What is mental health ?
The terms mental health and mental illness are used interchangeably, however they look and act differently. Mental health refers to a person’s cognitive, behavioral, and emotional well-being ie. how people think, feel, and behave. Whereas mental illness can be characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behaviour associated with significant distress and impaired functioning.
Some examples of mental illness are: mood disorders: major depression and bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, problem gambling, and substance dependency.
Good Mental Health Looks Like:
Positive emotions and self regulation
A zest for life and the ability to laugh and have fun
A sense of meaning and purpose
Realistic and positive thoughts + feelings
A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
Ability to problem solve
Connect socially with others
The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
Self-confidence and high self-esteem.
Poor Mental Health Looks Like:
Less focus on self care
Coping mechanisms breakdown
Poor concentration and focus
Loss of interest in life and activities
Difficulty making decisions
Why is mental health important
It’s easy to measure our physical health by looking at our energy levels, our weight and how we look. There is definitely more of a focus on our physical stature than our emotional and mental well being. However, separating our health into boxes doesn’t allow us to fully address true wholeness and health.
Without our mental health we are unable to live our daily routines, implement self-care, and make decisions that affect us on a daily basis and also for our futures.
It makes it difficult to adapt to new situations which is key to thriving rather than surviving. Mental health directly impacts your body functionality and physical self so having the right balance and state of mind can be difficult to maintain all the time. By taking the time to understand ourselves, we become more focused, engaged and productive. Your thinking patterns start to develop and decision making becomes a seamless process. Wasting time and being less productive will no longer be the usual suspects. Your approach to your work, your relationships, your life and the world around you will change for the better.
How to improve your mental health
There are fundamental ways to stay mentally healthy:
having social connections
incorporating a brain healthy diet
getting quality sleep
have meaning and purpose in your life
staying connected to the present moment
Integrating these strategies and lifestyle habits is easier said than done. It isn’t an overnight process where you wake up and become a completely different person. Change is incremental. To improve your mental health, it is important to stick with one improvement every day for a set period of time. Of course this sounds easy and for some that is true but for most people it is always the first hurdle that is the most challenging. Having an open-mind and positive attitude is a step in the right direction.
How your environment affects your mental health
What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Well it’s a similar metaphor with how your environment affects your mental health. Do you have a clean home? Do you plan your days? Or are you always putting out fires, and you can’t seem to keep up?
Having a disorganized home causes anxiety as we are instinctively creatures that need some sort of order. Other anxieties come with having a disorganized home, like the worry of what others think about the state of our homes, the time it will take to get in order etc. This creates added stress which then affects someone’s mental health.
A cluttered home also represents a cluttered mind and part of having good mental health is mental clarity with the ability to make decisions, focus, be effective and productive. Less is more which makes it easier to make decisions and focus on the present moment, rather than be distracted by the mess.
Your home is meant to be a retreat from the world and a place of rest and nurturing. A study done in Australian-US conducted by Lenny Vartarian (2017) stated that individuals who had a disorganized kitchen were more likely to eat unhealthy snacks like cookies than prepare a healthy snack. Poor hygiene in a space also means poor mental hygiene and habits around eating. Having an organized kitchen doesn’t just make you feel good it helps you create healthy meals that support your overall health.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D writes in her article about life clutter that mental clutter actually affects age-related memory loss. So letting go of physical and mental clutter in your home also means that you are able to maintain happiness and your cognitive abilities better.
Being disorganized and cluttered also affects your spending. People tend to buy items they don’t need because they cannot find these items therefore creating multiple duplicates. I’ve seen it over the years with clients when we gather similar items together and the next thing you know they have 6 bags of rice they don’t need or 5 hammers because they couldn’t find the first one. Having less and having your items organized means you buy what you need and spend less time looking for things.
Our environment also says a lot about what is going on inside. If someone has clutter in their home and most of it is other people’s belongings, this could be a sign that they have trouble setting boundaries in relationships. Or it could be many unfinished projects lying around the home that represent the need for perfectionism so nothing ever gets done. Going through a process of letting go of physical and mental clutter is an opportunity to look within and see what patterns are creating clutter and impending on your mental health.
How to get more organized to improve your mental health
Here are some ways you can set up your space to support your mental health. Your environment can sometimes be a reflection of your mind. Wherever you are, your environment can influence you in many ways. Most often than not, it is natural to overlook the spaces that we live in as a way to improve our mental health. More specifically, your focus should be on how you can maximise your comfort and surroundings so you always feel at ease.
Make sure it is quiet during bed time even if that means putting in earplugs. Have clean sheets, washing them about once a week is a good rule of thumb. Make your bed every morning, put your clothes away at the end of the day and after you do laundry. Make sure that the belongings you have in your room match the behaviours of the space, ie. don’t have your paperwork and projects piled up on your bed and then move them to the floor. Instead have your clothing, any books you are reading and other essential items that you use in this space. Having low lights at night is also a good idea as it helps the brain signal sleep. I bought a low light bulb for my bedside lamp which works wonders.
Buying what you need for the week is ideal, plus being stocked on staples that you use weekly. Often people have packed freezers, cupboards and shelves with food that’s been sitting there for months. This makes it hard to decide what to make and also creates a lot of food waste. Buying items in bulk is a great way to stay organized because you can see what you have and it creates less waste. I also love looking up a few recipes each week so that I feel inspired to cook and don’t have to think during the busy week what I am going to make. I create a list of snacks and meal ideas for the week, buy groceries accordingly and then it’s smooth sailing and healthy eating.
This can be a hazard zone for old products collecting dust and dirty bathtubs sprawling with mold. See what products you use most and let go of the rest. This makes it easier to organize and like the kitchen, you’re less likely to spend money on items you already have. Fresh clean towels also help along with making sure you keep up with cleaning. Cleaning your home is good hygiene and it creates a sense of accomplishment, mental clarity and aids in good mental health.
Working from home is now the norm and for those who live in small spaces their living rooms often become their office. It’s key to find ways that you can put the office away at the end of the day to help you transition your work day to your personal down time. Does your space make you feel good? What’s one area you can declutter and organize that will have the biggest impact?
It’s taken me years to live a more simple life (have only what I need, love and match my values and intentions). Living this way makes it easier for me to stay organized in my space but also with my ability to focus on my health and well being. Ultimately no matter how I am feeling there is always prepared food in the freezer so that my body and mind are fueled with clarity and nutrition.