Living on fast forward, we’re time-poor and stressed out. We’re constantly looking for easier, quicker ways to overcome our challenges and accomplish our goals. Social media and self-help literature feed this need by bombarding us with fast fixes – from fad diets and get-rich-quick schemes to apps for finding our Zen and eternal happiness in minutes.
With the promise of instant solutions at our fingertips, it can be really difficult to focus on the future and take action that will benefit us in the long term. Yet, when it comes to our mental wellbeing, experts say there really are no ‘quick fixes’.
What exactly is ‘mental wellbeing’?
Wellbeing is more than just feeling happy. According to the Black Dog Institute, it is “a condition of flourishing, where we thrive in many aspects of our lives.” A strong sense of wellbeing contributes to good mental health, which the World Health Organization defines as “… a state of mental wellbeing that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.”
Signs of poor mental wellbeing include the following:
Constantly feeling restless
Sleep or appetite changes
Feeling worthless and/or hopeless
Loss of enjoyment in activities
Anxiety and/or depression
Alcohol and/or substance abuse
Risks of ignoring signs of poor mental wellbeing
Sadly, the early signs of poor mental wellbeing are often ignored or dismissed as not being a big deal. But not paying attention to your mental wellbeing can lead to:
Physical health problems
Low quality of life
Why ‘quick fixes’ don’t work for mental wellbeing
Poor mental wellbeing evolves over time and for many people, there are a complex combination of factors that may contribute to it, including childhood or adult trauma, bereavement, loss, severe or chronic stress, unemployment, bullying or discrimination, loneliness, physical health issues, and lifestyle factors (such as poor work-life balance, poor diet, a lack of physical activity, disrupted sleep patterns).
Quick fixes fail because they provide temporary relief or short-term solutions only, postponing the need to deal with the underlying issues or root causes. It’s a bit like cutting the top off a weed rather than pulling it root and all from the soil – in time, it’ll simply grow again!
Quick fixes often require intense effort, can feel daunting or overwhelming, don’t educate or develop new skills, may exacerbate existing problems, or may even create new issues.
For example, sleeping pills won’t reduce your anxiety or help you develop strategies to manage chronic stress. At best, they’ll provide temporary relief from insomnia but they won’t treat sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea. Plus, there’s a high risk of becoming physically and psychologically dependent on taking a pill to help you relax or fall asleep.
Why slow and steady wins the race
Why is it so hard to focus on the future and stay the course towards our long-term goals? One possible explanation is instant gratification – the natural human urge to forget about a future benefit in order to gain a potentially less rewarding but more immediate one.
Research has also shown that big changes trigger our ‘flight or fight’ stress response, which makes us start to feel anxious, fearful, and even sad. To avoid these feelings, we’re quick to fall back into our familiar patterns of behaviour or choose an easier option.
Instead of jumping right in and trying to make drastic changes, experts say the answer is to:
Start small: set achievable milestones that provide a sense of accomplishment, and positively impact your wellbeing at every stage.
Stay consistent – it’s the actions you take most of the time that create lasting results.
Gradually build up to bigger goals over time.
How to achieve long-term mental wellbeing
Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…”
To make lasting positive changes to your mental wellbeing takes deep self-reflection to understand why you ended up where you’re at, as well as a willingness to learn new ways of thinking and doing. It requires self-acceptance and a commitment to do the hard yards. It also takes time to adopt new strategies and tools, and to develop healthy habits – on average, it takes more than two months before a new behaviour becomes automatic, and up to 254 days to form a new habit!
Here are five strategies to help you stay the course:
1. Know there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and go at your own pace.
2. Accept that detours and relapses are normal – it’s OK to slip up sometimes.
3. Learn from your mistakes. They’re a great opportunity to reflect, adjust and move forward with more confidence.
4. Understand that lasting change occurs gradually because new behaviours need time to become healthy habits.
5. Get help when you need it. If the way you’re feeling is affecting your ability to cope at work, at home or in your relationships, talk to your GP or call a helpline service.
6 Good habits for long-term mental wellbeing
1. Nurture your social relationships.
Humans are social creatures by nature; feeling connected gives us a sense of belonging and helps us live more meaningfully. Studies show people who are more socially connected are happier, live longer, and have fewer mental health problems. Good relationships also develop our self-worth and provide emotional support from those who know us best.
2. Keep moving.
Staying active is not only good for your physical wellbeing, it also supports a healthy mind. Research shows regular exercise reduces anxiety and depression, lifts your mood, builds self-esteem, and increases mental alertness. But you don’t have to run a marathon tomorrow! Start gradually, and keep at it. If you’re unfit, even moving for 10 minutes twice daily will help; and choosing activities you enjoy will keep you motivated. Try to see exercise as part of your lifestyle, rather than a chore you have to tick off your must-do list.
3. Watch what you eat.
To function optimally, your brain needs a constant supply of fuel – which comes from what you eat. Eating foods that contain plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it against oxidative stress. Studies have shown that the risk of depression is up to 35 per cent lower in those who follow ‘traditional diets’ that are high in veggies, fruit, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood. But diets high in sugars have been linked to cognitive impairment, anxiety and depression. To stay well, include foods from the five core food groups; eat regularly; limit foods containing saturated fat, added salt and added sugar; and stay hydrated.
4. Cultivate your inner artist.
Arts therapy has been used clinically for more than a century and over the last decade, medical professionals have started looking more closely at how creative expression through music, dance, art and writing can be used to help heal emotional pain, increase self-understanding, and shift thinking patterns and behaviours. Multiple studies have shown it helps people to express emotions such as grief or anger; increases positive emotions and mood; lowers stress and anxiety; and has significant long-term, positive effects on overall wellbeing.
5. Give to others.
Giving to others can directly and positively affect your mental wellbeing. Studies show it can boost your mood, lower your stress levels, decrease your risk of depression, build self-esteem, bring greater happiness and life satisfaction, and provide you with a sense of purpose. Whether you choose small acts of kindness or volunteering in your community, you’ll reap the wellbeing rewards in the long term.
6. Give to yourself.
Remember, you’re worth it! Seeking professional support to improve and maintain your mental wellbeing for the long term is an investment in yourself. A professional wellbeing coach will guide you through self-reflection; provide you with proven strategies and tools to better cope with negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours; help you set achievable goals; and hold you accountable along the way.
While it’s tempting to go for the fast results that quick fixes might bring, remember that emergency repairs usually cost more in the long run! When it comes to your mental wellbeing, It pays to be patient, and to practise self-care and self-compassion.
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