Most of us have been very aware of our physical health this year. During a pandemic, it’s hard not to be. But how much have you checked in on your mental health? This month is the perfect time to start because May 3 – 9 is Mental Health Week in Canada. Every year since 1951, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has hosted Mental Health Week to promote awareness. Last year we shared some resources available for online counselling and support. With the pandemic continuing into 2021, 40 per cent of Canadians say  their mental health has declined throughout the pandemic. The good news is there are lots of easy steps you can take to improve it!

We have some great tips and resources you can use to check in on your mental health and a few tools to help you cope with stress.

Check-In on Your Mental Health

How Am I Feeling Today?
It seems like a simple question. How do I feel today? The truth is that most of us don’t stop and ask ourselves how we’re feeling as often as we should. But checking in with your emotions can help you understand your triggers and be more in touch with how you handle stress. A great tool to use is the CMHA Mental Health Meter. It has a series of questions to help you understand your mental health and how you cope.

How Am I Spending My Time?
During this pandemic, time can seem to stand still. Losing our usual routines and the monotony of every day can make it feel like time isn’t passing. That’s why it’s important to take a look at what you’re doing with your time each day and how it’s affecting your mental health. How much work are you taking on? How much exercise are you getting? How much are you sleeping? Make sure you’re making the most out of your day to improve your mental health.

Are You Feeling Different Physically?
Your body will tell you when you’re stressed out – so make sure you are listening to it! The human body is designed to react to stress in both positive and negative ways. It can make you alert and motivated, but when stress happens all the time – it can cause problems. Try to notice if you have more aches and pains or tension in your jaw or muscles. Pay attention to your heart and if you feel it race. These are signs that you may be dealing with more stress than usual and it’s affecting your health.

How Has Your Sleep Been?
Getting a good night’s sleep is great for your mental health. It boosts our immune system and helps the body reset and repair from the day before. Sleep problems can also be a sign of mental health issues or stress so you should pay attention to how much sleep you’re getting. Try to keep track in a journal or an app of how much you’re waking up at night or if you’re having problems falling asleep.

Ways to Improve Mental Health

Get Active
This year, a lot of us have been stuck inside. Most of our physical activity is walking from our couch to the kitchen or a weekly grocery store visit. But you should try to get more physical activity because it’s great for your mental health. It improves your sleep, stress, mood and gives you a boost of energy. You may not be able to hit the gym but try to get out for a walk or do an online fitness class. Even 30 minutes a day makes a big difference.

Eat Healthy
Eating a balanced diet not only helps you feel great physically but also mentally. Studies have found that the risk of depression was 25 to 35 per cent less in people who eat ‘Mediterranean or Japanese’ diets compared to ‘Western’ diets.  The main difference between them is eating more veggies, fruits, unprocessed grains and less sugar and refined foods. Avoiding drugs and alcohol is also important, as both can make mental health issues worse.

Access Resources
More awareness about mental health means more resources for help, including health care coverage. Check if your coverage includes mental health resources. Lifeworks is part of our Personal Health Plans and offers 24/7 around-the-clock access to consultations with expert advisors for coping strategies, referrals to counselling and connections to community agencies. For our Group Advantage Plan members, we have the Employee Family Assistance Program (EFAP) that offers access to support networks, life coaching and professional counselling services. 

Recharge and Renew
Give yourself time to focus on yourself with some self-care. What ‘self-care’ means may be different for everyone, but just make sure it’s something you can do regularly to help reduce your stress. For some people, this may be yoga or meditation and for others, it could be listening to music or reading a book.

Set Priorities and Boundaries
At the beginning of each day, set some priorities for yourself. Taking on too much can cause stress, so you need to make sure you don’t become overwhelmed with too many tasks or responsibilities. Make some goals for what you want to achieve each day and set boundaries as well. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself when you reach those goals!

Stay Connected
One of the most difficult things to deal with during this past year has been a lack of connection. We’ve been encouraged to socially distance from each other and that loss of human connection or even human touch has affected all of us. Make time to video call with a friend or family member, or if it’s safe to do so, have a socially distanced hang out outside. Human connection gives us a sense of belonging and purpose and offers support when we need it. All great things to boost your mental health!

Mental Health Resources - Get More Help If You Need It
Sometimes you need professional help when you’re experiencing mental health issues or stress. The good news is that there are lots of resources across Canada that are available no matter your location, age or what you need to talk about.

Your mental health should be a priority and taking these steps can make it that way. With some support, self-care and self-reflection you can reduce your stress and improve your overall wellness!