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If Talk Therapy Isn’t Your Thing, Here Are 5 Alternatives To Improve Your Mental Health

Recently, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) suggested that workers should be granted time off to deal with their mental health.

There is a stigma surrounding mental health and psychiatric problems and this should be dealt with immediately. – Effendy Abdul Ghani, MTUC president[1]

In Malaysia, mental health is expected to be dealt with under the radar. There’s also a toxic culture that glorifies and equates working longer hours to being a hard worker. 

However, Malaysians – students, homemakers, teenagers, and workers, all know that mental health issues don’t just come and go. 

Mental illness is the second biggest health issue affecting Malaysians. The majority of those affected are the 16 to 19 age group and low-income families .It is shocking to know that mental illness is the leading cause of disability in Malaysia, with approximately 2.3 million people being affected at some point in their lives. – Dr Praveena Rajendra, certified mental health and awareness practitioner[2]  

Lately, Malaysians have had to deal with stressful times – dealing with the increase in the price of goods, poverty, unstable careers and a myriad of other issues. We’ve listed a few ways that can help you improve your mental health. We hope this helps you, and be sure to pass it on to anyone in need! 

#1: Baking A Better State Of Mind 

Source: SBS

Baking might not be a mainstream therapy choice. However, it has helped countless people navigate through their mental health issues. 

The experience of taking raw ingredients and turning them into anything you want is quite magical. Additionally, the empowering process of baking has been proven to relax the mind, and reduce levels of anxiety[3]

There’s a lot of literature for connection between creative expression and overall well-being. Whether it’s painting or it’s making music [or baking], there is a stress relief that people get from having some kind of an outlet and a way to express themselves. – Donna Pincus, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University[4]

In 2020, Kassandra Kassim, founder, CEO and editor-in-chief of UNRESERVED, turned to baking as a coping method  when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

I decided instead to stop thinking and just do (things) with my hands and pick up hobbies. I became obsessed with meringues and baked maybe 40 or 50. On a day where I’ve felt inside ugly that I would instead focus on creating something beautiful. – Kassandra Kassim[5]

And what’s better is that you don’t have to be a qualified chef to bake, it can be done from the comforts of your own home!

#2: Express Your Feelings Through Art 

Art is a form of expression that has been around for decades. In the 1940s, the recognition of art as a therapeutic tool for mental health began. Today, qualified professionals are seeing a rise in demand for effective arts-integrated mental health services.

When people hear the word art, what comes to mind are visual arts – painting and drawing. However, art therapy has evolved over the years, and different forms of art are utilised to help people cope with mental health issues. For instance, the use of creative arts such as music and creative writing

Some of the conditions that art therapy can help with are anxiety, trauma, addiction, schizophrenia, autistic spectrum and more. 

Source: The Star

Earlier this year, a few experts in psychology and art ran a three-month project with the students of SMK Jelutong. It was to address mental health issues that might have emerged from the pandemic. The project was done using mosaic and Zentangle art were useful in addressing stress and other mental health issues[6]

Lim Anuar, a deaf Malaysian artist, has been speaking through his paintings. With experience of over two decades, he shares that the challenges of a deaf person remain. 

I express myself through drawing and painting on canvas to voice my opinion, share my thoughts, and exchange ideas through art exhibitions. My painting allows the audience who views it to enter into my world of Deaf culture. – Lim Anuar, Artist[7]

However, through the breeziest and lowest moments of his life, art is a constant source of inspiration he looks forward to. 

Additionally, art therapy is a useful outlet for caregivers to cope. 

Families of cancer patients experience emotional trauma around the diagnosis, stress of treatment, financial concern, among others. While addressing their needs understandably comes second to the patient’s needs, the stressors families experience often go unaddressed. Dr Girija Kaimal from the Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US[8]

Artery is a platform providing in-person and online art therapy to those interested. Other organisations offering art therapy can be found here

#3: Park Over Pills 

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but we probably spend more time looking at our phones instead of looking away from them. Our lives are somehow overpowered by those little devices in our pockets. Aside from the rampant use of technology, the hustle and bustle of city living can wear us out[8].

Constantly living this lifestyle is detrimental to our health as social media and mobile devices may lead to psychological and physical issues. They may also contribute to more severe health conditions, such as depression.

This is where nature therapy, otherwise known as ecotherapy, comes in handy. Ecotherapy is when one plugs out from the rest of the world and tunes into nature, to improve their mental and physical well-being. 

