Keeping your stress in check
As another year begins, the ubiquitous question arises, ‘What are your new year’s resolutions?’
The usual resolutions pop up each January: getting in shape or losing weight, travelling more, spending less, making more, as well as quitting smoking.
With that in mind, it leaves to question the absence of resolutions surrounding mental health. With one in five Canadians experiencing a mental health issue in any given year, as the Canadian Mental Health Association states, why wouldn’t mental health crack the list of common resolutions?
Corey Mackenzie, an associate professor for the department of psychology at Mount Royal University feels that changes in mental health are easier said than done.
Photo by Cameron Perrier
“We tend to get into sort of patterns of interacting and patterns of behaviour that are challenging to break out of and to make positive changes in terms of either reducing negative symptoms or else improving general well-being,” he said.
“It’s not easy.”
When asked what resolutions people should be making on this front, he suggested “it should be about coping better with mood, anxiety and substance, and that’s not what people are doing.”
The numbers don’t lie
Taking care of mental health issues as a new year’s resolution has a lot to compete with, according to the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology. Losing weight as well as staying fit and healthy appeared in the top five of the journal’s March 2012 poll on the top 10 new year’s resolutions, whereas anything related to mental health failed to appear on the list.
The benefits of doing so
Umair Sajid, a University of Calgary student, is making 2013 his year to have a better sense of his mental health, vowing to have a more positive outlook on his life.
Photo by Cameron Perrier “So no matter what’s happening, or how stressed you are, you’re able to internalize it better. It’s all about internalizing and perception.”
Sajid recognizes the benefits of making a mental health resolution, knowing that having a place to turn to in times of need is helpful.
“Once you’re stuck in a rut and you get down, you usually don’t have anything to turn to,” he said. “It’s ‘Hey, I had that positive thing going for me.’ You just turn back to that. I think having some sort of mental health resolution really gives you something to turn back to every single time.”
Every resolution comes with its fair share of problems. With staying fit for instance, eating that box of donuts might feel easier than doing 100 sit-ups at the gym, which often ends up being the case.
With mental health, Mackenzie emphasizes that it’s the “how-to,” that can halt the path to achieving mental health goals.
Photo by Cameron Perrier
Mackenzie also explains that the major focus in mental health is often placed in treatment, and not in the terms of “what you need to do,” to have a better sense of mental health.
“The trick is, how do you do that? The fact that we needed to reduce stress is pretty clear for all of us. The how you do that, is much less clear,” he said.
In an Oct. 2007 publication, the American Psychological Association offers tips for managing personal stress.
The association recognized that identifying where the source of the stress is, and how it’s dealt with are important factors.
“Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities such as meditation, exercising or talking things out with friends or family,” the publication suggests. “Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviours develop over time and can be difficult to change. Don’t take on too much at once. Focus on changing only one behaviour at a time.”
Photo by Cameron PerrierThe association also highlights that seeking out professional help is the most important factor in dealing with stress and other mental health issues.
Doesn’t stand on its own
While taking a mental health resolution can reap multiple benefits, having that resolution in conjunction with another resolution, such as staying fit, can rack in twice the yield.
“Mental health is just as important, if not more important than physical health,” said Mackenzie. “The important message is that these two aren’t separate and independent. They’re closely related in ways that most people don’t appreciate.”
Sajid agrees, believing that having mental health resolutions paired with a physical one is the key for success.
“When you look at health, health is composed of physiological and psychological,” he said. “You really have to look at those two things together to have a fighting chance about any other resolution.”
Do you have any mental health resolutions for the new year? Share your comments below.