As we wrap up mental health awareness week, we’ve got some really important stuff we need you to know today. We believe that currently, everyone could use a helping hand with their mental health, whether the cost of living crisis has got your stress levels rising and anxiety racing, or you’re feeling some post-pandemic effects to your mood or not wanting (or feeling able to) leave the house much, or you’ve been feeling lost, stuck or hopeless recently. Even if everything’s mostly ok but work is very stressful right now, or your child has been poorly for a couple of weeks or you're having a tough time with a friend or partner, we could all benefit from knowing 5 ways to support your mental health, so keep reading...
When we talk about mental health it is a complex subject to understand and explore, whether we’re experiencing a problem ourselves, trying to support someone we know, or keen to support breaking the stigma around mental health, it’s a navigator’s nightmare. So let us break it down for you…
Our mental health is what determines how we think, feel and act in everyday life, in interactions with others, at work, school, and at home, and exists on a continuum. One side of this continuum refers to good mental health, where we feel generally good on a day-to-day basis, are able to meet our responsibilities and demands, contribute productively to society and are able to successfully handle stress.
At the other end is poor mental health, where we feel quite the opposite, are not able to take care of ourselves or go to work, or find challenging emotions and stress overwhelming, and might isolate and withdraw from usual activities or communities. And then there’s everything in between.
Many of us lie somewhere in the middle or dotted between recognisable thresholds. For example, you might be susceptible to stress, finding it overwhelming and anxiety-inducing but when you face little stress you feel pretty good and successful generally. Or you might lose your job or go through a breakup, and find yourself feeling low and anxious often, ruminating on what could’ve been or feeling stuck and hopeless about the future, only to stumble across your dream job or partner which changes your entire mindset.
We can move up and down this continuum at any point, due to stressful events, life challenges, high-stress levels, poor lifestyle choices or unhelpful routines, risk-taking behaviours or taking a knock on our self-esteem. And right now, globally we’ve faced hugely stressful events and big changes in our lives, and we’re still going through the effects of a pandemic and now a cost of living crisis, and with concerns and uncertainty about the future many of us are feeling a little wobbly.
So here are 5 ways you can support your mental health today:
1. Build healthy habits as protective cushioning
All these lifestyle habits we talk about in wellbeing, regular exercise routines you like, healthy sleep habits, eating nutritious and fresh foods and enjoying what we eat, having hobbies or trying new things, learning to manage our stressors, staying hydrated, you get the picture. They can sound a bit prescriptive and take some effort to build, which puts many of us off or sees us beating ourselves up when we don’t stick to it. But these habits should work for you so they can feel less demanding, and when we practice these as much as possible they feel much easier to just do them and when we’re not feeling good in ourselves they can as a protective cushioning to fall back on. All these things do actually work to support our mental health, and when we change our mindset to think how we can use them to support that, it can feel more worthwhile, even easier.
2. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling
And resist the urge to distract, flee or repress them. When our mental health isn’t good, and we feel low, sad, anxious, angry or hopeless even, we are uncomfortable and generally want to get rid of these feelings as quickly as possible and we totally understand why. But our emotions are messages telling us what we need, we might need comfort in our sadness, or to release our frustration physically, or to calm our nerves. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel these feelings, we can miss these messages. Feeling your feelings might sound silly, but it means allowing them to be there and approaching them with curiosity, asking yourself where are they here, what do I need, and what is this feeling trying to tell me? You might need some rest, to eat something, drink something, get outside or take a shower, explore those feelings and what you need, then next time they crop we can support them how they need to be.
3. Find coping mechanisms that work for you
Some love meditation, some love acupuncture, some love reading, some love running, some find watching an emotional movie and crying their eyes out to be the most cathartic release while others would instead write pages and pages in a secret diary. Or you might not know what helps you feel better yet, so it’s time to explore. There are ideas everywhere, but not all of them work for us so we need to try different things and find the ones that do. Adjust and change things up from time to time, and get to know yourself; what do you actually enjoy doing, what comforts you, what lifts up your spirits or soothes your soul? Journaling or just making a note of ideas on your phone can help you keep track of what you find helpful and unhelpful. If we find ourselves feeling worse, not wanting to use these mechanisms or still feeling unsupported, we might be trying unhelpful actions, and seeking professional support can help us find what does work for us in healthy ways.
4. Rally your support network
Let your friends and family know how you are feeling, or the people you trust and feel supported by, which looks different for each of us. We might need help with simple tasks, cheering up or someone to talk to. Further than your friends and family, utilise workplace support, and professional support. When our mental health isn’t good trying to nurture our relationships can be difficult, we can’t show up for others when we don’t show up for ourselves, but being vulnerable and honest as much as we can with the right people can prevent our relationships from deteriorating. Our support networks are made up of our people who we can rely on to listen to us or dry our eyes or give us a big squeeze and vice versa whether that’s your childhood bestie, a new partner who makes you feel safe and secure or someone you’ve grown to know quite well and find their logic and wisdom will ground you, or a manager at work you know has your back.
5. Develop your self-compassion
Mental health can hurt emotionally and physically, and many of us don’t like this side of ourselves, but that only makes it harder to move forward and learn to cope with it. It would be like learning to love driving a car you hate or trying to force down carrots because they’re good for you but the texture makes you want to spit it out immediately. We have to learn to be kind to ourselves, even if we’re not ready to feel the love yet, think of it as speaking with a friend - most of us wouldn’t dream of talking to others how we speak to ourselves at times. But unlearning this, especially as adults, is challenging and emotionally demanding. When things feel tough, go easy on yourself, rest, nourish your mind and move your body slowly, be vulnerable with people you trust, ask for help, and allow yourself time to heal, as you would a broken leg or post-surgery.
We cannot rush to restore our mental health, and using these tips won’t see improvements overnight - and that’s important to remember. We will have good and days bad whether our mental health is on the higher or lower end of the continuum, and these tips can support steps to climb back up, but the journey itself can still be hugely challenging, and that’s where professional support can be hugely impactful and even life-changing, whether it’s finding the right talking therapy, finally getting the diagnosis that makes everything make sense to you, or being able to access the right medication that gets your life back on track. There are options and support available to you and we urge you to seek them out if you feel you need them (or are questioning whether you do, if it’s a question at all, the answer is probably yes).