Healthy lives for young people
Wellbeing

Mental health and emotional wellbeing

We all have mental health in the same way we all have physical healthMental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing, and helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. 

We all have mental health in the same way we all have physical health.  

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel, and act. Mental health is important at every stage of life, and helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. 

Like our physical health, our mental health can change over time and be affected by things external to us.   

There are some things that everyone can do to look after their mental health and emotional wellbeing. 

Have fun

It sounds simple, but doing things that cheer you up and make you laugh are one of the quickest ways to improving your wellbeing. 

Think of simple things that make you feel happy, such as talking with a friend who makes you smile, watching your favourite film, cooking your favourite food or having a long hot bath.  

Try to avoid too much of the things that you know will make you feel good short term but worse in time, such as eating foods that don’t benefit your body, spending more money than you can’t afford or drinking lots of alcohol. 

Talk and share

Have you ever heard the saying “a problem shared is a problem halved”? Connecting with those we care about, talking and sharing what’s going on in our lives has huge benefits for our mental health.  

If there are things going on that you are struggling with, try not to bottle it up. Talking about how you feel to someone you trust can make a problem seem much more manageable. It doesn’t have to be an in-depth chat if you’re not ready for that. It could just be trying to see the funny side of a situation and having a laugh. 

If you don’t feel able to talk to anyone you know, there are lots of helplines you can contact for support. 

View our page on finding mental health and emotional support.

Manage stress

Stress is a general term that refers to feelings of being under too much emotional or mental pressure. It can be caused by any number of things (known as ‘stressors’), including school, college or work, relationships with family or friends, and money. When it becomes too much, it can affect how you think, feel or behave, and can make it hard to think clearly about things. 

Stress can make your mind race, and can make you feel like your brain is stuck in a loop, where it is constantly going over and over things. This can affect your sleep, concentration and appetite. It can also make you think negatively and react badly to things. 

However, stress can often be controlled and managed. Learning to spot the signs of stress is the first step. For example, does it make you fidgety or tearful? Do you get headaches or feel queasy? Knowing this will not only help you tackle it before it gets out of hand but it will also help you manage your ways of coping with stress. 

Read more about managing stress

Taking time out

We all need a bit of time out every now and then, especially if we have been experiencing a lot of stress for a sustained period of time. It doesn’t make you lazy or weak if you feel the need to take a break – it’s just your mind and body telling you that it’s what is needed right now to avoid ‘burnout’.  

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, try to speak to someone you trust who can help you work out where you can make some time for yourself. Are there things you are doing that you could pause for a little while? Can you get help from, or hand over some responsibility to, someone else? 

It might be that you need to speak to your employer or someone at school/college/university about how you could adjust your workload or get some extra support to enable you to have more downtime. If you’re really struggling, you could also speak with your GP about options for time off work or getting extra support with your mental health. 

Take care of your body

Our physical health can have a huge impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Keeping our bodies healthy can help maintain good mental health. On the flipside, poor mental health can make it harder for us to take care of our bodies and we might see a decline in our physical health. 

Physical activity 

Physical activity boosts our wellbeing, both in the short and long term. Even shorts bursts of physical activity can boost our mental alertness, energy and positive mood, and on a regular basis it can increase self-esteem and reduce stress and anxiety. 

Being physically active means sitting still less and moving our bodies more. This could be planned exercise or sports, or it could be just building a bit more movement into our daily lives. See our page on physical health for ideas to fit exercise into your daily routine.  

Lots of studies have shown that doing physical activity can improve mental health by: 

  • Making you more tired so you sleep better
  • Releasing “feel-good” hormones that boost your mood and give you more energy 
  • Releasing cortisol, a hormone which helps manage stress 
  • Giving your brain something to focus on, which can help with intrusive thoughts and can be a positive coping strategy for difficult times 
  • Improving self-esteem as you see yourself make progress and meet your goals 
  • Helping you connect with people – doing group or team activities can help you meet new and like-minded people, and make new friends. 
It’s not for everyone, all of the time

Physical activity isn’t always helpful for good mental health. You may find that it is helpful at some times but not others.  

