The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 1 in every 5 U.S adults is a victim of some kind of mental illness. That is roughly 46.6 million (18.9%) adults as per the 2017 population. Millions of people in America suffer from mental health conditions every year. The numbers seem to be rising steadily as living becomes more complicated.
There is not a universally effective way of treating mental disorders and in most cases therapies are leveraged to help patients. Relaxation has been widely shown to boost mental health and is now being used by most people. From watching the waves at the beach to sitting quietly and deep breathing, relaxation is not rocket science.
It is, however, important to note that relaxation is not a cure for mental disorders but rather a means to ensure calm and peace of mind.
We will be shortly seeing how you can leverage on relaxation to improve you mental health but first we need to be clear on what exactly is characterized as a mental illness.
What is a Mental Illness?
When we hear of the word ‘mental disorder’ or ‘mental illness’, our minds often wander along the lines of insanity. We envision people in tattered clothes, making faces and talking to everyone and themselves along the streets.
But mental illness is so much more than that. It is not always obvious. Many times we miss it even when we are the victims. So what is it? How does mental illness manifest itself?
To give you a refresher, we will briefly go through some of the most common types of mental disorders.
Types of mental disorders
- Depression – This is one of the most common type of mental disorder in the world with over 300 million global victims according to WHO. People who are depressed are often sad, have low self-esteem, problem sleeping, poor concentration, have little interest in things and feel tired most of the times.
- Bipolar affective disorder – Approximately 60 million people worldwide suffer from this mental condition according to WHO. Characterized by problem sleeping, irritable mood, pressure of speech among other conditions.
- Schizophrenia – Affects about 23 million people globally according to stats from WHO. It is characterized by distorted thinking, language and perceptions.
- Anxiety disorders – People who suffer from anxiety respond to situations and objects with fear or panic. In this case they may sweat profusely and experience accelerated heartbeat. They include phobias and social anxiety disorder.
- Personality disorders – When you have a personality disorder, you may find it difficult to socialize or interact with other people due to extreme personality traits. You may think and act in a way that people find unconventional, strange and irritating.
Mental Health and Relaxation
Now that we know exactly what a mental illness is or is not, let’s look at how you can take advantage of relaxation to counter the effects and improve your mental state.
So, what is relaxation?
Relaxation is simply a state of calmness that enables one to perform day-to-day tasks and manage common situations efficiently. Being relaxed means that you are able to function without pressure and can comfortably manage stress and anxiety. If you lead a hectic life, it’s easy to throw yourself into stress and be less productive. Stress is one of the most widely known mental condition that is commonplace in a hectic lifestyle.
How do you keep relaxed and how is this relaxation important to mental health? That is exactly what we are going to discuss next.
The fundamentals are really simple. When you are relaxed, you are less likely to be affected by mental conditions such as depression, stress, anxiety and schizophrenia. This will ensure that you are constantly in good mental health and able to manage daily life optimally.
Relaxation can either directly or indirectly boost mental health. The direct method involves the reduction or elimination of stress, depression, anxiety and so on. There are also other benefits of relaxation that indirectly helps to boost mental health. These include:
- Reducing fatigue
- Reducing frustration
- Boosting self-confidence
- Boosting concentration and mood
- Reducing chronic pain and muscles tension.
Now we know that relaxation is good for our mental health. Excellent. But the big question is, how do you relax? There are different relaxation techniques you can capitalize on to improve mental health. We discuss some of them below.
Relaxation is not about shifting weight from one leg to another in front of the TV at the end of a busy day. There are different ways to relax. Some people prefer going to the beach and taking in the salty aroma or feeling the softness of the white sand while others walk their dogs or go bird-watching.
Below are some relaxation techniques that actually work.
- Deep breathing
It sounds simple but is very powerful when done right. In fact, this is the simplest relaxation technique for relieving stress and fatigue. What is more, all other relaxation techniques are actually centered on deep breathing.
How to deep breathe
- Sit with your back straight in a comfortable place or somewhere serene like the beach.
- Focus on breathing from your belly rather than the chest
- Breath in through you nose and exhale through your mouth
- Progressive muscle relaxation
This is a process where you tense and relax the different muscle groups in your body in a systematic manner. When done right, you will be able to achieve complete relaxation at the end of the process. You can even combine this with deep breathing to achieve better results.
To practice progressive muscle relaxation, you first need to sit in a comfortable place. Loosen any tight clothing and take off your shoes. Deep breath for a short moment then focus your attention on your feet starting with the right one. Tense the muscles there for about 10 seconds and relax. After you have mastered the difference and start feeling the effects, move steadily up your body repeating the same process.
Also referred to as guided imagery, visualization is all about envisioning a situation or scene that makes you feel at peace and relaxed. To do this, sit in a distraction-free place and close your eyes. Conjure a most relaxing scene in your mind and only focus on it. This can be the beach or a serene park. Make it real by smelling things around you, imagine a sunset over the water in the beach or birds flying from one tree to another in a park. Taste the salty beach air as if you were there.
Other notable relaxation techniques are:
- Yoga and Tai Chi
It is no doubt that relaxation can greatly help to boost mental health when done the right way. Choose a relaxation technique that you prefer and use it when you feel stressed and fatigued. Remember than relaxation is not a cure for mental conditions and always see a psychiatrist if you feel that you have a serious mental disorder.