You’ve made a conscious decision to take care of your physical health by following a fitness plan, but you can’t forget about your mental health. The two are linked.

The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness in their lifetime. However, this is based on people who disclose their concerns and it’s believed that the actual number is closer to one in three.

There are tools you can use to find out if you’re experiencing a problem and strategies for coping or accessing treatment.

Self-awareness
Being aware of changes in your own thoughts, feelings and behaviours are important. People will typically find that at some point they’re feeling distressed in their day-to-day lives and can’t function as well. Self-awareness begins with asking yourself these types of questions:

  • How am I feeling?
  • How have things changed?
  • Am I sadder?
  • Do I carry more anger and tension?
  • Do I have less energy?
  • Am I concentrating less?
  • Do I no longer enjoy the things I used to enjoy?

Look at your behaviours and ask yourself what you’re doing differently.

  • Am I sleeping more or less?
  • Am I isolating myself from social activities?
  • Am I drinking more or doing recreational drugs?
  • Am I eating less or more?
  • Am I exercising less?

It’s also important to ask yourself what other people are noticing about you.

You may get this feedback through performance reviews at work or things a co-worker is saying. Maybe you’re making poorer decisions, avoiding tasks or missing deadlines. Your family or friends might notice you’re more forgetful, distracted or aren’t quite as organized or helpful as you used to be.

The answers you discover might be signs you should investigate these things.

Identify what’s going on
There are self-assessment tools you can access to find out more about what you’re experiencing.

The Canadian Mood Association has a tool called Check Up from the Neck Up, which includes a quiz you can print out and take to your doctor or mental health professional. It also offers a variety of resources.

One tool often used by psychologists is the DASS (Depression Anxiety Stress Scales). It’s a downloadable, 42-item self-reporting tool that measures emotional states.

If you believe you’re having problems, the first point of contact should be your doctor. Get a physical to make sure your body is working fine and be very open with your doctor about what you’re feeling.

If the doctor can’t provide a diagnosis, you could be referred to a psychologist. The key is to determine whether you’re experiencing a temporary period of distress, whether you might be developing a mental health problem or whether there’s a diagnosable mental illness.

Moving back and forth
It’s important to recognize that mental health problems are on a continuum – you’ve got full mental health, mental health challenges or problems or mental illness. You can move back and forth along this continuum in the course of your life.

Seeking professional assistance can help identify where you are on that continuum, which then determines what kind of interventions, if any, can help move you closer to true mental health.

A doctor might recommend talk therapy, which could be through an employer’s assistance program or a psychologist. You may be prescribed medication to help regulate your mood and stay in control of your emotions.

3 key actions
There are 3 important elements to creating a sense of control if you’re experiencing mental health problems or have an illness: educate yourself, develop self-care strategies and create a support network.

  1. Educate yourself

    The more people learn about their illness, the more in control they tend to be and the less alone they feel. It’s important that people understand they have an illness, but they are not their illness. You also shouldn’t compare your illness to somebody else’s because everyone is going to experience it differently.

    Some Canadian websites offering credible information include www.cmha.ca, www.cpa.ca and www.anxietycanada.ca.

  2. Develop self-care strategies

    These are things a person can engage in to help reduce the negative impact of their illness in their day-to-day life.

    It could be using mindfulness apps such as SAM (Self-help Anxiety Management), Headspace, BellyBio or Breathe2Relax.  

    It may be ensuring you continue to exercise; which people tend to do less of when they don’t feel in control. Maybe you only feel like walking, so do that, especially in nature.

    Aromatherapy, acupuncture, keeping a journal, trying to improve sleep habits and focusing on good hygiene are also beneficial.

  3. Create a support network

    Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. You might be surprised how open people are to helping if given the opportunity.

    Your support network could include people through work, friends or family. Not everyone can help every time and people have different strengths, so find a number of people you can reach out to.

Preventative strategies
Being aware of the points we’ve covered is also a step toward coping with your mental distress or mental illness and preventing it from becoming unmanageable or developing in the first place.

There are some mental illnesses you can’t prevent entirely, but you can prevent the severity in which they impact your day-to-day living.

If you’re going to the gym, you’re showing commitment to your health. Even if you’re not talking to any members, you’re still in a social environment and that’s good for your body and soul and emotional and mental health, so keep going.