373585.003.0016
    Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Wherever you go, there you are. Hachette Books.
  • Khoury, B., Sharma, M., Rush, S., & Fournier, C. (2015). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis. Journal Of Psychosomatic Research, 78(6), 519-528. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.03.009
  • Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. (2004). Strengths of Character and Well-Being. Journal Of Social And Clinical Psychology, 23(5), 603-619. doi: 10.1521/jscp.23.5.603.50748
  • Quote of the Day. (2020). Retrieved 6 August 2020, from https://practicalphilosophy.org.au/gratitude-is-not-only-the-greatest-of-virtues-but-the-parent-of-all-others-marcus-tullius-cicero/
  • Werner-Seidler, A., Afzali, M., Chapman, C., Sunderland, M., & Slade, T. (2017). The relationship between social support networks and depression in the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being. Social Psychiatry And Psychiatric Epidemiology, 52(12), 1463-1473. doi: 10.1007/s00127-017-1440-7
  • Wood, A., Froh, J., & Geraghty, A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 890-905. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005