One of the unfortunate side effects of the year that has been 2020, with its isolation and riots, is the rise of mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
Mental health problems can arise in the most unexpecting people. Take it from me. Years ago I was always happy, never down, fit and well, and I would never have guessed that I was on the path for an acute stress reaction. Then, after a serious break up that left me virtually homeless living in a motel, stress swept me up like flotsam in a tide.
My breakup left and homelessness came out of nowhere, and they immediately impacted my mental health. Research shows that one of the most common causes of mental health problems is traumatic events  (I can personally vouch for that).
Unfortunately, it can be hard to know when a traumatic event might occur. You don’t always know when life is going to throw events at you that could severely impact your mental health. And that’s one reason why prevention is the best medicine.
Ever since my traumatic event and the months of stress that ensued, I’ve taken a proactive stance in preventing further mental health complications. I used Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), yoga, and, above all, meditation, to defend my mental health. I’ve even gone so far as to base my life around meditation, and have become a meditation teacher.
Thankfully, there are many ways in which we can protect our mental health. Let’s take a look at five of the best methods.
5 Ways To Protect Your Mental Health
I suppose I am biased, being a meditation teacher, but meditation is a potent way of defending your mental health. There are well over 100 proven benefits of meditation , of which a great many pertain to mental health. It’s well known that meditation can provide relief from stress, anxiety and depression . However, what’s more, valuable is the power of meditation to make you aware of your mental state.
When we meditate we increase consciousness and heighten our awareness of thoughts and feelings. This makes us more aware of when we are entering a state of stress or another potential problem. Because we are aware of these problems before they escalate, we can take steps to prevent them from becoming full-blown mental health problems.
It’s well known that exercise is imperative for good mental health . And perhaps the best exercise for mental health is yoga. Related.
The reason yoga is so valuable for mental health is that not only does it exercise the body, it also enhances cognitive functions . Like meditation, yoga makes us more aware of the mind and body, more aware of symptoms that could sign of looming mental health problems, and so it alerts us to when we need to make changes to our lifestyle.
Plus, yoga also includes exercises for the mind, such as pratyahara (sensory withdrawal), making it a complete health solution.
3. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a system of exercises designed to treat unhealthy thoughts (particularly recurring thoughts) . It is traditionally used once a person is already experiencing a mental health condition. However, in my experience, it can also be used proactively to prevent mental health problems.
An example of cognitive behavioural therapy is fear exposure. This involves gradually exposing yourself to your fears so that you can overcome this. I’ve found this exercise to be an excellent way of preventing anxiety. By exposing myself to small doses of the things I fear (like the tax man), I learn to take control of my fear and thereby prevent it from becoming full-blown anxiety.
4. Diet & Nutrition
It doesn’t take rocket science to realise that diet and nutrition are important to mental health. One leading cause of mental health problems is an unhealthy diet . Thankfully, this is one of the easiest things to change.
Although there are research papers and whole books dedicated to explaining the perfect diet, you really don’t need any advanced understanding of nutrition to succeed here. Mom knows best. Just eat your five servings of fruit and veg a day and cut out the junk food. Often, the simplest remedy is the best one.
5. Avoiding loneliness and connect with your community
Recent research reveals that loneliness is a major cause of mental health problems and can even cause early death . Social isolation (hello, 2020) can cause anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease . That’s why one of the best ways to protect your mental health is to socialise.
Photo by Felix Rostig from Unsplash
Socialising is vital for mental health. Getting involved with your local community and local groups (such as your church, local sports club, yoga group, and other groups) will pay dividends for your health.
It’s funny that so many people go to extremes to protect their physical health, but still, even in 2020, many people ignore mental health. Just as it’s important to protect yourself from cancer, it is also important to protect yourself from stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
Always remember: prevention is the best medicine.
About The Author:
Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and the creator of TheDailyMeditatio.com: trust source for all thing meditation and yoga.