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Your 5 step plan for a life of good mental health

Good mental health is much more than the absence of disease. It’s about having fun spending time with family and friends, filling each day with ‘pockets of pleasure’, looking forward to new experiences and making the most of your retirement. Conditions such as anxiety, stress and depression can rob you of this sense of wellbeing, but there are steps you can take to keep them at bay and enjoy life to the full.

1. Take a ‘nature pill’

Long-term stress is one of the most common causes of anxiety and depression – and it’s one of the easiest to avoid1.  A study published in Science Daily in April this year found that spending 20 minutes in nature significantly lowers your stress hormone levels2. So significantly, in fact, that the researchers are describing these activities as a ‘nature pill’ and suggesting doctors prescribe them to patients as they can have a measureable effect.

A nature pill isn’t about physical exercise – you can gain the benefits by strolling or even sitting still. And you don’t have to be in the wilderness, just somewhere you feel connected to nature such as a garden or park.

2. Make the right connections

Finding time to nurture strong relationships with your friends and family can help protect against depression. It’s also good to make new friends by pursuing different interests. Volunteering, for example, has been shown to increase self-esteem and wellbeing as it helps to relieve stress3. It’s also important to have someone – or, better still, a team of people – you can turn to for encouragement and support. This can include family, friends and colleagues as well as a trusted GP, counsellor or psychologist.

However, toxic people have the opposite effect1. If you know someone with a bullying nature, who is consistently negative and critical, or who takes advantage of you in some way, the best option is to get them out of your life. If this is difficult because of a work or family situation, it could help to talk to a professional or contact one of the resources mentioned below about how best to manage the situation. Remember too that while social media can help you stay connected, it isn’t a healthy replacement for face-to-face interactions.

3. Stay on top of your physical health

Good physical health is associated with good mental health, so that means taking care of the basics4. For example, a healthy, balanced diet5 can positively influence how you feel, and both high and low-intensity exercise can help prevent depression6. Previously, it wasn’t clear whether physical activity was a genuine preventative factor or whether people with good mental health were more likely to be physically active. However, new research found significant evidence that physical activity really is likely to reduce the risk of poor mental health7

Bear in mind that some prescription medications can cause depression as a side effect8. If you suspect this could be the case, talk to your doctor. And, as chronic conditions can be associated with depression9, it’s important to manage them well. Stick to your treatment plan and any recommended lifestyle changes, then let your doctor know if anything changes. 

4. Sleep on it

According to the National Sleep Foundation, people with insomnia have a tenfold risk of developing depression compared with those who sleep well10. And, as depressed people often have trouble sleeping, this can create a vicious circle. The relationship between sleep and mental health is not clearly understood, but the Sleep Health Foundation believes that a good night's sleep supports both mental and emotional resilience and that people who sleep poorly are much more likely to develop significant mental illness than those who sleep well. However, there are ways to help get a good night’s sleep. These include:

  • Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, even weekends
  • Sticking to a bedtime routine
  • Avoiding electronic equipment, ideally for two hours before bed
  • Investing in a comfortable mattress and pillow
  • Avoiding caffeine after noon
  • Tiring yourself out with regular exercise
  • Practising relaxing breathing exercises1

5. Tune in to how you feel

We wouldn’t be human if we felt happy all the time. It’s completely normal to react to certain events by feeling sad, and to feel anxious if you’re facing a challenging situation11. However, these kinds of feelings sometimes persist or become so overwhelming they interfere with everyday life. Other indications that things aren’t as they should be include trouble concentrating, becoming more irritable or experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia or gaining or losing weight.

If you’re concerned about these or any other health issues, it’s important to seek help. Your GP and a range of services and mental health professionals can offer help, and you can find trusted information on websites such as the Black Dog Institute and Beyond Blue. Black Dog suggests talking to someone you trust, or contacting your GP, a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist12. You can also find 24/7 counselling at Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 and MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78

Take time to reflect

Learning to live without a parent – someone you’ve known and loved your whole life – can be very difficult, and the sense of loss their death brings may take a long time to subside. It’s important you allow yourself time to grieve and connect with family and friends to share memories as you settle their affairs and plan for the future.

Important information and disclaimer

NULIS Nominees (Australia) Limited AFSL 236465 ABN 80 008 515 633 provides this information as trustee of the MLC Super Fund ABN 70 732 426 024. This information may constitute general advice. It has been prepared without taking account of individual objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any information, you should assess or seek advice on whether it is appropriate for your needs, financial situation and investment objectives. We recommend you obtain financial and tax advice tailored to your own circumstances prior to making any investment or acquisition decision. Any general tax information is based on our general understanding of taxation laws. It is not intended to be a substitute for specialised taxation advice or an assessment of your liabilities, obligations or claim entitlements that arise, or could arise, under taxation law, and we recommend you consult with a registered tax agent. This information is current as at 9 October 2019 and may be subject to change, for example should there be a change of legislation or economic conditions. An investment with NULIS is not a deposit with or liability of, and is not guaranteed by, NAB or other members of the NAB Group, and is subject to investment risk including possible delays in repayment and loss of income and capital invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.