Stress and anxiety take their toll on our mental health. “But unlike crossing a defined line, these feelings can creep up gradually, making it hard to know when something is wrong,” says Turning Point Psychology’s registered psychologist, Lorraine Aldridge.

Recognising the warning signs and taking a mental health checkup is essential. So if it’s been a while since you checked in with yourself and asked, ‘Are you ok?’ try answering the following questions.

  • Do I feel overwhelmed or exhausted most of the time?
  • Do I find it hard to relax or enjoy myself even when I have free time?
  • Have my sleeping and eating habits changed over the last few weeks?
  • Am I having thoughts that are out of character for me (e.g. feeling hopeless or helpless)?
  • Do I feel disconnected or lonely, even when around other people?
  • Am I feeling more irritable and argumentative than usual?
  • Have I been feeling more anxious or having panic attacks?

Yes – what do I do?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, it’s time to look closely at your mental health. Yet, balancing yourself doesn’t have to be overwhelming or confusing. According to Lorraine, there are many things to consider when finding the right balance for you. “The key is to make small changes.”

Here are Lorraine’s five expert tips to help you improve your mental health:

Develop a healthy lifestyle

1. Develop a healthy lifestyle

Finding time for yourself and creating daily habits that benefit your overall mental wellbeing is essential. Take time to exercise, eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep.

“Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health,” says Lorraine.

Practice mindfulness and meditation

2. Practice mindfulness and meditation

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that has been proven effective in improving mental health. It involves focusing on the present moment without judgement and can help reduce stress, improve concentration, and increase overall wellbeing. Lorraine’s go-to favourite mindful affirmation is, “There is power in what I pay attention to, so I choose to notice what’s good for me.”

Engage in activities that make you happy

3. Engage in activities that make you happy

Participating in physical and social activities that bring joy and make you feel good is important. Feel-good activities could be anything from reading a book to walking in nature. Lorraine explains that doing something that makes you happy reduces stress and improves your overall mental wellbeing.

“When it comes to exercise for improving mental wellbeing, I prefer the word body movement. You don’t need to thrash it out at the gym to get positive effects. Strolling along the beach, dancing around the house, or taking a yoga class can make you feel better.”

Limit screen time and social media

4. Limit screen time and social media

Research shows that excessive screen time for children and adolescents negatively impacts their mental health and has been linked to other issues like impaired sleep, digital eye strain and obesity. But how much screen time is too much for adults? That’s the wrong question, some experts are saying.

Content quality matters

For adults, it’s likely that the content we’re viewing matters more. For example, reading a book on your device doesn’t have the same effect on your mind as mindlessly scrolling Instagram. So, is your screen time an issue for you? To find out, try answering these five questions:

  • Are you sleeping well?
  • Are you eating well?
  • Are you getting out and being social?
  • Are you productive at work?
  • Are you physically active?

If you answered yes to most, chances are that screen time is not an issue for you. However, what content are you viewing on your digital devices? Even more important, how do you feel after viewing that content? 

“While experts avoid offering universal screen-time limits, I recommend limiting social media use to 30-60 minutes per day for better mental health,” says Lorraine.

Overall, research pinpoints social media as the most troublesome content regarding mental health outcomes for adults and adolescents.

Seek help when needed

5. Seek help when needed

Mental health issues can be challenging to recognise and offset. So try to keep a balance by discussing your problems with a trusted friend or family member. If that doesn’t help, seek professional help. For example, make an appointment with your doctor or therapist, or reach out to a mental health hotline if you need immediate assistance. Remember, too, that everyone is different, and what help works for one person may not work for another.

“Ultimately, seeking help is about finding what works best for you and your mental health. And with the right balance, it is possible to enjoy a happier you,” says Lorraine.

Conclusion

Taking care of your mental health is essential for your overall wellbeing. The first step is recognising the warning signs and taking action before things escalate. Simple measures to improve your mental fitness include developing a healthy lifestyle and practising mindfulness and meditation. Add to this engaging in activities that make you happy, limiting your screen time, being mindful of the content you’re viewing, and seeking help when needed.

Lorraine says, “With the right balance, we can enjoy better mental wellbeing and be happier in the long run.”