Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week in the United Kingdom, while May represents Mental Health Month in the United States. The occasion provides an ideal opportunity to ask and understand what mental health actually is, and to explore some of the existing perceptions around it. 

Preservation of a sound mind is among the foundational principles of Islam's ethical code, which strives to ensure the dignity and honour of each individual from day to day, throughout the course of life. In general, it is also important to become more aware of, and to consider integrating holistic wellbeing into our daily routine, as this can have a benefit on the quality of our lives.

The importance of wellbeing in general.

Wellbeing has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent times, especially in Western Europe and North America. Wellbeing can be defined as ‘the state of being happy, healthy, or comfortable,’ and can be broken down into four areas; mental health, sleep, physical activity, and nutrition. Focussing on our mental health is especially important, although paying increased attention to all four areas can lead to improvements in our health, happiness, and other areas of life.

Each of these areas can also have a direct impact on our mental health. For example, being more physically active can reduce levels of anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues. With more sleep, our decisions can be more creative and productive. When our nutrition is on point we are more likely to have control over our emotions.

Mental health awareness

Mental health can be defined as ‘a state of wellbeing in which an individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.’ Mental health often has a stigma attached to it, and many people tend to focus on mental ill-health, rather than on mental health as a whole. The classic ‘head in hands’ photo is often the image associated with such topics. This preconception alone causes a sense of stigma around speaking about mental health, and is one of the reasons why Mental Health Awareness Week was created in 2001.

We all have ‘mental health’ just as we all have ‘physical health,’ which also means we can be ‘mentally healthy’. We often find it easy to speak about our physical health, for example talking about having a cold, or having aches and pains, but we rarely hear people talking about their stress and anxiety levels, or that they are feeling sad in a similar easy and open way. This also leads to people not addressing issues such as stress and anxiety directly, as they would with a cold or physical pain.

It is important that we should feel comfortable enough to speak about mental health without being judged. Especially since talking about one’s mental state can lead to being more aware about one’s feelings.

Benefits of working on your mental health:

Being aware of our mental health and being able to work on it can lead to many benefits, including:

  • Increased happiness and satisfaction
  • Improved productivity and relationships
  • Increased performance in work and life
  • Reduced time off and longer-term impacts

Integrate mental health into your life

It is important to ensure we take action, to gain the many benefits from reducing the stigma of mental health and from improving our personal levels of mental health. Here are a few strategies for you to improve and maintain your mental health:

  • Meditation can help to improve mindfulness, awareness of feelings, and the ability to be mentally present. There are many mindfulness apps and free videos online that can act as a guide. Find one with a style that works for you.
  • Sleep 7-8 hours a night. To help you fall asleep, stay away from screens before bedtime, dim the lights as you are preparing to sleep, and keep your bedroom cool.
  • Increase physical activity levels. You don’t have to go for a run or to the gym, although these are beneficial. Start by integrating physical activity into your day by taking the stairs instead of the lift, getting off the bus or train a stop early, or even taking phone calls standing up.
  • Observe your nutrition. Make sure you are eating a healthy, balanced diet. Reduce high sugar foods and caffeine, as these can increase feelings of stress and anxiety, and can impact your sleep.
  • Speak to others about how you are feeling. It can help to deal with difficult or troubling times and it may in turn encourage others to open up. Caring for others can keep your relationships strong, which will benefit your general wellbeing.

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Khalil Rener is the founder of Rener Wellbeing, which supports individuals and organisations to be happier, healthier, and more productive. Khalil is a graduate of Loughborough University, and has worked on sustainable development projects in the UK, UAE, Zambia, and Tajikistan.

If you have questions about mental health and wellbeing, it may be beneficial to seek professional assistance, or reach out to a relevant Jamati institution.