Source: The Star

Spending time outdoors leads to improved cognitive function in children with ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and learning disabilities, while just 20 to 30 minutes of sitting or walking in the open air surrounded by the ocean or trees [strengthens the immune system], reduces stress hormones, and can help with depression and anxiety. – Astrid Merkt, Hong Kong-based psychotherapist[9]

In Penang, Habitat Penang Hill has introduced a new forest therapy programme. The therapy includes a two-and-a-half-hour session that takes you through a slow walk along a trail through the ancient rainforest in Penang

#4: Mindful Meditation

Source: Freepik

For two years, Malaysians dealt with the global pandemic and its restrictions. Even now, many sectors are recovering from the damage of Covid-19. With jobs lost and family members who succumbed to the virus, there’s an increase between 30% and 50% of those seeking help for their mental health[10]

To be rid of stress, mindful meditation does the job and also maintains one’s health. 

In Malaysia, companies have been taking an initiative to incorporate relaxation rooms and other spaces for their workers to take a breather. Doing so lessens workplace stress, improves performance, and boosts self-confidence[11].

For a minimum of 15 minutes, meditation can have a profound effect on your day. 

Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude — which happens a lot when you feel stressed and anxious. – Dr. John W. Denninger, director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital[12].

Be sure to try this! Be it in your car, the bedroom, your workplace, you can meditate anywhere (preferably a quiet environment), and experience its wondrous results throughout the day. 

#5: The Good Old Exercise 

Source: Blue Door Media

It may sound cliche, but exercising is a great way to help your mind and body. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins – chemicals produced during pleasurable activities[13]

The first thing is to understand that the body is biological. When you exert yourself physically, whether you’re running or lifting weights, it releases certain chemicals in the brain, especially chemicals dealing with dopamine, which is basically the feel-good hormone. Then you have an increase in the release of serotonin, a mood stabiliser. – Shankar Thirulchelvam, counselling psychologist at the Mind Faculty psychiatric clinic in Kuala Lumpur[14].

The reality is that there are resources to aid those with mental health issues, but only a few seek professional help. Hence why exercise comes in handy, as it can be done in private and has a flexible schedule entirely up to oneself. 

The more you engage with exercise and much more healthy living, your mental health resilience will probably be strengthened. – Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood, physician and founder of Mercy Malaysia[5] 

For Malaysia’s national diver and Olympic medalist Pandelela Rinong, sports is a big part of who she is, and it’s easy to lose sight of one’s mental health. 

Sometimes even though your body is in the top form, your mental health might not be. I started diving internationally when I was 14, and I found that my thinking and my mindset was more mature compared to others my age, and it was because of my routine. It’s also because of my discipline, that I have to follow diligently every day and because of that, I trained myself to be more determined and also to be strong — not just physically but also mentally. – Pandelela Rinong[5]

Health Is Wealth

I really hope that more people will understand that it’s just like any other disease, whether it’s hypertension or diabetes or anything else. Mental health is also a health problem. – Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood, physician and founder of Mercy Malaysia[5]

Our health isn’t just about losing ten extra pounds or making sure we have bodies of steel. It’s also about ensuring our minds are in their best shape.  

If you are in need of professional help, this link directs you to affordable mental health services available in Malaysia. 

Explore Our Sources

  1. Ganesan, RR. (2022). The strain of managing mental health at work. Link.
  2. Yusry, M. (2022). Mental illness a big issue in Malaysia, says expert. Link
  3. Elmer, J. (2018). How I Found Therapy in a Bag of Flour. Link.
  4. Thomson, J.R. (2021). Psychologists Explain The Benefits Of Baking For Other People. Link
  5. Aziz, S. (2022). A deep dive into mental health awareness in Malaysia. Link.
  6. Imran, H. (2022). Art of managing mental well-being. Link.
  7. Wiki Impact. (2022). Deaf Artist, Lim Anuar Shares His Voice Through Paintings. Link
  8. Toh, P. (2019). Art therapy benefits caregivers of cancer patients. Link
  9. Burrows, V. (2020). What is ecotherapy and why are stressed-out millennials and Gen Z-ers booking into nature-focused spas, resorts and therapy centres. Link
  10. Menon, S. (2021). How hypnotherapy can help with depression. Link
  11. Erika, P. (2022). How mindfulness meditation can help you at work. Link.
  12. Harvard Health Publishing. (2021). How meditation helps with depression. Link.
  13. Davidson, K. (2021). Why Do We Need Endorphins? Link
  14. Aznim Ruhana, M.Y. (2018). How exercise helps in mental illness recovery. Link

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