Your Health

Give yourself the gift of mental health

Photo of a hand with frostbitten fingers.
Photo of Julie-Anne McCarthy. JULIE-ANNE McCARTHY
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, December 21, 2018

At this time of year, many of us get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and spend a great deal of time and energy buying the picture-perfect gift, or finding the best deal.

But what would happen if we spent as much time and energy promoting good mental health for ourselves and others? It’s a question well worth asking.

Mental health is described by the Public Health Agency of Canada as having the capacity “to feel, think, (and) act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity.” In other words, mental health is important for everyone, and includes many aspects of our lives.

Certain times of the year or certain life events can put a strain on our mental health. Fortunately, we can all do things to boost our mental health and enhance our sense of well-being, no matter what else is going on. Research shows that even one small thing can make a difference in your day, and can be especially helpful during times of stress. Here are a few ideas for this time of year: 

  • Slow down. When you’re sitting in traffic, or standing in a checkout line, take three-to-10 slow, deep breaths. This will help to slow your heart rate and will send a message to your brain and body that it’s okay to relax. Scheduling time-off from your mobile devices is also a good way to get a break from the holiday hustle, and truly be in the moment.
  • Notice the good stuff. Take a minute to notice when something good is happening. Not only does that help boost your mental health in the moment, but this also allows your brain to store it in your long term memory so that you can come back to it in the future and recall the good feeling.
  • Reflect. Think about good moments in this past year and write them down – no matter how big or small. If you have children or youth in your life, ask them to tell you about their favourite event this year. If you have older adults in your life, ask them to share a good memory as well.
  • Play in the snow. This is a good way to be physically active, get some fresh air and daylight, and have fun, all of which are important for our mental health and well-being.
  • Share. Whether it’s sharing food, sharing stories or sharing traditions, the act of sharing is a longstanding practice in many cultures that contributes to healthier individuals and healthier communities.
  • Spend time. Did you know that meaningful social connections can boost our immune systems? Whether it’s with someone close to you or with someone new, spending quality time with another person creates a sense of connection and belonging and has a large impact on our overall health in the long run. Spending quality time with animals or in nature also has a meaningful impact on how we feel.
  • Volunteer. Volunteering – whether it’s short-term or long-term – gives a sense of purpose, is a great way to meet people, and contributes to the well-being of others.
  • Spread cheer. Remember that our communities and social environment matter too and affect all of us. Smiling gently at people as you pass them by is a quick way to boost your mood, and theirs. Tried-and-true acts of kindness, like holding the door open, or letting someone go ahead of you in line at the store all add up to better collective health.

Remember that there are many different ways to enhance well-being, and by experimenting you can find what’s right for you. If you are already doing things for your well-being, then give yourself a high-five and keep it up. All of the small things add up to protect and promote our mental health and contribute to our overall quality of life. So as a gift to yourself, why not find one thing that resonates with you, to help you feel calm and fully experience the pleasant moments this holiday season?

Julie-Anne McCarthy is a mental health promotion program specialist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, December 21, 2018.

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