How To Look After Your Mental Health Before Crisis Hits
We’ve all heard the term mental health, but many of us confuse mental health issues, or ill mental health, with general mental health and wellbeing. We share seven simple ways you can look after your mental wellbeing without waiting for your stress or worries to come to a crisis point
We all acknowledge we have physical health. We know we have to look after our bodies to keep ourselves feeling well and healthy. It’s strange then, if you stop to think about it, that many of us don’t consider our mental health just as much.
All too often, we don’t pause to consider our mental and emotional health and wellbeing until we are already starting to see a negative impact, be it on our stress levels, the quality of our sleep, or our ability to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
Mental health refers to how well we are able to cope with life's ups and downs. When we are physically unwell, we may experience symptoms that go away within a few days or a week. When we are mentally unwell, the symptoms can be harder to spot, and often will not go away on their own.
There are a number of things you can do to keep your mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of how you care for yourself – including knowing when it’s time to reach out for expert help and support. We share seven simple tips to help you get started.
How to look after your mental health now
1. Acknowledge your mental health and wellbeing
It’s a situation that happens to us day-in, day-out. Take a moment to think back: when was the last time someone asked you how you were? How did you answer them? The chances are, you may have answered automatically: “I’m fine, how’re you?” Or perhaps “Can’t really complain. How’ve things been going for you?”
It’s easy to dismiss how we are really feeling, to assume others are asking only out of politeness or social niceties, or to just want to present the best possible version of ourselves to those around us. We don’t need to, though. There are people who truly care about how you are feeling and how well you are doing, who would be more than happy to listen or offer a helping hand if you are struggling.
It can be tough, but try taking the time to step back and ask yourself: how am I really doing? Evaluating your overall sense of wellbeing can help you to pick up on all those small things that may not have seemed like such a big deal, but may actually be having a big impact on your overall stress levels.
2. Identify the warning signs
When we are in the midst of things, it can be tricky to identify the warning signs that not all may be as well as it might appear. Signs and symptoms of many common mental health concerns such as anxiety and stress can be easy to overlook or dismiss.
Burnout has become a popular buzzword in the media, yet, many of the signs and symptoms can be easy to miss. Exhaustion or insomnia, trouble concentrating or increased forgetfulness, as well as increased levels of anxiety or anger, can all be indicators, alongside a host of physical symptoms. If you’re worried you may already be experiencing burnout, these 10 ways to overcome burnout may be able to help.
Sites like Counselling Directory offer a great overview of a wide variety of common concerns and problems. Outlining the basic signs to keep an eye out for, they also offer a host of articles written by qualified counsellors and therapists on various mental health and wellbeing topics.
3. Create a sustainable self-care routine
Self-care isn’t selfish. Making time to look after ourselves physically and mentally can help us feel more prepared to face life’s challenges. While many of us may feel guilty about taking time out for ourselves to relax and do something we enjoy, it can be a vital part of caring for our own wellbeing.
Although many of us may think of candles, long baths, and relaxed afternoons when we hear the term self-care, it can encompass so much more. A sustainable, everyday self-care routine may include making time to be active, ensuring you get enough sleep, or spending time catching up with a colleague over coffee on a regular basis.
Life Coach Nikki explains five key steps to self-care. If you’re your own boss, balancing work and me-time can be even trickier. Try these self-care tips for freelancers to help you find a sustainable work/life balance.
Getting the whole family involved can be another way to encourage you to stick to positive habits whilst getting support from those around you. Try these simple self-care tips for kids and families, or find out more about self-care for carers.
4. Explore complementary and alternative therapies
How we each approach our health and wellbeing can be just as varied as the problems we experience. For some people, taking a holistic approach can benefit them physically and emotionally - treatments often focus on treating the whole person, rather than specific symptoms.
If you are unsure about treatments offered by your doctor, have already tried a range of options that haven’t worked for you, or are looking for an additional treatment that can compliment what you are already trying, alternative therapies may be worth considering.
If you are experiencing stress, trying acupressure or bowen therapy may help. Aromatherapy may be able to help with a wide variety of issues including anxiety, insomnia, and even chronic pain. Easy to try yourself, you can also work with an aromatherapist to try aromatherapy massage sessions or identify which options could work best for you.
Hypnotherapy has also shown positive results for numerous mental health and wellbeing issues. Speaking with a clinical hypnotherapist can help you become more emotionally and physically calm, gain a better night’s sleep, or even help you recognise and overcome obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. There’s no right or wrong way to seek help and support.
5. Look after your mind and body
We know looking after our body is important, but it can be easy to forget the connection between our mental and physical wellbeing. Being active can help us to feel good about ourselves and the world around us. Physical activity can help protect against anxiety, combat symptoms of mild depression, and boost our self-esteem.
Fitting in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity around busy scheduled can be daunting. If you struggle with using that gym membership or making it to your local park run, it could be worth considering taking up a class such as pilates or yoga. By committing to attend regularly with a friend (or two), this can help give you the added motivation boost and a fallback support network for those times where you know you’ll feel better after a workout, but can’t bring yourself to go.
Eating a balanced, healthy diet can impact us both physically and mentally. Ensuring what we eat is balanced can help us to feel less tired, help us to manage stress, and may even help with symptoms of depression.
6. Find relaxation techniques that work for you
Relaxation is a very personal preference. A more introverted person may find a night in with a good book to be just what the doctor ordered, while an extrovert may feel recharged and refreshed after a night out with friends. Exploring different relaxation techniques can help you to identify which methods have the most benefit for you.
Mindfulness techniques can offer a gentle form of relaxation. From mindful breathing and meditation, mindful colouring, there are many ways you can apply mindfulness at work, during your commute, and even whilst planning big life events.
Taking up a hobby can allow you to add a calm moment to your daily routine and can offer another form of relaxation. Gardening and birding can have some surprisingly positive impacts on your mental health, with an overwhelming 80% of us reporting feeling happier after visiting gardens. If you don’t have a plot of land to call your own, you can still gain many of the benefits of gardening through house and office plants.
7. Consider talking to an expert
Speaking with a qualified therapist can offer the chance to open up about what is worrying you in a safe, judgement-free environment. Keeping our feelings bottled up can make us feel worse in the long run. Talking with a counsellor can allow us to open up with an impartial third-party. It can help us to recognise not only what may be causing us distress but also enable us to work through problems problems and find solutions we may not have otherwise considered.
Bonnie Evie Gifford