But what does the red button actually do?
Okay, I have an experiment for you. I didn’t invent it but it’s something that I’ve seen before and found really interesting. Grab a piece of paper and pen (or just memorise the words).
1. What is the first thing you think of when you hear ‘mental health’?
2. What is the first thing you think of when you hear ‘physical health’?
Now look at what you’ve written. Or ponder over the words you’ve memorised and make the people around you think you’re being really clever.
It is a recurring theme that the first thing people think of when they hear ‘mental health’ is usually examples of poor mental health (eg. depression, suicide, crazy) whereas generally the first thing people think of when they hear ‘physical health’ is ways in which you can maintain it (eg. exercise, fruit, not smoking).
I think this experiment perfectly illustrates the difference in how mental and physical health are perceived. Mental health is thought of instantly as a negative term. Physical health is seen as something we have to look after. I’ve never seen a post on Pinterest about ‘5 Minute Exercises You Can Do In The Office To Improve Your Mental Health’. There are never columns in magazines dedicated to all the ways you can get your kids interested in mental well-being.
Yes, I’ve seen a lot of ‘positive thinking’ articles and we’ve all seen those annoying accounts on Instagram dedicated to ‘100 days of happiness’.*
*Annoying only because they generally give up 15-20 days in, leaving their Instagram account abandoned and definitely not happy.
But those articles never relate positive thinking to mental health. Mental health is what crazy people have. Normal people don’t need that.
Well, I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise that we all have a brain. We all have mentality. We all have mental health. Some of us will be lucky enough to never have to worry about the state of their mental health. But most of us will.
The physical health equivalent is a bit like that friend that everyone has who eats everything (and I mean everything) and does no exercise (and I mean NO exercise) but still manages to have an amazingly slim figure, great skin and will probably live to 200. However, most of us will have to think about what we eat and do regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight and lifespan. This is exactly the same as with mental health.
If we don’t exercise our brains, and give it the fuel it needs, it will eventually give up.*
*This is excluding genetic mental health disorders.
So here are my tips for exercising and feeding your brain:
1. Learn! Never let yourself get to a point where you’re not learning something everyday. This doesn’t have to be advanced trigonometry, or German grammar rules, just something! It could be learning something about someone you know, learning to cook something you’ve never known how to make or even learning what every single button on your TV remote actually does.
2. Those ‘brain training’ apps you can get for your phone. Yes, most of them are either ridiculously easy or impossibly hard but it keeps your brain busy.
3. Create something. This could be a drawing, a song, a dance, a website, a book or even a blog (because I make it sound so fun). It doesn’t have to be typically creative things either. It could be a maths puzzle, an acronym to remember chemical elements or an amazing personal statement (I tried to make that sound as fun as possible).
1. Read. Just reading one article in a magazine will feed new words into your subconscious and give you something to think about.
2. Change. Go to a place you’ve never been before, listen to an artist you’d never usually listen to, or even change the colour of your duvet cover. Little changes force your brain to adjust and take in more information, but also prepare your brain for having to adapt if something big happens. Honestly, the only reason I managed to settle into Bristol after moving was because I used to change my duvet cover and pillowcases once a week.*
*Sarcasm but the rest of it was sincere.
3. Socialising. This sounds cliche but forming new relationships is an essential part of maintaining your mental health. Countless studies have shown that social interaction can prevent chronic mental (and physical) health disorders.
Learn, change, create.
I’m starting to sound like one of those weird life coach people you always see on American TV programmes, sorry. I’m done now.
Be the change you want to see! Okay, I’m actually done now.
hey! i'm an 21 year old medical student (currently intercalating in anthropology) living it up in east london! i spend my spare time playing dixie chicks on guitar (badly), attempting to do yoga and turning it up at my church.