In light of #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth I've been thinking a lot about my own journey. Kinda obvious, I know, but it's good to reflect on how far you've come.
I'm generally an always-look-forward type. When something's done I draw a line in the sand and move on to whatever's next in life. I guess you'd say I'm pretty good at moving on. But that in itself has it's downsides. I can very easily forget to put in to practice the things I've learnt and end up going backwards.
So looking after my mental health takes a LOT of effort as I tend to put other things, and people, before myself.
I'm going to preach what I don't necessarily practice here. A case of "do as I say" in the hope that I start to do it myself. A digital kick up the arse if you will.
1. Be Mindful
And it's really not as hard as people think. You can be mindful at so many points of your day - whether you're in work, at home or at the gym - so there's really no excuse.
I wrote a blog about it last year in case you need some tips.
Healthy body, healthy mind - that's the phrase isn't it?
I'm sure you don't need me to remind you that the endorphins release during exercise are REALLY good for you. Like, nasty pond water smoothie level good for you.
I discovered yoga this year. It wasn't the first time I'd tried yoga (obviously) but it was the first time I got it. After a great start there's a lot that keeps getting in the way, but I'll make sure to get to a class whenever I can. It's a far better attitude than my usual "well I've not been for ages and am out of practice so what's the point?" response!
3. Take a Time Out
Not the chocolate bar (do they still exist?), although chocolate is proven to raise your mood - wahey! That's not an excuse to overindulge on a sharing size Galaxy mind you, it only applies to high cocoa products (read: dark chocolate, boo!).
I am the literal worst at taking a break during the working day. I usually get stuck into a nice meaty project by about 11am and so, come 12/1ish, I'm quite likely to lunch at my desk and crack on. Predictably, I then suffer from a 3pm slump and plead with my fellow Coffee club members for an extra trip to Caffe Nero to boost my energy levels.
Being reliant on artificial stimulants, even caffeine, is NOT healthy.
Note to self: go for a walk to clear your head at lunch and your purse will thank you. It's far more effective than buying shares in Nero.
4. Say Yes
Help others. See your friends. Get involved in charity work.
Spending time with your mates is obviously a tried and tested way to unwind that will undoubtedly help your mental state. There's no better medicine than laughter! Trust me, I tried laughter yoga once (Google it) and felt SO good afterwards that I agreed to Help them with a world record attempt for the longest sustained laugh. Never found out if we managed it actually, I should check the Guinness book of records ...
(Little reminder to myself (and anyone else who needs it) here that alcohol is a depressant, so you probably shouldn't spend every weekend out drinking either. You can do things with your mates that don't involve drinking ... who knew?!)
Taking time out of your day at work to help someone else can be really rewarding too. As I've gotten busier and busier in my role, I've struggled to find the time to do things for others. What I need to keep front of mind that it's one of my biggest drivers in life, and I can feel energised and inspired by seeing others succeed.
5. Say No
Yep, I'm contradicting myself. Though it's important to say yes, it's absolutely vital to know when to say no.
Too many commitments? There's only one of you and you can't split yourself in two (or three) so sometimes you just have to say no.
6. Make time for yourself
I’ve got an armchair in my bedroom, in front of the window looking out up the River Mersey and across the Wirral to the Welsh coastline. The sun beams in of an evening and I’ve seen some incredible sunsets. It’s a nice spot to take a moment to appreciate the world around me, or lose myself in a good book. But finding the time to actually enjoy it, as opposed to using the armchair to store my dirty washing on, is much easier said than done.
Make sure you take the time, schedule it in to your week if you have to, to look after yourself. Read a book, have a bath, do a face mask, go for a walk, listen to music … in fact, when I’m feeling down, nothing helps me more than to put on my favourite sad songs and belt them out at the top of my voice. I’m sure the neighbours don’t feel too great about it, but I always end up feeling amazing.
Whatever it is that feels good to you, do it.
7. Get creative
My favourite pastimes are always the creative ones. My boyfriend bought me a new sewing machine for Christmas, and I haven’t sewn a single stitch on it yet. An absolute travesty! It’s no secret that I like to go shopping when I’m in a bad mood but I’m making a vow to get back in the habit of making my own clothes. I can recycle the things I’m bored of, source sustainable fabrics, have something that fits me perfectly AND is totally unique. Why wouldn’t I want to make my own items?
Sure, my sewing skills are beginner at best, but I’m going to get back into the swing of things by making some cushion covers for my living room. We’ve all got to start somewhere right?
Working on creative tasks is proven to help with mental health – it’s mindful, for starters, but a creative outlet allows your mind to work through whatever is bothering you in a way that might surprise you. I can pretty much guarantee that if there’s a big decision in your life, by the time you’ve finished that paint-by-numbers, you’ll have your answer.
8. Be thankful
Something I forget is to find something to be thankful for every single day. Some days it’s easy – someone does you a huge favour or is an inspiration – and you’re thankful that they’re a part of your life. Other times it’s made easy by being a tough day – bad news can make you thankful for what you have more than anything in my experience.
It’s the mundane days that really matter. When nothing out of the ordinary has happened. That’s when it’s most important to find something, no matter how small, to be grateful for that day. Those are the days that can grind you down without you even realising.
9. Be thoughtful
I often find when I’m struggling personally, that nothing picks me up more than being kind to others. I make the effort to help people out more at work even if I’m busy with my own workload. I’ll buy a coffee or breakfast for someone who’s living on the streets. I’ll reach out to someone else who I know is struggling.
It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but a random (or not so random) act of kindness isn’t as selfless as it first seems on the surface. It’s actually a massive mood booster too!
10. Be positive
My final point is to stay positive. It’s much harder to see the positives than the negatives and so it’s only human to default to thinking everything is going wrong. Those of us with anxiety have learned to always fear the worst so that we’re properly prepared, but it’s not a healthy way to be.
Learn to be positive.
It’s a habit, not a natural state of mind.
But it’s so worth the effort, trust me.