Mental Health

It’s difficult to get the balance perfect, but there are some things that can help to maintain feeling OK and staying OK.

It’s really important to try and achieve balance in your life and to work out how you can feel at your best. It can be a case of trial and error. Maybe 3 coffees a day won't help your anxiety and the same might go for smoking marijuana or not getting enough sleep. It's important to reflect on what what you've been doing and how that has impacted the way you feel. If you can reflect on that and even keep a log book if you need to, you can sometimes track what you did that helped or didn't help the way you felt.

Nutrition & Exercise

Eaiting healthy and exercising regularly

Body and mind are intrinsically linked so one of the most important things you can do to support your mental health is to look after your body through healthy eating and regular exercise. The Australian government has developed a guide for healthy eating that emphasises fresh food and limiting the amount of junk food that is high in fat, salt or sugar.

Alcohol contains a lot of sugar as well as being a depressant, so there are good short term as well as long term reasons to limit use. Australian guidelines recommend a limit of two drinks a day and no more than four drinks on any single occasion.

One effective thing you can do to improve your mental health is to exercise. For most people at least half an hour a day of moderate physical activity is recommended. Moderate activity includes brisk walking as well as cycling or swimming. It isn’t necessary to pay for a gym membership to exercise. Instead, think about how to build some extra walking into your daily routine. Try getting off the bus a couple of stops early, taking public transport rather than driving, or going for a walk around the neighbourhood before switching on the TV at night. Many people have sedentary jobs and if you do it’s especially important to get your daily dose of physical activity. Many people also find that getting outdoors gives them a lift and this may be worth trying if you spend lots of time in front of computer screens.

Connectedness

Choose connection

Feeling connected to other people is vitally important to all human beings and relationships take many forms. As adults, romantic or sexual relationships are often the focus of much of our time and energy and a fulfilling sexual relationship can be one of the most important things in life. However, many people don’t find the ‘right’ person for a whole range of reasons and this doesn’t mean they can’t or don’t have good relationships. Friends, family and community can all offer connection and are important relationships in their own right. Regardless of the kinds of relationships we have there’s a few strategies that can help to keep them healthy.

Cultivate relationships – this means prioritising relationships (understood in the broadest sense) as well as being an active participant within them. Relationships don’t just happen they take effort, thoughtfulness and flexibility. Likewise, value your relationships and treat others the way you would like to be treated. Think of ways to make your relationships happy spaces through sharing, humour and joy.

Evaluate relationships – not all relationships are good, healthy or supportive. If a relationship doesn’t feel healthy ask yourself whether there are things you can do to improve it? Can you talk about your issues and seek to change the way you relate to the person? If you don’t think the relationship can change do you need to think about ending it?

For some LGBTI people, families of origin may not be accepting or supportive and it might be beneficial to put some distance between you and your family. Some LGBTI people establish families of choice that offer familial support without negative judgements.

It’s also important to evaluate the role of drug use in your relationships. If you find that your friendship circles are largely focused on using drugs this maybe a barrier to cutting back or quitting. If you feel like you are stuck in a pattern with your friends try to change how you socialise. For example, instead of going to the pub try going to a movie. Or rather than going out at night where you might be in environments where drugs are around, try some daytime activities. For some people who are committed to abstinence and perhaps enter recovery programs, it may become important to leave certain friends behind, at least for a period while skills around sobriety are strengthened and stabilised.

Cultivate community – if we start to think about the enormous variety of relationships we have in life we might imagine a complex spider’s web of links to other people. Some of these links are strong and intense as in the case of partners, family or friends while others are more subtle or fleeting. Even people we regard as strangers are part of broader communities whether that is centred on identity (such as the LGBTI community), place (such as the local neighbourhood), or shared interests (like an online community focussed on a hobby or a group committed to a particular cause). The community is not something separate from us but something we actively create, day by day, through our social interactions. If you ever feel that everyday social interactions can be negative, aggressive or competitive, try modelling the sort of behaviour you would prefer. If you think some spaces could benefit from more kindness, patience or acceptance of difference try putting that into practice yourself. You won’t always get a good reaction but you might be surprised at the positive effect you can have.

Another way to cultivate community that many people draw deep satisfaction from is volunteering. By giving some of your time to help others you not only foster a good feeling in yourself and others but you also get to meet a range of people you might not normally be in contact with. Many LGBTI health organisations use volunteers and will provide training and support. If you wanted to branch out further you could look for opportunities via this site.

Self Care

Create space for your inner life

Exploring who you are is a dynamic lifelong process. It involves values, opinions, emotional responses, likes and dislikes as well as abiding interests. Some people also regard a spiritual dimension as important to their sense of self. Regardless of the framework you use to understand your ‘self’ it is important to make space for your inner life through thoughtful reflection. This can take an infinite number of forms and will depend on your personal preferences. Some people prefer to carve out quiet and/or stillness in their busy lives through practices like meditation or writing a journal. Others prefer to be active and might take solitary walks, garden or cook. Some people benefit from time alone whereas others prefer to explore who they are in dialogue with others. In many ways the activity is less important than the intention of creating space to contemplate what’s important in life to you.

Once you have a handle on what’s important to you, you can then ask yourself whether the reality of your life reflects your core values. It is common to have to make some compromises in life but if you find yourself spending significant energy on things that are not important to you then this can be a recipe for instability or inner conflict. Achieving this realisation can be the most important step that leads to change.

Maybe while reflecting on what is important to you, enjoy this mindfullness video.