How to take care of your mental health

We’ve all got mental health to care for just like we all want to care for our physical health. We know to be physically well we need to exercise, eat well, and practice hand washing, but what does it mean to be mentally well? The Mental Health Continuum model was developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and gives us a model to understand the full spectrum of mental health.

Mental Health Continuum diagram

Image source: Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs

The continuum categorizes symptoms for four states of mental health: healthy, reacting, injured, and ill.

  • Someone who is in the healthy category will typically feel “normal”, have good sleep habits and energy. For these folks, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, practice time management, and nurture your support systems.
  • People in the reacting category might feel symptoms of irritability and sadness; have trouble sleeping or physical symptoms like having low energy, muscle tension or headaches; and they might start decreasing their amount of social activity. For people in this category it is important to get adequate rest, food, and exercise; start engaging in healthy coping strategies; and start identifying and minimizing stressors in your life.
  • Someone in the injured category might feel emotional symptoms like anxiety, anger, sadness, or hopelessness. They might be experiencing physical symptoms restless sleep, fatigue, aches and pains. People in this category might see a performance decline in work or school and might start withdrawing from social situations. For people who think they may be in this category, it is important to start talking with someone about your difficulties, seek help from a professional, and reach out to your social supports instead of withdrawing.
  • People in the ill category might feel excessive anxiety, extreme emotions, and depressed moods. They are unable to fall or stay asleep, but feel exhaustion and are often susceptible to physical illness. They might start avoiding social events and work or school altogether. For people in this category, it is important to seek consultation from a professional and health care provider and follow any recommendations they give you.

There are many ways to stay mentally well day to day, including but not limited to:

  1. Regular meals. Eating regularly helps fuel your body and brain to help you get through your day-to-day commitments and gives you focus. Make sure you get three nutritious meals a day and pack yourself healthy snacks when you aren’t at home. Read more in Nutrition Services’ article about the links between Nutrition and Stress.
  2. Exercise. Giving your body a break from sitting while you are studying is important. Exercise has been linked to stress reduction by several sources. Try to stay connected with the activities you enjoyed before coming to university or take the opportunity to try something new! The Athletics department offers many different opportunities on campus for you to get active.
  3. Sleep. Give your mind and body a time to rest each day. Studies have shown a correlation between getting good sleep and grades. Getting a regular seven to nine hours of sleep per day is an essential part of self-care. For more information about sleep health and tips for sleeping well, see our online Sleeping Well seminar.
  4. Deep breathing and meditation. Meditation and guided relaxation exercises are easy activities you can do to promote stress reduction and fit self-care into your daily routine. Recent studies have shown that just 10 minutes of meditation a day can lower anxiety. For guided meditations and relaxation exercises, see our online workshops and seminars page.

It is important if you are feeling like you are in the injured or ill categories to seek help as soon as you can. You can visit a Campus Wellness office like Counselling Services or Health Services or any of the other wellness services on or near campus to get the help you need.

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