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Looking after your mental health

Being healthy doesn’t just mean looking after the physical aspects of your health, it’s equally important to care for your mental and social wellbeing. Being in good mental health will allow you to enjoy life to the fullest and cope with the usual stresses of everyday life. Try following these ten top tips to keep you in tip-top condition.

This information was published by Bupa's health information team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by Bupa doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.

It’s really no secret – sticking to a well-balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Food is, after all, your body’s fuel. You wouldn’t put diesel into a petrol engine, so try not to fill yourself up on the wrong things – it will only make you feel worse. For instance, eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables each day, opt for wholegrain varieties of bread, pasta and rice, and try to limit how much sugar, salt and fat you eat.

Alcohol is a depressant and can affect the way your brain functions, so it’s important to take a measured approach to how much alcohol you drink regularly. Alcohol may give you a temporary ‘high’, but if you don’t drink sensibly, or you drink heavily over a long period of time, you may be at risk of developing mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression. If you drink alcohol, don’t drink to excess. Don’t ‘save up’ your allowance for a one night binge as this has a bad effect on your liver, which will leave you feeling worse too. Recommended limits for alcohol differ from country to country.

Also, don’t use illegal drugs, such as cannabis or ecstasy, because they have the potential to seriously harm your mental health.

Taking part in regular physical activity helps your brain to release happy hormones (endorphins), which can improve how you feel. Do whatever you enjoy most; whether it’s team sports, dancing, cycling or walking, there’s sure to be something out there for you. Even low-impact exercise like tai chi can help boost your overall wellbeing. The World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise. This may sound like a lot but you can break this down into 10 minute bursts, such as regularly walking instead of driving short distances.

Also, try to stay active in terms of working, even if it’s volunteering. Having a fulfilling work-life builds a sense of achievement, provides social contacts and support, keeps you physically and mentally active and gives structure to your day to day life. It’s been found that, particularly for men, not being in employment may give a greater risk of depression. 

Life-changing events, such as bereavement, remarriage, redundancy and retirement can all take their toll on your mental wellbeing. Sometimes, you may feel as if everything is getting on top of you and that it’s all becoming too much. Stopping to relax, in any way that works for you – such as practicing meditation or a mindfulness technique – can help you to manage your emotions and reduce your stress levels. This may help you to enjoy and appreciate the positives in life.
Being tired can affect your ability to concentrate, demotivate you and leave you feeling drained of energy. This can affect your mental wellbeing, so it’s important that you try to get enough sleep to feel refreshed and able to carry out your daily activities. Simple changes to your bedroom can make all the difference. Find a comfortable temperature – not too hot or cold. Get thick enough curtains or blackout blinds to cut light from outside at night. Try to go to bed and get up around the same time every day – establishing a routine can help maintain good sleep. 
Speaking with others about how you feel can help you to see things from a different perspective. Try talking regularly to people close to you, so that you have a chance to share any problems. If you prefer to air your worries with someone outside your situation, there are many support groups and professional counsellors you could choose from.
If you feel you aren’t coping on your own, don’t feel guilty or embarrassed about asking others for support. Bereavement and other life-changing events are often very difficult to deal with, but it’s important to remember that help is out there and taking advantage of it can make all the difference. Friends and family are a good starting point, but you may find support groups or charities can help you too, if you’re feeling particularly low or finding it hard to cope.
There are some things in life that you can’t change, but it’s important to see yourself as a valuable person. Try not to judge yourself against impossible standards because this will help you to stay healthy and happy throughout your life.
Maintaining good relationships with people builds up a support network, which is always important, but especially so in times of need. Even if you haven’t seen someone for a very long time, meet up for lunch, write a letter or send an email – it’s always good to catch up.
That’s it, plain and simple. Why not give it a go?

Sources

  • What is good mental health? Mental Health Foundation. www.mentalhealth.org.uk, accessed 7 August 2012
  • Mental health: a state of well-being. World Health Organization. www.who.int, published October 2011
  • 10 Ways to Look After Your Mental Health. Mental Health Foundation. www.mentalhealth.org.uk, accessed 7 August 2012
  • Anger. Mental Health Foundation. www.mentalhealth.org.uk, accessed 2 August 2012
  • Depression. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, published January 2011
  • A healthy varied diet. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, published 4 January 2012
  • Tips for a healthy heart. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, published July 2009
  • Eating for good mental health. Mind.www.mind.org.uk, accessed 2 August 2012
  • Alcohol units – guide to units & measures. drinkaware.co.uk. www.drinkaware.co.uk, published 30 August 2012
  • Alcohol. British Liver Trust. www.britishlivertrust.org.uk, accessed 3 September 2012
  • Exercise and mental health. Mental Health Foundation. www.mentalhealth.org.uk, accessed 7 August 2012
  • Exercise and mental health. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, published January 2009
  • Wang C, Bannuru R, Ramel J, et al. Tai chi on psychological well-being: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Complement Altern Med 2010; 10(23). doi:10.1186/1472-6882-10-23
  • Start active, stay active: a report on physical activity from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers. Department of Health. www.dh.gov.uk, published 2011
  • Is work good for your mental health? Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, accessed 7 August 2012
  • Men and depression. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, published May 2012
  • Meditation. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. www.nccam.nih.gov, published 14 February 2012
  • Sleeping well. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, published June 2011
  • Talking therapies. Mental Health Foundation. www.mentalhealth.org.uk, accessed 16 August 2012
  • It's good to talk. Counselling and Psychotherapy. www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk, accessed 7 August 2012
  • Connect with people. Action for Happiness. www.actionforhappiness.org, accessed 16 August 2012
  • Sources of support. Bereavement Advice Centre. www.bereavementadvice.org, published 30 July 2009

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