Worried about mental health? We are inundated with information on how to keep our physical bodies healthy. You feel fat so you eat healthier foods and exercise. Physically you see the difference. People start to say how much weight you’ve lost. You LOOK different. But mental health? Sadly there’s no window to our minds. Many people hide their true emotions, scared to show their ‘real’ selves incase others take umbridge.
Our minds need exercise. Our minds need rest and our minds need as much attention as our physical being.
Mental health awareness week
It’s mental health awareness week (10th-16th May 2021). This offers an opportunity to focus on assessing how we are ‘feeling’ and what we might need to change. Maintaining a positive mindset is more important than ever before. Given this past year during covid, we’ve constantly faced challenges and adversity head on.
Mental Health Matters
Kelly Mesut is a counsellor and psychotherapist, reiki practitioner, health & wellness business owner and trainee yoga teacher. She has pulled together a few key tips that she recommends to clients, family and friends.
These aren’t prescriptive tips, neither are they a cure for mental health conditions, but can help you care for your mental health every day.
Top Tip Number 1: Movement
Many people readily admit to ‘hating’ exercise which turns them off the idea that this could be beneficial, so the term ‘movement’ feels more accessible.
Movement is anything that gets your body moving, doing something that you enjoy and makes you feel good. Kelly recommends a podcast with Kelly McGonigal PhD, a health psychologist and lecturer, in which she discusses her book, The Joy Of Movement. She talks about how movement is fundamental to being human and discusses its role in combatting mental ill-health.
Try to move your body in some way each day, if you’re goal oriented set a few goals to motivate you. If you’re not, just enjoy it and feel into it, be mindful of how movement makes you feel and monitor your mood before and after. Most of all, enjoy it! Don’t force yourself to do something you don’t like, indulge in an activity that you find fun, and bear in mind that just 10 minutes of walking has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health matters.
Top Tip Number 2: Healthy Diet
We’ve all heard the saying, ‘you are what you eat’. If your body isn’t receiving the nutrients it needs to function optimally, then how can we feel our best mentally and physically? It’s like filling a car with the wrong type of fuel. If our bodies are continually deprived of ‘real’ nutritious food, then sustainable good health is going to prove elusive. The perfect diet isn’t possible, we should enjoy our food and take pleasure in it, but be mindful that you’re giving your body and mind what it needs. You don’t need to say ‘no’ to the things you love, just include them as part of a healthy balanced diet.
Top Tip Number 3: Sleep
Sleep and rest is really key to mental health. There’s a close relationship between sleep and mental health. Living with a mental health problem can affect how well you sleep, and poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health. So, it can be a bit of a negative cycle. Brain fog and a lack of clarity, feeling slow and sluggish, irritability, lacking in energy; it’s not fun. What can help is working out if an early night or a later rising time suits you better.
Sometimes it can be a matter of just consciously prioritising more sleep, but if you’re struggling to sleep, there are a number of things you can do that may help promote better sleep:
- Start winding down a couple of hours before your planned bedtime, put screens away and start thinking about consciously slowing down.
- Try to avoid TV etc in the bedroom so that you associate the room with sleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is a nice temperature – so you don’t overheat or get too cold.
- Try and go to bed at the same time each day so your body becomes used to a routine.
- Try reading before bed in another room to help your mind relax. Journalling before bed if you have things on your mind can be helpful to get thoughts out of your head. (a notepad by your bed can be helpful if you are woken by worries or an endless to-do list)
- Sleep meditations. (there are so many meditation apps around to choose from)
- Be aware of how foods and eating patterns such as caffeine, alcohol and eating late can affect your sleep and mental health.
Top Tip Number 4: Connect
Connecting with someone you care about, someone who lifts you up, whether that’s in person, online or over the phone, is hugely important. ‘Connect’ is one of the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’. “There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world.”
There’s also the saying that ‘we are the average of the five people we are around the most’. Surround yourself with the people who bring out the best in you, who make you laugh, who leave you feeling on top of the world. As we move through life and our social time is perhaps more constrained by our various responsibilities, use it wisely and surround yourself with those people who make you feel like the best version of yourself. Not for validation, for solidarity!
Top Tip Number 5: Give
‘Giving’ is another one of the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’. Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. Giving doesn’t have to mean money, it can be your time, your expertise, or your kindness. It could be donating to a cause dear to your heart, or it could be a genuine compliment to someone. There’s something lovely about giving to others with no agenda, about making a difference, large or small to someone else, it makes us feel good. If you’re thinking about someone else, it also helps shift the focus away from the self. Research shows that depression and anxiety are linked to a state of self-focus, but when helping others, you shift to a state of ‘other’ focus.
Mental Health Matters Bonus Tip: Do something that lights you up – everyday
This is a bonus tip! No matter how small, do something (positive) you love every day. When we do, we switch our energy and our state. Whether it’s listening to music you love, dancing around the kitchen, reading, meditating, yoga, running, a walk in nature (nature is the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week and its many beneficial effects on mental health are widely documented), a raucous phone call with your favourite person, painting, an episode of your fave TV show, just give yourself permission to fully ENJOY something at least once a day.
The above are not a cure for mental health conditions and you should always consult your GP first and foremost if you’re are struggling with your mental health. But these are a few strategies that can help to boost mental health. If you feel that you need to seek help, please do so. There is no shame, only strength, in admitting that you need to address something.
You are important, we are all important, and we all deserve to feel our best as much as possible. We’re human, our emotional states change all the time, but if you’re feeling persistently low and are continually struggling, please know that this is not fixed and can change.
Own yourself. Protect your mental health. Because mental health matters.