It’s incredibly important to take care of yourself and get the most out of life. In recent years, there has been a growing understanding and focus on self-care and mental health. There are many things that can cause damage to your mental health, and for some expatriates, moving to a new country is one of them. The move itself can cause stress and anxiety, and starting a new job, moving into a new house and being in an unfamiliar environment can all have negative impacts. Looking at Canada more specifically, you may find that the harsh winters can lower your mood or lead to seasonal adjustment disorder (SAD) syndrome. Read on to learn about the various factors that can affect your mental health, and for tips on how to best protect and improve it.
What can put your mental health at risk?
There are various circumstances and contributing factors that can put your mental health at risk. The following examples are not only applicable to expats living in Canada:
• Family conflict or violence
• Childhood abuse and/or neglect
• Having a close loved one with a substance abuse problem
• Living in inadequate or unsafe accommodation
• Being in debt
• Being made redundant, having unsteady work, or struggling to find a job
• Ongoing bullying or harassment in school or the workplace
• Poor diet and nutrition
• Experiencing racial, ethnic, gender or religious discrimination
• Drug or alcohol abuse
• Social isolation
It stands to reason that looking after your body can in turn look after your mental health. Eating a healthy, well balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables and exercising regularly can help reduce stress. It can also help to improve your concentration, and to naturally boost your endorphin levels, thus elevating your mood. Poor quality of sleep can also affect your mood, but this time negatively. Not only can it make you feel tired and sluggish, but also more irritable, anxious and/or depressed.
Having a steady job with a guaranteed income is taken for granted by many people, but without it, you may feel very anxious and stressed trying to make ends meet. Surrounding yourself with healthy, supportive relationships and forming meaningful connections is of paramount importance. Having people to talk to and a good support network can help make many situations feel more bearable, whereas social isolation, whether self-imposed or not, can become very lonely, and may make it difficult to stay positive.
Your physical surroundings are another factor that can really make a difference to your mental health. If you are living in accommodation that is overcrowded and cramped or of poor quality, this can not only be a risk to your physical health, but also to your mental health, even if you do not realise it. Many people find that keeping a tidy, clean and organised home helps them feel more in control and less anxious.
The Canadian Mental Health Association has a variety of helpful resources, including a work-balance quiz, mental health brochure, a stress index and a blog. They also list a number of services and programmes that you may find helpful.
Coping mechanisms for better mental health
Finding appropriate coping mechanisms for stress, anxiety, depression and other forms of mental health can be crucial to how you react in certain situations, and how you handle/process your emotions. For example, some people may benefit from regular counselling sessions, and others from cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). There are also classes and training that you can attend that will equip you with the tools you need. In some instances, the best way of improving your mental health could be to move away from an unhappy environment. For example, it may be necessary to consider:
• Moving out or away from home
• Changing schools
• Finding a new job
• Leaving an unhappy relationship
The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) may be able to provide you with helpful resources.
Mental health in the workplace
Many adults spend the majority of their waking day at work, which is why it is important to work in a place where you feel happy and supported. Ways to protect your mental health at work can include:
• Vocalising your desire to move up the career ladder, if you are feeling frustrated about your lack of professional progression
• Setting clear objectives around your workload, tasks and responsibilities
• Being clear on your contractual agreement
• Vocalising your feelings of being mistreated or undervalued, if applicable
• Telling your manager if you struggling with your workload or deadlines
• Ensuring you have a good work life balance
Resources regarding mental health in the workplace include:
Working on remaining optimistic, keeping yourself physically healthy and getting enough sleep can help improve your everyday mental health. Accepting help when you feel down, stressed or overwhelmed, and having a good support network, are also crucial. Enjoying a good work life balance, taking time for yourself in order to relax (even when life is very busy) and avoiding toxic relationships are all good ways of reducing stress.
It is important to remember that you can build resilience and equip yourself with necessary tools at any stage in your life. Consider taking classes, such as parenting or bereavement classes, or attending group therapy, if you feel like you may benefit from them. There is often a solution to your problem and to how you are feeling, regardless of what your circumstances are.