How to look after your mental health
After the challenges of 2020 and 2021, it would be fair to say that the ongoing lockdowns, uncertainty of our time frames, impact of job losses, home schooling, changes to the economy and the depletion of our surge capacity have left many of us struggling just to get out of bed. If this sounds familiar, please know you’re not alone. [Also: disclaimer – if you need help, contact details of who to reach out to are listed below. It’s ok to reach out…..]
The World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of well-being in which an individual recognises his or her own ability to cope with normal stresses of life and work and to contribute to his or her community.
The NHS (UK) definition of mental health gives us a good overview of what positive mental health is and describes it as a positive state of mind and body that feels safe, is able to deal with it and has a sense of connection to people, the community and the wider environment.
Self-care includes all the essential things we need to focus on – such as good food, cleanliness, and adequate sleep – but it is also about the things we do to comfort, calm, and make ourselves feel good. [Sources: 0, 7]
While some people are looking inward right now and leaning into their set of ‘self taught’ or ‘learned therapeutic coping mechanisms’, others I speak to are tending towards overwhelm, using zoom calls and talking therapies to vent and offload, or sharing tools with others that have enabled them to calm down and find their ‘zen space’. It seems we’re all in this together.
The reality is most of us are feeling some level of stress, distress, anxiety, overwhelm, fatigue or simply feel flat.
Regardless of where you sit in the ‘self reliance VS leaning on others for support’ spectrum, the reality is most of us are experiencing varying degrees of stress and anxiety, daily, even before the effects of Covid. How we deal with it however, is as unique as the person experiencing it, so following is a mix of conventional and unconventional ideas to try, to help you find your way back to ‘zen’.
Journalling can help you deal with stress
“If you have trouble sleeping or waking up and think about things that are stressful to you, write them down so you can be sure that you will be able to cope with them in the morning.” [Sources: 8, 12]
Many of our team members are journal users. The act of getting what’s inside, out on a piece of paper can be both clarifying and calming. The kinaesthetic act of writing and drawing is also fantastic for children, so appease your own inner child and make time to write, doodle, draw and create.
Tip: it’s great to write down everything. Get it out. All of it, even if it’s sad, then make a conscious choice to finish with something positive or something that you’re grateful for. According to Yoni Cohen, author on Happify Daily,
“When you take the time to focus on the good things in your life you naturally become more positive. By writing down what you are thankful for, it can make you more optimistic because you are choosing to see more of the positivity in your life, giving less power to negative emotions. While these positive aspects of your life may be floating around in your subconscious, writing them down makes them more concrete and real.”
Ready to try journalling? Download your FREE 30 Day Personal Transformation Journal to help you get started.
Exercise is important for your mental health
We all know that there are many things you can do to make sure you stay physically healthy, however our mental well-being affects how we feel physically, and our physical wellbeing also affects our mental well-being. They literally work hand in hand.
Aside from the rush of endorphins we get from movement, physical activity triggers all kinds of bio-chemical responses linked to both mental and physical wellbeing, with a key positive side affect being the impact on mood. [Sources: 0, 8]
Prior to a diagnosis of depression, one of the first questions I was asked by a medical practitioner was ‘how often are you out walking?’ My response: ‘I don’t have the energy…….’ 20 years later, I have finally recognised how they work together. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Tip: Feeling flat? Go for a 5 minute walk. Take the dog out. Check the mail. See what’s happening outside. Walk around the block. Go a different way. Walk with a neighbour. Walk with a friend. According to the Mayo Clinic
“Regular exercise may help ease depression and anxiety by:
- Releasing feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals (endogenous cannabinoids) and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being
- Taking your mind off worries so you can get away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression and anxiety”
Food is fuel for your brain and your mood, too
Eating well can also help maintain your brain health throughout your life. A balanced and healthy diet can improve your mental and physical health and a good nutritionally dense diet can help you feel better, improve your mood and reduce anxiety and stress. Try to eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water to improve your energy levels. [Sources: 4, 6, 11]
While that may seem logical, you’d be surprised at how many people that we’ve been talking with over the last 2 years – who are struggling with stress or mental health issues – have admitted to leaning on convenience food or foods high in fat, sugars, artificial colours and flavours. In fact they crave it.
According to verywellmind.com
“Researchers believe that having an imbalance of serotonin in the brain contributes to the development of depression.
When you’re craving carbs, you’re usually being drawn to foods that encourage serotonin production. In a sense, reaching for sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods can be a way of self-medicating depression.”
Tip: Many of the processed foods or things you crave may deliver high calorific value but very little nutritional value. Because of this your body will try to make sense of what to do with both the food and the nutritional deficit, and it can significantly interrupt or rob your body (and mind) of key nutrients and energy it needs to function at its best. Where possible, opt for healthier snacks and meals and consider asking for help, support and accountability from others in your home.
Check out some of our healthy gluten free, low sugar low carb recipes here.
Make self care a priority
Self-care means taking time to do things that help you to live well, feel well and improve your physical and mental health by putting yourself and your well-being first. Regular self-care sessions can help you cope with stress, reduce your risk of illness and boost your energy levels when it comes to mental health, while help you maintain your wellbeing. [Sources: 10]
Using your problem-solving skills, find ways to add more things to your day that will make you happier in your life. Activities and hobbies that prevent you from getting distracted can have a positive impact on your mental health and wellbeing and help boost self-confidence and self-esteem. [Sources: 5, 11]
From engaging in a session of yoga or practicing mindfulness to simply running a bath or hopping in a hot tub, the meditative like state from un-plugging and slowing your brainwaves through relaxation can be one of the best remedies for stress and anxiety.