If you’re feeling unwell, it can be really hard to motivate yourself to be more physically active and frustrating when others suggest it to you. If you’re going through a tough time, don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t find the motivation to exercise. It can be easy to feel guilty or beat yourself up about not exercising, which can make you feel worse. 

You may need to focus on other things for a while and then start to build some physical activity into your routine once you’re feeling a bit better. It’s important to find a balance, and figure out what works best for you. 

For some people, physical activity can start to have a negative impact on their mental health, for example, if you have an eating problem or tend to overtrain. If you find that your level of physical activity is having a negative impact on your mental health or other parts of your life, you should talk to someone you trust for help and support. 

Eating well 

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good mental and physical health, and can help you feel your best.  

Sometimes, we might not feel like preparing or eating the foods that are best for us and instead turn to things that are quick, convenient and tasty. There’s nothing wrong with this in the short term and eating things we enjoy, even if they are not the best things for our bodies, can boost our mood.   

However, it’s important that our bodies receive the nutrients they need to function, so if you think your mental health is stopping you from eating a balanced diet or you find you’re relying on unhealthy foods, it’s important that you seek help.   

See our page on physical health for more information about a balanced diet.

Illness 

When you’re ill, it’s natural to feel a bit down. As well as taking care of your body when you are sick, try to take care of your mind by doing little things that make you happy. This could be watching your favourite films or TV shows (even if you’ve seen them a hundred times already!), enjoying some tasty snacks, chatting with friends (via your phone or at a safe distance), reading, playing games or doing jigsaw puzzles – anything that you feel helps lift your mood. As you start to feel better, your mood will hopefully also improve and you’ll feel more like yourself again.  

Long-term illness can have a bigger impact on your mental health and you might find that you are experiencing more frequent or longer periods of low mood, depression or anxiety.  

It’s important that you try to let someone know if you are struggling. This could be a friend, family member, teacher/youth worker or other trusted adult. There are also lots of organisations you can speak to about how you are feeling, and you might even be able to find a support group where you can speak to other people going through similar things to you. 

Get good sleep 

Sleep is as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing! It allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to process information from the day.  

If you’re not getting enough sleep, or if your sleep is inconsistent and not restful, it can affect your mood and general emotional wellbeing, as well as your physical health. Studies show that the pattern and quality of our sleep is not only closely linked with our mental health, but also with our immune system, brain functioning and blood pressure. 

How much sleep you need really depends on your body (everyone is different!) and you might find that you need less sleep as you get older. General recommendation is that: 

  • Children should aim for 9-13 hours 
  • Teens should aim for 8-10 hours 
  • Adults should aim for 7-9 hours 
Good quality sleep

When we talk about good-quality sleep, we mean sleep that gives your body and brain time to regenerate and process everything that has happened in the day. You should wake up feeling rested and refreshed (even if you’re not happy about having to get out of bed!)

Some signs of good quality sleep include falling asleep in 30 minutes or less, waking up no more than once per night; and being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep. 

If you are having problems sleeping, such as difficulties falling asleep, sleeping too much or frequently waking up, on an ongoing basis, it could be a sign of mental health problems. 

Limit alcohol, smoking and drugs

Drinking alcohol, smoking (and vaping) and drugs all involve us taking substances into our bodies that can alter how we feel and behave and can impact on our mental health. 

Alcohol and drugs, whether legal or illegal, can worsen existing mental health problems and some studies suggest that certain drugs may even trigger mental health problems. They can also make your quality of life worse in general. 

People sometimes drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes/vape as a way to cope when they are feeling stressed, anxious or down. However, whilst they can boost your mood temporarily, in the long term they can leave you feeling worse than you did to start with and are not a solution as they don’t make the problems disappear. 

