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Mental Health Week is on from October 9th – October 14th 2017, with World Mental Health Day on Tuesday October 10th. Having a full week dedicated to mental health awareness is a huge step in educating people on all aspects of what mental health entails. Mental Health Ireland are promoting ‘5 Steps to Wellbeing’ over the week, where they outline five important aspects that contribute to positive mental health. These five steps are:

Connect: Don’t isolate yourself. Talk. With family, friends, colleagues, partners, teachers, doctors, whoever you feel comfortable with. These days, most of us fall into the trap of communicating with others mainly through social media, but a Facebook message or a snapchat is nothing like meeting up with someone face to face over a good cup of coffee (or a pumpkin spice latte, since it’s now autumn 😉). Connecting with people brings about many psychological benefits such as reduced loneliness and depression, a greater sense of self-worth and identity.

Over the coming week, try and meet up with at least two different people who you do not regularly see. This can be for lunch, a walk, a cinema trip, bowling, shopping, whatever you both enjoy. It will mean a lot to them to spend time with you, especially if it’s been a while!

Be active: This step may turn people off right away. Many of us are busy this time of year with schoolwork, college work, jobs, chores, study, etc etc. And it’s October, which means the weather won’t be calling out for shorts and tees. But nevertheless, this does not mean this step is not achievable. Being active does not mean doing a 10k, or joining a sports team or climbing a mountain, unless that’s what you want to do. What it means is to move in some shape or form.

Do not stress yourself out by trying to find the time, just incorporate it into your daily schedule. Whether you go for a walk in the evening before dinner, take your bike to the shop instead of the car, or do  yoga when you wake up instead of checking Instagram, it is important to include some sort of physical activity into your day or week.

Take Notice: AKA be mindful. It is difficult in modern times to take the time to stand back and absorb all of what is going on around you, but when you start to practice this, it becomes second nature. Notice the smells in your environment, the sounds, the textures, the tastes and the sights. Think of describing words that encapsulate these stimuli as if you are writing an essay, also notice the thoughts and feelings in your head that these stimuli bring. Take in the magic of your surroundings, especially in the minute details.

For me, I like to go out in nature and take a walk or simply just sit in peace. From the grass, sand, insects, water, weather, plants and stones, my senses become overwhelmed with all the beauty that our world has to offer.

If you need help in becoming mindful, you can always join a mindfulness class, or read one of the many books now currently available on the topic.

Keep Learning: This is important for people of all ages, young and old, in education or not in education. It is about keeping our brains activated and stimulated, as well as becoming more knowledgeable and well-rounded individuals. Everyone has their own unique set of interests and hobbies, and sometimes trying something new can appear very daunting. But how will you know if you like something or not if you never give it a go?

This mental health week, exercise your brain by learning something new. This could be a new language, a new skill (painting, writing, sport…), a new recipe or a specific topic such as Feminism, politics in Ireland or botany! There are so many resources available to us, so accessing information should not be difficult, try out your local library for books, listen to a podcast, attend a course, ask family/friends or use good ol’ Google! The possibilities are endless.

Give: The last step in this five-point plan is one that can be easily incorporated into our daily lives. To ‘give’ is basically giving some part of yourself to someone or something else. It is knowing that materialist thinking and living is not important for ultimate happiness, and that by helping others we are helping ourselves to live happier and more fulfilling lives.

By volunteering with a local or national charity you will immediately feel the satisfaction you get by improving the world in some way. You do not need to become the next ultimate superhero; any little thing makes a difference. Perhaps next time you buy a take-away hot chocolate, buy an extra one for the homeless person on the street. Ask a friend over for dinner and cook them a nice meal. Help at home with the dishes, laundry, mopping or dusting. Don’t expect anything in return and you will receive the biggest reward of all, a sense of purpose and satisfaction with what you have achieved.

Take a look to see if there are any events on in your locality over Mental Health Week, and if so, make sure to go along to at least one. Use any knowledge you already have about mental health to educate others throughout the week and to spread awareness about the topic.