Despite what some magazines will tell you not all problems are fixed by a manicure or a hot soak in the bath. Now I do firmly believe that a bath can make most days better but over the years I have discovered ways to take better care of my mental health. As we all should. Mental health is as important if not at times more important than physical health. And poor mental health impacts your physical health which to me seems downright cruel.
I don’t pretend to be a master of my mental health. Quite often it gets the better of me, I am however getting better at knowing what to do to pull myself out of those murky waters. I can recognise the feelings, the symptoms and whilst I can’t stop anxiety or stress from quite literally kicking my butt, there is something to be said for knowing as much as you can about your enemy and how to beat it.
So what do I do?
These are just a few of the ways that help me to get through difficult days. Some of this may work for you but it may not. We are all unique and will have different coping mechanisms. I would urge you to keep a little notebook or even a folder on your phone. Write down EVERYTHING that improves your mood or makes you calm. Everything. That particular brand of tea. The way you feel around certain people. A song. A special form of exercise. All of it. It is what I have been doing for a little while now and whilst you don’t need to know all of my notes and some of course are quite personal, there are some which are more general and perhaps even obvious. I’ll share a few each month.
- Re read a favourite book. I find this especially helpful when my mood is low. I don’t feel like taking in new information and sometimes I simply can’t. An old book, a much loved favourite is a bit like a hug from a parent. It’s easy, it’s comforting and you know exactly how it makes you feel. Not into reading? Watch a favourite film. My go to film for unwinding is Julie and Julia. It is about food and writing so perfect for me!
- Get up and move. I am not talking about exercise (yet) but we all get days when we don’t want to move from our beds. I definitely think you should let yourself rest as much as you need but too much time under a blanket especially during the day time can make me feel a lot worse. It gets harder and harder to want to get up so most days even if I don’t have to I bite the bullet and get up before 9. If the girls aren’t here then before I settle down to have breakfast or relax I do a wash load or maybe see to the cat or I’ll sort out the recycling. Something easy which requires little brain energy.
- Eat the right food. Ah I am a sucker for junk food or a takeaway when I’m stressed. Sometimes because I have little to no energy to make food and often little appetite and sometimes just because it tastes really good. I still indulge and this is not about calorie counting but sugar highs and lows aren’t great when your mood is a bit all over the place. Too much salt and grease also makes you feel lousy, can upset your belly ( which anxiety already does) and well it is expensive too. If I eat more fresh food, more greens, less processed stuff straight from a packet then I feel better. In my head I feel like I am taking care of myself and it seems to have a knock on effect.
- Drink more water. Dehydration makes your whole body feel lousy and can give headaches and interrupt your sleep which then impacts your mental health. So drink more.
- Busy your mind. This is great for anxiety and that seemingly never ending restless feeling. Find something that occupies your mind fully – for me it’s baking with loud music playing. My hands are busy, my mind is going full throttle with timings and measurements and I don’t have time to worry. I know it’s not for everyone but I like both my body and brain to be tired before bed. Find your thing and do it. Baking is mine.
- Be with your easy people. It may be family or friends or a partner, for me it’s my parents, children and siblings plus a couple of friends I have had for 10 years+. I can be with any of those people and not have to think about what I say, what I’m wearing or what I have to do. It’s just easy. I am comforted by their presence and I feel so very lucky to have that. Sometimes even now knowing that it helps I still try to avoid these social situations because my brain is stupid but looking back I know that I feel better for time spent with them.
- Exercise. This is without a doubt one of the best things you can do for your mental health. While I wait for my next MRI I am limited in that all I can really do is walk a little bit and it is so incredibly frustrating. If you can exercise, do it. It releases endorphins, it improves your mental health. If you do it outside you get vitamin D and fresh air and well just do it. As much as you can, as often as you can.
- Look for positives. I won’t go into this too much as I have written more about it here but just try every day looking for the small good things in your day. Tiny things like a great coffee, a smile from a stranger or a brightly coloured door. Anything at all. Count them up. I started this late year and it has helped improve my days.
That is the first chunk of many, I have loads more to share. I know some of these will seem fairly obvious but when you are in the middle of it whether it be depression, anxiety or stress then you forget. You forget how it feels to be better, to feel normal again and these help me. I hope they help you.