According to the team at Colonial Hot Tubs
“The simple act of relaxing in a hot tub results in a combination of both increased blood flow and relaxation of your breathing. These combine and increase the serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain, whilst also decreasing stress and cortisol levels. Plus with a hot tub, you get to share the experience with family or friends, creating positive memories for years to come.“
Connect back in with your tribe
In a time where many of us are being urged to physically distance, there is growing evidence that positive mental well-being is linked to the connections that we form with others. Concern about your mental health can affect your personal wellbeing, relationships, resilience and a variety of other factors, so consciously reaching out can be a great step in the right direction. [Sources: 3, 7]
While the effects of stress, anxiety or mental health issues can often make us feel exhausted and like we want to be alone or isolated, there’s also something very soothing about connecting in with ‘your people’. In my own experience with depression, I spent many late nights driving around in a car with my bestie, NOT talking about how I felt, but observing life, recalling positive memories and having deep belly laughs. They say laughter is the best medicine, so consciously reaching out and tapping into your tribe could be the energy, support and re-focus you need to find your own way back to wellness. Try it.
Tip: According to website webmd, friends not only prevent loneliness, they also:
- Increase your sense of belonging and purpose
- Boost your happiness and reduce your stress
- Improve your self-confidence and self-worth
- Help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss, or the death of a loved one
- Encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise
- Help put your problems in context to develop a stronger sense of meaning and direction
- Increase feelings of security and help protect against stress
- Ease the emotional impact of difficulties and offer new ideas about tackling them
Whether you’re hanging out with one friend or several, remember that you don’t have to give out. Just be present. If your friends are good friends, being with them is more than enough, and they’ll give you back exactly what you need to feel energised and positive.
Taking care of yourself is a valid goal in itself, but it can also help you to support the people you love. Spend time with your family and friends, meet new people and engage in activities that make a difference to how you feel. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people if you feel comfortable with a tangible way to help someone in need. [Sources: 2, 9, 11]
The awareness of identifying the people on whom you can rely when things are difficult and asking for them to be part of your care circle is a powerful tool in your mental health toolbox. Know that you have people that you trust, count and spend time with is important for our emotional health. The connection to people who care can be comforting when you need it. [Sources: 1, 6]
Sleep is good, however the quality of your sleep is crucial
Movement, hanging out with friends, journalling, meditation and a soak in the bath or the hot tub can help you fall asleep faster and potentially sleep better, relieve stress and anxiety and improve memory and cognition, which means you have a better chance of experiencing positive events during the day. However, the quality of your sleep is a crucial part of that solution. [Sources: 3, 11]
According to the Sleep Foundation,
“Sufficient sleep, especially REM sleep, facilitates the brain’s processing of emotional information. During sleep, the brain works to evaluate and remember thoughts and memories, and it appears that a lack of sleep is especially harmful to the consolidation of positive emotional content. This can influence mood and emotional reactivity and is tied to mental health challenges. “
Tip: Both your daytime activities and the environment you sleep in can positively or negatively impact the quality of your sleep, so it’s worth considering the following:
- Invest in a quality mattress and pillow: Your mattress is vital to making sure that you are comfortable enough to relax. It also ensures, along with your pillow, that your spine gets proper support. Tossing and turning all night? If you need help and support, chat with our partners at Beds N Lounge Direct about options to suit you and your needs.
- Avoid Light Disruption: Light exposure can disrupt both your sleep and circadian rhythm. Blackout curtains are a must, if possible or consider wearing a sleep mask to cover your eyes.
- Find the right temperature: The heat of your room can heavily impact your sleeping experience. The ideal temperature can vary based on the individual, but most research supports sleeping in a cooler room that is around 65 degrees. Consider adding a fan to a hot room or look for a mattress infused with cooling gel, or alternatively consider flannelette or brushed cotton sheets and a weighted blanket for comfort and warmth.
Know your triggers
In my own depressive experience, I became critically aware of both the triggers that activated me to spiral downwards, and the triggers I could activate to help me feel brighter. While medication can be critically important as part of the journey back to wellness, self awareness needs to be factored into the equation as well.
People who receive appropriate care and support can absolutely recover from the challenges of stress and mental illness and lead fulfilling, rewarding lives. Moreover, self-help is not a cure for mental illness but understanding the causes and triggers of your symptoms, as well as the techniques that work for you, can help manage your mental health.
Read more. Take time to understand what you’re experience. Research and find ways that resonate with you on how to find your way back to wellness. There is no one size fits all when it comes to creating the right solution: there’s only one size that suits YOU.
So track your experience and track your moods to find out what may be affecting your mental well-being. This information and awareness can help you take the right steps towards making changes to your life that serve you and help prepare you for situations that could have negative effects or impacts on your wellbeing. Again, journalling can help with this, so take time daily to make a not of both your thoughts and how you feel so you can start constructing a clear vision of your world and areas for change and growth. [Sources: 0, 9, 10]
The reality of living through this bizarre time right now is that many elements of our world feel like they’re out of control, a contributing factor to stress and anxiety. So be gentle on yourself. Control what you can control, breathe and just take one step at a time.
IF YOU NEED HELP OR SUPPORT FOR YOUR STRESS, ANXIETY OR SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION, VISIT https://mentalhealth.org.nz/
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