Self care, preventing mental health problems

Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamuse
Mental Health

As discussed in previous articles mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

While there may be factors that affect our mental health that are beyond our control such as genetics and family history of certain mental health problems, there are many factors that we can control and modify.

This can allow us to prevent mental ill health and promote mental wellbeing.

What factors affect our mental wellbeing?

Mental health is influenced by a variety of biological, psychological, social and environmental factors.

Biological factors include our genetic makeup, our physical health, the way our body naturally responds to stress and our diet and lifestyle choices. Psychological factors include our personality, our attitude towards life, our sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Social factors and environmental factors include our relationships and ability to connect meaningfully with others, our family, work or school environment, our cultural beliefs as well as our socioeconomic and financial situation.

Mental health self-care

Self-care is the ability to take deliberate actions to promote health, prevent disease and strengthen coping skills and is a crucial part of maintaining mental health and prevent mental problems where possible. Mental health self-care can involve:

  • Emotional awareness: to maintain mental wellbeing, it is critical to be aware of our emotions and to be emotionally authentic and vulnerable enough to be able to express our emotions to the right people in appropriate settings.
  • Life affirming talk: where our lives are right now is closely linked to what thoughts we have allowed to grow and flourish in our minds. Most of our battles are fought in our minds. Part of maintaining mental wellbeing is learning to challenge negative thoughts and learning to speak life affirming words to yourself, others and into situations.
  • Balancing life and work: To remain effective and productive, it is essential that there is a balance between the important aspects of our lives. We all have finite time and energy and we must set agendas for each day and each season in life that reflect our key priorities in life and our dedication to what we truly value. It is essential that we balance “doing” and “being” and learn to be present in the here and now, not always worrying about tomorrow or stressing about the past while missing out on the blessing of today.
  • Taking time to rest: We should rest, not due to exhaustion but to prevent exhaustion.

There is a need to rest daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and to even take a sabbatical every few years.

Rest is necessary for physical and mental rejuvenation. When we take time to rest we can reflect, reconfigure, reset and realign ourselves to our vision and our goals.

  • Building and maintaining strong, meaningful relationships: To maintain mental wellbeing, it is critical to place a high value on people and relationships in our life. We have become more and more disconnected as people even though our world has become more and more digitally connected. Loneliness is rife and it is a risk factor for mental ill health. A social support system can be a great safety net protecting us from mental health challenges. Mental wellbeing is also about being at peace with ourselves and with others in as much as it depends on us. Strained relationships are a very common cause of mental and even physical ill health.
  • Mental flexibility and a problem solving approach to life: Mental wellbeing is also about coping with life’s challenges and a key aspect of developing resilience in life is the ability to re-strategise when hit by a crisis and to look for solutions to life’s problems. Life will break us if we are mentally inflexible and think that things must only turn out the way we planned them initially.
  • Maintaining perspective and hope: Hope is mentally protective and critical in preventing and recovering from mental health problems. We need to have strong reasons to get up each morning. Having a vision for our lives and for our families helps us to have hope. We must each have a vision for our lives. The plan or the steps we thought we would take to reach that vision may change but if the vision remains the same, this will help anchor us in difficult times. What is your vision for your life? If you feel as if you may have lost sight of your vision, it is important that you make time to reimagine your dreams, your vision for yourself and your goals.

If you think that you or someone that you know may be struggling to maintain their mental wellbeing, please contact your nearest health service provider and get help.


l Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by: Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse, consultant psychiatrist.

Feedback: Dr. Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse +263714987729) (AHFoZ; [email protected])

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