This Saturday (10 October) is World Mental Health Day. It is a day used by organisations across the globe to increase focus on mental health education, awareness and advocacy. The main theme of WMHD this year is 'Dignity in mental health' - raising awareness of what can be done to ensure that people with mental health conditions can live with dignity. And with the latest research showing that 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem every year, the need to raise awareness and ensure that happens is clear.
Even using the words 'mental health' can cause issues because of the stigma attached to it. But we all have a brain (even if sometimes we feel it is a bit sleepy), and we all therefore have mental health that needs looking after - it shouldn't be a taboo subject.
It was only in my late 20s/early 30s that I really realised that mental health should take as much priority for us as physical health, and I made a bit of a pact with myself to make sure I look out for both - for myself and for other people.
I have always been a bit of a worrier and someone who internalises rather than vocalises their stress levels. I also know that I can ruminate on a problem until it seems much bigger than it actually is. For that reason, a few years ago I decided to find a strategy to help me regulate my own stress levels, regardless of what was going on around me - in work and in my personal life.
Mindfulness is listed by the NHS as one of the five steps individuals can take to positively improve their mental wellbeing. It sounded like something that would be useful to me. I talked in my previous blog about my reservations I had about starting a mindfulness course, but ultimately, I wanted to be proactive about tackling stress before it became a major issue.
I took the 8 week course that trained and equipped you with the skills to start integrating mindfulness into your daily life. It is an evidence-based course, popularised in the West by Professor of Medicine Emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn. I was drawn to the fact that it has been tested in a variety of settings, and actually shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness has had a big impact on my life. At work it has made me better able to recognise and control my stress levels, and has increased my concentration levels and focus. In my life overall, I am not preoccupied or distracted by worries nearly so much, and I feel like my ability to bounce back when things don't go to plan has got better. I'm not saying mindfulness will always work for me, or that it is for everyone. People have their own approaches and strategies to manage their mental health and wellbeing and what works for one person might not be guaranteed to work for another. But the key is finding our own strategy and respecting other people's - in that way we are treating ourselves and each other with the care and dignity we all deserve.