Experts believe that as much as one third of South Africans deal with some form of mental-health issue. And this number is set to only grow as we grapple with our new reality. But while we all know the importance of mental health, it’s often difficult for South Africans to make it a priority in their lives, especially because of the very real financial and physical constraints that exist today. The good news, though, is that there are easy steps we can all take to improve our mental health and well-being, and moreover, there are free resources available to all South Africans.
Finding support structures
It’s no secret that support changes everything. Surrounding yourself with friends and loved ones helps negate feelings of isolation, which often makes mental-health issues far worse. It is important to remember that explicitly choosing isolation during difficult times can be a sign of depression or anxiety. So reach out to friends and loved ones, even if it’s just a phone call, and just catch up and talk about a show you’ve recently watched, or a recipe you’d like to share. Feeling connected boosts confidence, happiness and most importantly, creates a feeling of being seen, heard and supported.
The power of journaling
Not only is journaling practically free (all you need is a notebook and a pen), studies have shown that this simple exercise has a host of benefits. If you’re new to journaling, it may take some time to get used to it, but once you form the habit, it will become easier to put thoughts to paper. Start with just one evening a week, when you have a quiet moment to yourself, and jot down noteworthy things from the week that’s passed: Any successes or failures? Any drastic changes in mood? Anything you learned from the experience or are grateful for? Over time, journaling is not only a great way to channel your thoughts, it can also help you better understand your emotions, identify your stressors, plot your goals, and can eventually lead you to taking proactive steps to better your life.
Viewing the parts, not the whole
It’s important to remember that you’re a multifaceted and dynamic individual. You’re not just your work, you’re not just your relationship, you’re not just your health or your history; rather you’re a combination of these things. It’s important to step back now and then, especially in times of stress and doubt, and look at yourself from a third-person perspective, to help you realise this. If you’re struggling to cope with certain things, start framing your thoughts with these types of statements: ‘My work self is struggling at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a failure.’ ‘My relationship self is experiencing conflict, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.’ ‘My physical self needs improvement, but that doesn’t mean I’m not beautiful or worthy.’
Putting your health first
It goes without saying that our bodies and minds are connected. And while many mental-health issues don’t necessarily stem from the body, practising care can help a great deal. Small forms of exercise, such as a short walk, gardening or swimming, can help increase endorphins (the feel-good hormone) in the body and also supports nerve health in the brain, which can assist with relieving depression. When struggling with mental-health issues, it can be tempting to turn to alcohol, junk food and other comforts, but remember that these might only exacerbate the issue over the long run.
Words: Edwain Steenkamp | Photography: Pexels