We are aware of our physical health and look after it in various ways. Then if we’re poorly, we’ll self-medicate, visit a pharmacy, a medical professional(s), take care and look after ourselves, or A&E if an emergency. Yet, what do we actively do for our mental health? We often pay little or no attention to it – “It just is” I’ve heard some say - until we experience a change of some kind. We might be unaware of any changes though, and even if we are, what do we do?
Our mental health, and how we experience it, is an individual matter, but here are 10 top tips for starters to help look after it:
1. Understand what mental health is….. and what it isn’t!
The terms ‘mental health’ and ‘mental ill-health’ have become interchangeable. So, what is the difference?
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “A state of well-being in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and enables sound decision making and informed choices”. Well-being is generally about feeling well; healthy, happy, sense of achievement, meaning or purpose, including having good mental health.
As we can see, the definition does not mention, say, depression, anxiety, PTSD, words that may have initially sprung to mind. They are some of the many clinically diagnosable mental health disorders. It’s clear, then, that mental health is not mental ill-health, problems, illness, disorders, issues or conditions. Applying this differentiation, as we do for physical health and physical ill-health, can help reduce fear and stigma, and help us recognise any changes.
2. As we’re all human,
understand that we all have physical health, and…. we all have mental health.
So, let’s look after both.
3. Understand that, like physical health, mental health can vary.
Indeed, a leading UK Government report states “By mental health we do not mean “mental ill health”. We mean the mental health we all have, just as we all have physical health. The correct way to view mental health is that we all have it and we fluctuate between thriving, struggling and being ill and possibly off work”.
Even if we think we’re not ‘the type’ to have mental ill health, the unforeseen, life events, can happen to any of one of us, and that could affect our mental health directly or indirectly as supporting, and indeed caring for others, can impact one’s mental health too. Sometimes a physical illness or injury can affect mental health, and vice versa too.
We can be resilient, work through, process and try to make sense of why and what’s happened, and recover. However, that can be physically and mentally challenging, exhausting and debilitating, especially over time and if we’re ‘going it alone’, as was my experience.
4. ‘Spot’ your signs.
Identify your ‘personal clues and cues’. As we would for our physical health! For instance, how do we know we’re stressed, or struggling in some way?
- Our ‘state’, ‘frame’ of mind - our mood - affects us.
- Whilst we may think or believe we’re OK, our body often tells us otherwise.
- Struggling, poor or mental ill-health is invisible. However, its effect is experienced and often ‘seen’ through physiological, physical, emotional changes, including character, temperament, attitude, personality, behaviour. SO:
+ Recognise when you’re not your ‘normal’, as you would for your physical health!
+ Identify your indicators, triggers, signs, habits, behaviours - your non-verbal communications. Is it a certain person, a situation or a particular task? For example, mine are feeling ‘wired’, irritable, snappy with others, and finger picking.
+ Pay attention, hear and listen to your body. It’s telling you something : – clues that something’s amiss and cue to do something!
+ Change – do something different. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got!
5. Watch your language.
The words we choose speak volumes.
- Avoid ‘should, ought, must, have to and (a particularly one of mine) got to’ creep in. They’re pressurisers. Change to, for example, would like, need, want, choose to.
- Notice any ‘no choice ’ language. Remember and remind yourself you do! We may think we have no choice, but often we’re focusing on the consequence of the choice rather than the choice itself.
- For when self-talk tone slips from ‘inner cheerleader’ - encouraging, gently pushing - to harsh, angry, driven. Another watchpoint of mine.
- When ‘Give me a break; I need a moment; I need a breather; give me 5; hold on a moment; give me some space; I need to step away/take a moment; my brain’s not working; my mind’s not on the job; ’ creep in. They are telling you exactly what you need! – a break! Even if only 5 minutes.
6. Action: Be honest with yourself when/if you’d like help/support.
Again, as you would for physical health. Speaking from experience, struggling in silence and doing nothing is unhelpful.
7. Have a conversation
- Firstly, an honest, courageous one with yourself! What do you need, want, would like to have happened. What help and support would you like.
- Then with someone. Granted, disclosing can be a big hurdle, and it’s also a private matter. However, it’s about talking with someone, not talking to everyone. So finding appropriate support that works for you is important.
8. Know organisational/employer support.
Make sure you know its availability, accessibility and process including any employee assisted programs, workplace adjustments etc.
There are so many tips and ideas, but here are a few to try:
- Mindfulness. Being 100% present in the moment, however, you achieve that and not just by meditation. Totally fill your mind with something, even work, to take a break from your life’s stuff.
- Breathing. Simple underestimated and valued technique! Various techniques include:
Let it go! When you find yourself holding your breath!
Breathe, hold, breathe. Breathe for a count that works for you (often 3 or 4). Hold for same and out for same. Repeat 3 or 4 times.
Slow in and out. Cited as a great calming technique for particularly stressful, anxious situations. Allow time to complete the cycles, no rushing, and a count that works for you.
Mindful breathing: Focus 100% on your breath with heightened awareness. Use all your senses to focus on the air and the effect on the body, movement, sound, sensation, temperature, rhythm etc as it enters and leaves the body.
- Body language: Simply adjusting or changing your posture, changes your physiology, often your mood and you can feel different. For example:
+ sit/stand slumped, round-shouldered, belly squashed, eyes downward.
+ How do you feel in that position. What words come to mind?
+ Then, sit/stand straight, lift up from under your ribs, shoulders gently back and down, feel the ground beneath your feet, head level, eyes forward.
+ How do you feel now? Compare and contrast the two positions. Which one feels ‘better’? Which do you prefer?
- The inside smile. A simple, quick, easy and effective way to uplift mood. Think, recall or remember something that makes you smile. Your special thing - a memory, a place, inspirational quote, a loved one, song, event, heroine, hero, favourite/influential character. Smiling:
+ releases pleasure hormones – endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin - natural painkillers and antidepressant hormones.
+ reduces stress and boosts your immune system.
+ changes our physiology.
- Hygge moments. A Danish word pronounced ‘hue-gah’, for acknowledging a feeling or moment, as cozy, snug, charming or special, of enjoying life’s simple pleasures. It’s more about the atmosphere and experience, rather than about things. For example: reading a book indoors on a rainy day, watching your favourite film with friends, a cup of hot chocolate on a cold, miserable day, you've probably experienced ‘hygge’.
- Control the controllable. Focus on controlling the things you can, the things you can change ie yourself, not the things you cannot.
- Your 5-minute self-gift.
+ “Take a little quiet time every day” and gift yourself 5 minutes, however that works for you, and it’s achievable anytime, anyplace and anywhere.
+ Gives your mind and brain mini ‘switching’ off moments.
+ An opportunity too for a quick top to toe self-check how you are too, which links to ‘spotting’ your signs.
10. your 5 a day
- no, not the fruit and veg kind! - five simple things you could do each day to be kind to yourself. What will yours be?
Text by Sylvia Bruce
Preview Image by Felipe Bustillo