The Musts of Mental Health
“It seems we’ve entered an era of overwhelmed.” – David Rock.
We’re living in a time where plethora of information is at the tip of our fingers and hustle culture is hyped up. Amidst the work and the multi-tasking, we forget to take care of the most important thing: our wellbeing.
With May being ‘mental health awareness month’, PRCA collaborated with Lighthouse Arabia to provide an insightful session on ‘the musts of mental health’. Dr Saliha, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of Light House Arabia shared practical ways individuals can improve their mental health and wellbeing in their daily lives.
Here are the seven ‘must haves’ for mental health:
Sleep time: Dr Saliha states, “If you’re having caffeine after 11 AM, you can do all kinds of things, but it won’t work to get deep restorative sleep.” Sleep is the most vital activity for your mind, body, memory, and mental health. With the right amount of sleep, individuals function their best and it helps the brain to consolidate, be creative and learn. Matthew Walker, professor of Neuroscience and Phycology at UC Berkley, stated that we are at a “catastrophic sleep epidemic” and anything less than 7 hours is sleep deprivation, which can be more deadly than food deprivation. Hence, if one deprives themselves of sleep for days, the consequences can be lethal. To acquire deep restorative sleep, one must sleep from 10 pm to 5 am. In the different stages of sleep, deep restorative sleep comes in the third stage and fourth stage where the body heals and “the magic happens”, such as homeostatic restoration, tissue repair, memory processing etc. If you’re hitting that snooze button, you’re not getting good sleep, so it’s time to change things around!
Physical time: Dr Saliha explains that exercise is one of the most important ‘must-haves’ of wellbeing. Exercise not only increases our brain plasticity, but it releases good chemicals. She further explains that our body was not made to sit as much as it sits, and it can lead to all sorts of difficulties in the body and mind.
Furthermore, we find that anxiety is fueled by uncertainty and powerlessness and hence, when we set short manageable exercise goals for ourselves, we feel in control of our body reducing anxiety. Similarly, it also helps in alleviating depression and symptoms of stress. Exercise is one of the “keystone habits” to implement which has a ripple effect on our entire lives, including our mental health. Whether it’s a full-blown workout or a quick 20-minute brisk walk, “the brain lights up like a Christmas tree” which then helps our executive functioning and makes us sharper. Understandably, we may not have motivation or energy for it, but Dr Saliha explains that we shouldn’t wait for motivation to show up, instead, we have to start small and build up.
Focus time: Focus and mindfulness go hand in hand, “when you focus on your breath, you are training the muscle in your brain to stay steady,” Dr Saliha explains. To focus is to pay close attention, and that means, no multitasking. However, one thing we can do to increase our focus is to “turn off our notifications” and focus entirely on the task at hand. Dr Saliha also suggests using the Pomodoro method to focus for 20-40 minutes and take short breaks. This is also known as time-blocking and time-boxing, where one assigns periods to tasks instead of doing multiple tasks at a time. Furthermore, Dr Saliha says that “there is no such thing as multitasking.” Our brain is like a spotlight that shifts from tasks to task, and this may look like multi-tasking, but it depletes our brain and body of energy very quickly, leaving us with very few completed tasks.
Time in: This is all about mindfulness, reflection, and meditation. When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, it helps better integrate the brain. Our brains are flooded and exhausted. Social media has caused us to be detached from our bodies, but mindfulness brings us back to our bodies and helps us feel grounded. If you want good mental health in this day and age, meditation is vital. Start with 10 seconds of focusing on your breath and build it from there.
Downtime: It’s not about meditation or massages, it’s about being non-focused, being awake with no specific goal and letting the mind wander. Or in other words, “intentionally having no intention”, according to Dr Saliha. When was the last time you daydreamed? Disconnecting through daydreaming for integration and insight is crucial to help relax and recharge the brain. Not only does it help in problem-solving and creativity, but also allows better decisions to be made with increasing insight.
Playtime: A few years ago, Dr Saliha attended one of the top consulting firm’s conferences. The CEO of Lego was standing in front of a room filled with consultants and asked them to look under their seats to find a packet of Lego. He asked all of them to make something out of it. People expected a manual of what to create but all he said was, create whatever. The room began buzzing and people began to make boats, ducks, houses — whatever they could think of. He then proceeded to say that if they do not have play in their life, they cannot have creative problem-solving. Play develops flexible emotional responses to unexpected events out of our control, it keeps the brain agile and allows us to expand beyond what is familiar — helping one build new connections with the brain.
Connecting time: “Social support is the number one predictor of happiness,” says Dr Saliha. There is a healing power of relationships through which connecting in-person richly activates the brain circuitry. A 70-year study by Harvard concluded that people were most happy when having strong intimate confiding relationships. Social support reduces the strains experienced, mitigates perceived stressors and moderates the stressor-strain relationship. Now’s the time to sit down and think, who are my people?
Wellbeing plays a fundamental part in our lives and it’s our responsibility to be compassionate and take care of ourselves. Most people have misconceptions that lead them to believe only toxic environments and hard work burns them out. However, it can be one’s passion or job that take up one’s energy too. Hence, it’s imperative to focus on ourselves and use the seven must-haves mentioned to stay healthy. It’s not always easy, but with time and balance, we all will get there.
Many thanks to Tish Tash, one of the PRCA MENA members for making this webinar possible.