Health and Wellbeing: Caring for your mental health
9th November 2018
free image courtesy of pixabay.com
The way I see it, this post is for everyone.
Even if you don’t suffer with mental health difficulties you may know someone close to you who does. If you don’t, the chances are extremely high that you’ve met someone through work, a friend of a friend or a stranger who serves you in a shop that is suffering with a silent disease. Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s important for us to find out more and increase our understanding to increase our compassion.
As stated by the charity Mind, ‘approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.’ That’s staggering. In a world that’s only getting busier, in a world catered to extroverts and an increase in a disposable earth attitude it’s not surprising that our mental health suffers. We put pressure on ourselves to have the next thing, to keep up with friends, to go on the holiday we can’t afford because it looks like we’re doing well to others. I say stop. We have nothing to prove. What’s important is how we feel inside, quality conversations and putting our needs first. Who cares if neighbour jiminy jim has a ‘nicer car’, who cares if friend blobitty blob has just got a promotion and we haven’t, who cares if colleague flibbity jibbit has just gone to Florida and we’ve never been. None of that matters. Really. None of that matters. If you can let go of social expectation and a have all culture you’d be surprised what a release that creates within you.
I’ve suffered with high functioning anxiety since I was ten years old. There was a time when I felt afraid to say that, a time when I feared people’s judgment. It’s still difficult to write, to say out loud to myself, but I’ve found the more I say it the less alien it becomes and the easier it is to give myself a break, to realise that it’s very important to look after myself and be aware of my triggers. It’s important to have coping strategies in place so that anxiety doesn’t rule me. You might not always win, but you can always be kind to yourself.
Here are my top tips for looking after your mental health and ultimately top tips for showing ourselves self-love, compassion and kindness. Please be aware these tips are all personal opinion and if in doubt, always consult your GP.
NO. 1: Breathe and Meditate
Connecting with our breath, deeply connecting with our breath, eases tension and allows us to ground and still ourselves. Alternate nostril breathing is a personal favourite of mine for calming frayed nerves and reducing stress.
If you haven’t meditated before I would highly recommend getting into a daily practice. Start small. Just five or ten minutes a day makes all the difference. Meditation helps us to observe our thoughts rather than being controlled by them.
Useful apps:‘Calm in the storm’ and ‘Take a Break’ are two of my most used apps. The first has a guided meditation feature that you can use at any time for free and the second is great if you find yourself overwhelmed by work pressures. Taking regular breaks throughout the day is important. Don’t overload yourself. You’ll work better and feel better.
A handy book:Calm: 50 mindfulness and relaxation exercises to de-stress and unwind by Dr. Arlene K. Unger.
Another handy book:The things you can see only when you slow down by Haemin Sunim
NO. 2: Embrace Hygge
What a wonderful cultural identity the Danes have. Hygge (Hoo-ga) can’t be defined in one single word but it’s that feeling of contentment and cosiness we get from enjoying the simple things in life. Big wooly socks and a handmade blanket on a cold day, mood lighting created by candles and warm side lamps, a warming mug of soup by an open fire and quality conversations and gatherings with a few like-minded friends all constitute the concept of hygge. Incorporating this way of life into your own can make the world of difference to your mental health. The small things matter. Playing a board game with my husband and sister when it’s pelting it down with rain outside means far more to me than going to a glitzy party attended by people I don’t know. Hygge fosters different kinds of connections, meaningful connections which feed your mind rather than depleting it.
A handy book:The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish way to live well by Meik Wiking
NO. 3:Take regular exercise
I’m not talking here about rushing to the gym, furiously cycling and pumping iron for thirty minutes, I’m talking about gentle exercise. Yoga, walking and swimming are my personal favourites. Yoga encourages you to connect up mind, body and breath, walking gets you out into the natural world and swimming is a non-weight bearing, supportive form of exercise that helps relieve tension in your body. Bear in mind though that if you do swim, wear goggles and get your head in the water. Dry hair club swimming increases tension. I find the most beneficial strokes are front crawl and backstroke, interspersed with a slower paced breaststroke.
NO. 4: Pet your pets
The comfort that animals brings to us, especially mammals, is phenomenal. Without my cat babies my day would be far less bright. The empathy that cats and dogs (in particular) are able to show their human friends is incredible. I remember this one time years ago when I came home after having had a very bad day at work. I sat down on the kitchen floor by my front door and cried, a lot. My babies, then kittens, trotted over to me, nuzzled my hand and curled up in my lap. It made me smile and the act of stroking them and loving them helped lift my mood a great deal. If you can’t afford a pet or live somewhere where you can’t have one I’d recommend signing up to ‘Borrow My Doggy’ or volunteering at an animal shelter.
