Continuing on with our Spring Clean Your Life series, we’re taking a closer look today at spring cleaning in the area of Wellbeing and Mental Health.
Why focus on Wellbeing and Mental Health we hear you ask. When we examine the impact that our wellbeing and mental health have on our daily lives it’s easy to see that doing a Spring Clean and making changes can make a real difference. Consider, for example:
1. The mindset that you wake up with each and every day
This can fluctuate and inadvertently set your day up to unfold in a particular manner by shaping your mood and reactivity to events. Thoughts such as “It’s going to be a great day.” or “It’s going to be an awful day, I can just feel it!” can often set your mood up one way or another for the rest of the day.
2. The impact of symptoms of poor wellbeing and mental health
When we think of poor wellbeing and poor mental health we’re not talking about some ‘concepts’, but looking at the real impact that it has on our lives. Imagine:
- Going through the day feeling on edge waiting for something horrible to happen
- Feeling so drained and weighed down that you’re unable to get out of bed
- Feeling so stressed that a feeling of panic takes over your body
These symptoms are very real and have a real impact on your quality of life, so making some changes to mental health and wellbeing can make a real difference.
3. The potential for the mindset and symptoms to snowball throughout the day
Wellbeing and mental health isn’t something static wherein you either feel bad or feel good. The impact is ongoing, considering they affect:
- Your tolerance for things that get in your way
- Your interpretation of events
- How you react to such events particularly where others are involved
Hopefully we've built a good case for why it's helpful to do a Spring Clean when it comes to Mental Health and Wellbeing. Need more evidence? Check out the statistics below.
SOME STATISTICS ON MENTAL HEALTH
We’ve previously blogged about some statistics from the 2007 National Survey of Australian Mental Health  conducted on 16 million Australians (which you can read more about here). The brief summary of this survey showed:
- Almost half (45%) of those surveyed reported experiencing a mental illness in their lifetime
- Around 1 in 5 people reported experiencing a mental illness in the 12 months preceding the survey
- The top 3 disorders reported were Anxiety, Depression, and Substance Use disorders
But take a step back from the statistics. In real terms, that means approximately half of the people you know will experience some mental health issues in their lifetime, and 1 in 5 of the people that you know may be going through something at this very moment.
With all of this let’s now take a look at doing our own Spring Clean to give us the best advantage when it comes to our own Mental Health and Wellbeing.
WHAT DO WE LOOK FOR WHEN SPRING CLEANING OUR WELLBEING + MENTAL HEALTH?
1. HOW YOU THINK
How you think has a pretty powerful impact on your mental health and wellbeing. A negative mindset can easily lead us to (i) look for information that is consistent with a negative view; (ii) interpret neutral information in a manner that confirms a negative view; and (iii) blinds us to contradictory information.
For example, consider George who has a poor self-image who may (i) selectively pay attention to information that he is inadequate; (ii) assume when someone queries "what were your thoughts behind that line of reasoning" during a class debate that the person is implying George is stupid; (iii) discount positive feedback from others when he has done well on a task.
To find our more, check out our Develop and Healthy Mindset series that we ran earlier this year when we blogged about:
- Taking stock of your Mindset
- Thinking Styles that Sabotage your Mental Health
- Psychological Risk Factors for Anxiety and Depression
- The Anger Mindset and what to do about it
2. YOUR COPING STYLE AND YOUR TOOLBOX
There are different ways in which we cope with stressful events, but it helps to think of styles of coping – are your coping strategies problem-focused, emotion-focused, or avoidant? 
- Problem-focused coping strategies look at tackling the issue head on and resolving them so that they are less likely to occur again. These may include problem-solving, time management, goal setting, learning new ways of communicating, etc.
- Emotion-focused coping strategies look at reducing with the emotion rather than changing the root cause of the issue, for example using techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, cognitive restructuring, etc.
- Avoidant coping strategies centre on not dealing with the problem itself nor learning how to resolve the emotions in a helpful way – that is, they tend to be unhelpful. Examples of avoidant coping strategies include using alcohol to feel less anxious in a social situation, procrastinating on an assignment, going to sleep to avoid dealing with things, or taking drugs to forget about troubles.
Which coping style is the most effective? Avoidant coping strategies tend to be the least helpful because the problem itself isn’t resolved, nor do you learn to cope with things in a helpful manner. Problem-focused coping strategies can often work to prevent the same issue from occurring again, however it’s important to recognise that there may be problems that you do not have control over (e.g. redundancies at work, being exposed to a traumatic incident) for which emotion-focused coping strategies may be more helpful.
There are many tools that you can equip your toolbox with to help your coping style. To get an idea of the types of coping tools you can develop check out this post.
3. HOW RESILIENT YOU ARE
They say that prevention is better than cure and this applies not just to your physical health but also to your psychological health. By building up your psychological resilience you increase your capacity to deal with stress and uncertainty, thereby cushioning the impact of these types of events on your wellbeing. In other words, you're building up a psychological buffer.
Building resilience adopts a multifaceted approach, including:
- Looking after your physical health because of the impact on psychological wellbeing. Read more about the Impact of Exercise on Mental Health and Wellbeing, How Sleep affects the mind (and vice versa) , and also Essential Ingredients for Staying Healthy (mainly for university students but also equally applicable for the rest of us).
- Drawing on those elements that are important for happiness and positive wellbeing, including the PERMA model and also the VIA Character Strengths and Virtues.
- Learning to develop psychological flexibility in how you interpret situations (refer to Point 1 of this article, How you think)
4. HOW OPEN YOU ARE TO WORKING ON MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING
Finally, it’s helpful to take a closer look at how open you are to working on your Mental Health and Wellbeing. If you’re completely open, willing and able, then that’s fantastic.
If you’re open to working on yourself but find yourself unable to gain traction, then think about what barriers get in the way. If time is the issue then it’s a case of seeing this as a long term investment in yourself and find ways to incorporate some changes – no matter how small – into your routine. This can be as simple as spending a few minutes to focus on your breathing if you find that stress easily overwhelms you.
If you find that it is a lack of knowledge/skills/tools and how to apply them then get armed. Whether it is turning to reputable self-help material, or seeking some assistance from someone like us (shameful plug here!) it is, again, an investment in yourself.
If you find that you’re not open to working on Mental Health and Wellbeing ask why that is the case. Is it stigma in that you believe that everyone should be able to toughen up and handle things themselves? Or that seeking assistance is a sign of weakness? How does your perception of mental health get in the way of getting better?
Or, is it because you think you don’t ‘need help’? It’s quite often the case that we see Mental Health and Wellbeing as being things we focus on when we’re not feeling that well. The reality is that taking a proactive, preventative approach is what will really help cushion the impact of stressful events on your mood and wellbeing (read more in our post Why You Don't Need to Suffer from Mental Health Issues to See a Psychologist). Developing a healthy mindset, learning mindfulness, and looking after your physical health are strategies that helpful for all no matter the state of your psychological wellbeing.
Now that we've had a look at Mental Health + Wellbeing tune in soon to see what's next in our Spring Clean Your Life series!
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 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 4326.0, 2007. ABS: Canberra.http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/4326.0Main%20Features32007?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=4326.0&issue=2007&num=&view=
 Endler, N.S., & Parker, J.D.A. (1990). Multidimensional assessment of coping: A critical evaluation. Personality Processes and Individual Differences, 58, 844-854.