Help with alcohol, smoking and drugs 

There is a lot of support available if you, or someone you know, needs advice and support on unhealthy behaviours around substance use, addiction and quitting. If you need treatment for drug addiction, you’re entitled to NHS care in the same way as anyone else who has a health problem. 

A GP is a good place to start. They can discuss your problems with you and may offer you treatment at the practice or refer you to your local drug service. Staff at Brook services can help you access help with drugs, alcohol and smoking if you ask them to. All of our staff are friendly and non-judgemental, and will do their best to help you find the support that’s right for you. 

Stay safe on social media

Social media, and the internet in general, can have both positive and negative effects on our mental health.  

Using social media can help us access support, share our stories, feel more heard and less alone during difficult times, and, importantly, keep us connected with our friends and family.  

However, it can also leave us vulnerable to bullying, make us feel less satisfied with life, impact our self-esteem as we compare ourselves to others and sometimes we can feel it’s taking up more of our time than we want it to.  

If you start to feel like what you see on social media is getting you down, worried or anxious, or if you find you are spending a lot of time online and it’s affecting other areas of your life, you might want to think about taking a break. Try turning off notifications or even logging out of your accounts for a few days and see if that helps you to feel a bit better. If it does, think about how you can manage the time you spend online going forward. 

If you are struggling to take time away from social media and feel like you’re not in control of how much time you spend online or what you are looking at, it’s important to reach out to someone you trust for help and support. 

Bullying and cyberbullying

Bullying is when a person or a group of people do or say things again and again to hurt or upset another person or group of people. When bullying happens online, either through direct messaging or more publicly on threads and walls, this is called cyberbullying. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s online or offline – bullying is never ok. If you think someone is bullying you or if you are worried or frightened, tell a trusted adult (like a family member, teacher or youth worker) exactly what is happening. 

Have healthy, happy relationships

The relationships we have with other people can have a huge impact on our mental health and wellbeing. This includes relationships with our family, our friends and colleagues, and romantic relationships. 

Healthy relationships will provide us with support that promotes good mental health, make us feel loved and cared for, and give us somewhere to turn when we need a bit of extra help. 

Unhealthy relationships can cause our mental health to decline as they can generate worry, stress and low self-esteem. They may also isolate us from people who can offer us the help and support we need, which can be particularly difficult for people with existing mental health problems. 

If you think that you are in an unhealthy relationship and that it is impacting on your mental health, you should try and talk to someone you trust about getting help. It might feel like there is nothing that you can do to make things better, but that’s not the case – there are lots of people and places that can support you. 

Abuse

Abuse can be many different things. It can be verbal, emotional, physical or sexual but it can also be less obvious and take the form of controlling behaviour.  

If you are in a situation where someone is hurting you physically or emotionally, even if it’s someone you love, this is abuse. It’s not your fault and seeking help and advice is the best option. 

Find more information about abuse and how to get help.

Love yourself!

Self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself, and lots of things can affect it.  

People who really don’t like themselves can be more at risk of having unhappy or even abusive relationships as they don’t feel like they deserve to be loved. 

There can be lots of reasons for not feeling confident, including having had a hard time growing up, bad experiences in relationships, and comparing yourself to other people too much. 

There are some things you can do to improve your self-esteem, such as: 

  • Spending time with people who make you feel good. If you’re having a bad time, spend more time (in person or virtually) with people who make you feel good about yourself. 
  • Doing fun and enjoyable things. Having fun things planned into your life can help you to feel better and enjoy life more. 
  • Keeping a diary of nice things people say about you or do for you. It’s easy to only look at the bad and forget the good. If you’re feeling down on yourself make a record of good things people say about you or do for you. You might discover that there’s a lot more good in your life than you thought. 
  • Thinking about what’s good about you. Making a list of what is good about you can help you feel better.  

If you feel very low in confidence, depressed or worthless, it might be time to talk to a trusted adult about the way you feel. You will be taken seriously and there’s lots that can be done to help. 

Find out more about mental health problems.

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