NO. 5: Be at one with the natural world
Take time to sit or walk in the natural world. Spending time outside when we have nowhere in particular to go is something we often forget to do. Breathing in fresh air, taking in the changing season and getting to know the kind of wildlife, flora and fauna around you brings an unrivalled sense of peace. Pick a favourite tree and make friends with it – learn about it, talk to it, watch it change over time. Meditate outside, drink a morning cup of tea outside. The natural world is a gift that keeps on giving and encourages us to accept change, find stillness and appreciate the small things.
My Favourite Places: Windsor Great Park, Windsor; Black Down, Petworth and Dartmoor National Park.
NO. 6:Write and Practice Gratitude
As you know from my 100 day writing challenge, I realised the importance of practicing gratitude. What this helps us be thankful for is the things we often take for granted or overlook such as: clean sheets, a home cooked meal or the smell of our favourite herb. The everyday can bring us joy if we look for it.
Write down your thoughts. Instead of holding onto them – get them out. Journaling and writing creatively is a cathartic practice that helps us process and learn about ourselves. Mental health problems make us feel disconnected from ourselves and writing can help us reconnect.
A Handy Book: The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing: Writing Myself by Gillie Bolton
NO. 7: Read often
It may come as a surprise to you but I love books. Sometimes, we need a break from self-analysis and our busy minds. Something that helps me is reading. I love picking novels that aren’t too taxing to take in but really well written so they pull me into another world for a while. Bliss…
A useful app:Audible: This app is paid for with the lowest price package available at £11.48 per month ($14.95) for one book credit. If this isn’t an option, head out to your local library, charity shop or download free books on your kindle for access to a vast range of books.
My top calming authors:Philip Pullman, Nora Roberts and Harlan Coben
NO. 8: Listen to music often
In my opinion, there’s nothing like listening to music while you work or go about your daily chores. Better yet, choose to lie down in your favourite spot and really listen. Even better, connect with your breath as you listen. That’s a powerful mix that has the ability to soothe and inspire us even when we feel low or agitated.
My top music apps: Deezer: This free app offers a range of playlists for you to choose from according to your music tastes or mood. My favourite mood channel is ‘Chill.’
TuneIn Radio: Classic FM and Calm radio (Healing, Solo piano and OM) feature on this free, easy to use app. I especially love smooth classics between 10 pm – 1 am.
My top calming musicians:Ludovico Einaudi, Erik Satie and Claude Debussy
NO. 9: Limit TV and increase hobbies
TV is great for papering over the cracks and sometimes, that’s what we need to do. But limiting our TV time and exploring activities such as photography, mindful colouring, knitting or playing an instrument can help us rest our minds in an active way. Active resting is a powerful tool for helping our mental health as it steers us away from overthinking and instead encourages us to mindfully connect with and focus on one activity which we find enjoyable.
NO. 10: Seek help and work through problems
Asking for help does not make you weak. Asking for help makes you strong. Talk to your GP or seek councelling if you’re struggling to cope. I know it’s hard to do but the weight lifted from your shoulders by saying out loud to someone trained to help ‘I’m not ok’, is huge. Facing problems and working through them rather than masking them will help get you on the road to recovery.
A helpful resource:Mind over mood: Change how you feel by changing the way you think by Dennis Greenberger, PHD and Christine A. Padesky, PHD.
Another helpful resource: Depressive illness: The Curse of the Strong by Dr. Tim Cantopher
A lot of us have people in our lives that make us feel bad about ourselves. Let go of what doesn’t serve you. Say no to what you know won’t work for you or make you feel good. Friends, events, family – whatever it is, if it doesn’t serve you, let go. Your mental health will thank you for it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but the more you do it the more naturally it’ll come to you to put your needs first. I’m still learning how to do this and honestly, whenever I manage to, it helps.
I’d like to share a poem with you now that I wrote when exploring the benefits of meditation. Sometimes, our world feels as though it’s spiraling out of control but if we stop, breathe and observe, this goes a long way to taking back control.
Observing the eyewall
The rain pounds against man made
pathways, long willow branches lash
passers by, scatter drooping
catkins, gale force winds snatch
an unsuspecting cat off clawed
paws, park benches fall
face first into the upturned earth:
I am the centre of the storm
observing the eyewall,
sitting inside the pupil
speaking in comforting tones,
mother and father to myself
until I feel –
of drizzle on my skin
I truly hope this post helps any of you suffering with mental health difficulties, those of you who want to help family or friends and those of you who don’t have a mental health condition but would like to learn more.