Mental Health Awareness Part 1: Taking care of you

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Earlier this month, RUOK? Day reminded millions of Australians to check-in with family, friends and colleagues with an easy question “Are you okay?”. It’s a simple sentiment but opens the conversation for those struggling with mental health issues to talk about how they’re feeling.

Every year around 1 in 5 Australians will experience mental illness. 14% will be affected by an anxiety disorder and around 4% will have a major depressive episode within a 12 month period. While RUOK? Day raises much needed awareness of the burden of mental health issues, with these statistics in mind there is so much more we could be doing to improve mental health and to look out for those we are close to.

In this part one of two articles on mental health, we consider ways that you can be more aware of your own mental health and how to take steps for improvement.

For parents and carers of children with complex needs it is so difficult to find the time to dedicate to your child, their siblings, family relationships, friendships, work…the list goes on. Finding time for yourself is most often at the bottom of a very long list. Everyday life just doesn’t seem to stop long enough to consider how to care for your own needs and what strategies you may be able to put in place.

Here are some ideas from the Xavier health team, so that you can take practical steps to maintain or improve your own mental health.

1. Balance – Try to get your brain chemicals balanced with a daily DOSE:

Dopamine – Dopamine acts as a messenger between brain cells and is important for many of your daily behaviours.  Dopamine helps with reinforcement and reward, when you are rewarded you feel good. Setting goals – big or small – and achieving will make you feel rewarded and boost dopamine levels in your brain.

Oxytocin – dubbed the “love hormone” oxytocin is released when you experience physical contact with others and it makes you feel good. Holding a hand or hugging a loved one, even stroking a pet can release oxytocin.

Serotonin – sometimes called the “happy chemical”, serotonin plays a key role in maintaining mood balance and low serotonin levels have been linked to depression. Serotonin levels can be increased by doing things that put you in a good mood. For example, practicing gratitude. Before you go to bed at night try saying out loud five things that you are truly grateful for.

Endorphins – endorphins are a group of hormones that interact with receptors in your brain to make you feel good. Exercise is a great way to increase the endorphins in your body. Aim for 30 minutes a day or three 10 minute sessions. Whatever you can manage to help get this good stuff pumping around your body!   

2. Take time out – easier said than done but making time to regularly do things that you enjoy and to socialise is really important. If you can’t think of anything you enjoy, think back to when you were a child. What did you love and what made you laugh?

3. Talk – Talking about how you feel can be very therapeutic. Bottling up your emotions or anxieties will make you feel worse. If you’d prefer not to talk to someone close to you then reach out to a health professional for support. If you don’t feel that you can talk about how you feel then try writing a diary or journal might help.

4. Be realistic – Don’t expect too much of yourself and instead be realistic about what you can and can’t achieve in your everyday family life.  Try to prioritise and organise what you need to do each morning or on a Sunday for the week. In your “planning” include time to rest and time to take some form of physical exercise. Try not to do too much, pace yourself and look out for signs that are becoming stressed and feeling overwhelmed.

Recognising that you need to make changes towards better self-care is a step forward in itself. It is also important to acknowledge that you need to take time for yourself in order to care for your child and their complex needs.

If you’d like further support or information:

SANE Australia:

https://www.sane.org/families-carers

Carer Gateway:

https://www.carergateway.gov.au/

Carers Australia:

http://www.carersaustralia.com.au/