How to boost your mental wellbeing
Over the past years, there has been increasing awareness about the importance of nurturing our mental wellbeing. About ensuring we live a happy and healthy, balanced life that fulfils us.
Balance. A keyword in achieving this. But this is easier said than done! Different aspects of our lives demand more of our time and energy. And living in a tight-knit society like Malta can increase the pressure.
Let’s face it. We live on an island where people have no choice but to live close to one another. Ours is a passionate society where family is generally valued and where hard work is expected. So is balance at all possible?
In this article, we explore the key elements of mental wellbeing within three main sections of our lives - relationships, family and work. We spoke to members of the Willingness Team to help us understand the challenges within each of these sections and how to overcome them.
The state of our romantic relationship can play an important part in our overall happiness. Yet, relationships are not always rosy. Matthew Bartolo, a counsellor specialised in sex and relationships, says couples in Malta face three main issues: lack of trust, mainly stemming from the fear that they’re not enough; lifestyle choices that impact time and energy invested in the relationship; and sexual issues related to lack of education and awareness.
Lack of trust
This is a very individual, yet social problem, says Mr Bartolo. “We are raising a society that is worried and scared they are being taken advantage of. Relationships are often depicted in a negative light that emits the impression that our partner is out to get us, abuse of us, or harm us,” he says.
This could be related to our attachment and how most of us were brought up. In order to counterbalance this negative tale we need more people sharing their life stories and talking about successes within their relationship.
People often complain about not having enough time. We live in an era where we are encouraged to give our 100% at work, 100% at the gym, 100% in our homes - when really only have one 100%. So we need to be honest with ourselves and dedicate our precious time to what really matters to us, Mr Bartolo says.
“If, for example, family is the most important thing in your life, when given the option to work overtime, the decision is simple. This decision extends to certain lifestyle choices that can be as simple as the choice of mobile phone - buying a cheaper mobile instead of a branded expensive one means not having to work overtime to sustain financial commitments,” he adds.
Consumer society and porn have altered how we perceive sex. Most people are valuing quantity and performance during sex. “This results in people feeling judged and pressured. This kind of pressure causes sexual dysfunctions. When sex is perceived to be a space where two, or more, people are enjoying each other's body and presence, then there's no pressure,” he says.
Key to a healthy relationship
We’ve heard it before and we’ll keep hearing it - because it’s true. Research and experiences keep pointing in that direction: The key to maintaining healthy relationships is communication.
“Once the couple truly love themselves and each other, and are ready to be vulnerable and open with each other, there's not much that they can't overcome. Stay away from mind games and rules taught to us by our paranoid society, in order to ‘protect us’, when in actual fact all we're doing is building walls around us and causing us to complain that we don't feel connected,” says Mr Bartolo.
Family connections are a very important part of the Maltese society’s fabric. We are a people who love our family, even though they sometimes drive us up the wall. Family Therapist Rebecca Cassar explains that many Maltese families are presently adjusting to the demands of the modern day lifestyle.
This is a lifestyle that comes with lots of pressures for each family member. It’s a lifestyle that is financially demanding - as life gets more expensive, upping the family’s pressure to earn more. It’s also socially demanding - expecting us to look and be our best around the clock in every aspect of our life.
“Sometimes families get caught up in busy fast paced routines and miss opportunities to slow down and connect with their loved ones,” Ms Cassar says.
Limited time and space for each other
This could lead to a number of challenges which can present themselves within the family. Some examples of these challenges include the limited space for conversation between the different members of the family, lack of time and energy for enjoyment and showing of appreciation and love for one another.
“When connection and closeness within the family is obstructed, tension is often present within the relationships which could take the form of avoidance, anxiety and difficulties with trust, anger outbursts and frequent arguments, a perceived loss of control from parents over children, and other difficult experiences which create an even bigger distance between members of a family,” she explains.
Key to a healthy family dynamic
Being aware of these realities is the first step towards addressing them and working towards a healthy family dynamic. This can be done by:
- Making time to connect and enjoy simple and fun activities together
- Creating a space that is safe to discuss issues that can be impacting the family
- Reaching out and seeking support when the family is suffering or struggling with overcoming difficulties alone
We spend a lot of our time at work and, when things get stressful, our mental health is affected. Being unhappy or unfilled at work is not something to be taken lightly - the repercussions often spill out onto our non-works lives and impact the way we interact with our family, friends and ourselves.
According to Karl Grech, a counsellor specialised in Cognitive behavioural therapy, people in Malta face various work-related issues that include anxiety and depression and the feeling of being stuck in a job they don’t enjoy.
Anxiety and depression
People often complain about excessive stress brought about by a constant high workload and lack of resources within the company, explains Mr Grech. This ends up depleting the employee’s energies, resulting in underperformance. Individuals also complain of feeling anxious due to the unrealistic expectations at work.
“This is mainly caused by management who lack communication skills with their team. As a result employees are not sure whether their manager approves of their work or expects better. This constant uneasiness leaves the employee feeling under-appreciated and constantly striving to outperform him or herself despite providing sufficient work,” he says.
“To prevent this it would be beneficial to develop a work culture in which communication and transparency are fostered in order for both the employees and employer to better understand the perceptions of each other,” Mr Grech adds.
Another condition spurred by work is learned helplessness - a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed.
Mr Grech often comes across people who feel their job is not rewarding or stimulating enough. As a result, they’re no longer passionate about what they do. If this is the case, then they might end up feeling helpless in their career and its progression.
“Since we spend most of our day at work, it's essential that we enjoy the work we do. It helps to asses your likes and dislikes in order to find a job which suits your particular needs. As opposed to choosing a job for its monetary or social value, take into consideration perks, flexibility, and how passionate you are about the mission of the organisation you work for,” he says.
Becoming a workaholic
Some individuals find themselves always working - be it at the office or outside the office. This type of behaviour might make individuals more prone to developing physical ailments and psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression and burnout, Mr Grech notes.
“To prevent this from happening, try and appreciate the time with friends and family. Leaving pending work for the next day or the following week is okay. One should not feel guilty for taking time off and relaxing. Remember that work drains us of certain energies which we need to replenish during our time off.”
Key to wellbeing at work
The dynamics at work can be complex but there are a few things you can do to improve your wellbeing:
- Maintain a good relationship with HR and the Union which represents you as an employee
- Take short but regular breaks during the day
- Make clear boundaries between work and home
- It’s okay to leave pending items to the following day or week
- Go for a walk during your break, this will help you clear your head
- Speak to manager or HR regarding any distress which you might be feeling
Mental wellbeing is an all-around form of wellbeing. Psychotherapist Claire Borg says there are a number of things one can do to promote their wellbeing. Of course, everyone is different so this is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
“Most people tend to feel good about themselves when they have a sense of purpose in life. Some people find this purpose in a career that is fulfilling, others experience this within their families, while others might find this in sports, travelling, voluntary work or other projects. Other things that one can do to promote their wellbeing are: being active and engaging in sports and exercise, learning new skills, helping others and creating meaningful connections with others,” she says.
Take time to understand what fulfils you and take action towards it. Here are some ideas: Enjoy some time for yourself in one of the spa centres listed on Yellow, take up a new hobby and get all you need from one of these hobby shops, or work on your body-mind balance by joining a yoga class.
Keep discovering local - www.yellow.com.mt