Make time for your mental health

10th May 2021

Written by: Vicki Snow MBACP, BA (Hons) Integrative Counsellor and Psychotherapist

I recently read that a new term has been coined to describe our response to 14 months of living with a pandemic. American psychologist, Adam Grant, talks about “languishing” and refers to it as the “neglected middle child of mental health”. He identifies this state as a void between depression and flourishing, where we feel listless, distracted, disenchanted with Zoom meetings and find it hard to motivate ourselves. Many people, of course, will be dealing with the aftermath of having caught Covid itself, or the grief and loss following the death of friends, relatives or jobs, or perhaps you are struggling with the effects of isolation. And then there is the all-pervasive and low-level anxiety of not knowing what our world will look like when we finally emerge from all this.

Now that we are gradually returning to some sense of normality, we need to make time for our mental health and find resources to help manage our emotions in this time of uncertainty. Our rhythm of life may have changed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t adapt and create a new daily routine that prioritises looking after ourselves. Here’s a reminder of some simple things you can do that are proven to help.

Exercise

It has long been recognised that physical exercise can significantly boost both physical and mental health, releasing endorphins which can alleviate anxiety and stress.

  • Incorporate exercise into your daily routine – walking, running, cycling, yoga – anything that gets you moving.
  • Try and choose something that you enjoy so that you are more likely to stick with it.
  • Find a friend you can exercise with so you can encourage each other.
  • If you haven’t exercised for a while, build it up slowly – even a brisk 10-minute walk is better than nothing.

Nature

Being in touch with nature has been shown to improve mental wellbeing and reduce feelings of stress or anger.

  • Try growing flowers, vegetables or herbs. Even if you don’t have much outdoor space, a balcony or windowsill will do, or you could invest in some indoor plants.
  • Spend time in the park or green outdoor spaces where you can escape and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.
  • Arrange to walk and talk with a friend or family member as often as you can.
  • Ecotherapy has been found to help with mental health issues. It offers treatment through doing activities outside in natural light. See the following for more details. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/how-nature-benefits-mental-health/

Breathing

Slowing down your breath is one of the best ways to lower stress levels in the body. It sends a message to the brain to calm the nervous system, lowers the heart rate and blood pressure and promotes relaxation by reducing the levels of stress hormones. There are a number of apps (e.g. Calm and Headspace) and websites that will guide you through different breathing exercises.

Mindfulness

Focus on the here and now to help stop ruminating thoughts and anxiety. When practiced regularly, this exercise of noticing our thoughts and emotions and letting them pass without judgement can help us become fully present rather than running on autopilot. It can give us time and space to choose how we respond rather than instinctively reacting the way we always have. It allows us to gain some distance from thoughts and feelings which can sometimes feel as though they are in control of us and our lives.

  • Begin to notice a thought, feeling or sensation as it arises.
  • Observe it with curiosity, kindness and a non-judgemental attitude.
  • Keep returning to the present moment each time your thoughts wander. (You can return to your thoughts at a later time).
  • Focus on your breath to help ‘anchor’ you in the moment.

Positive Attitude

Just because we think something doesn’t make it real. But thoughts can be powerful and have an impact on how we feel. If we continually tell ourselves that everything always goes wrong and that we can’t do it, then the chances are they will go wrong, and we will end up in a negative spiral. Conversely, having a positive outlook can dramatically improve your levels of optimism, relationships, productivity and energy levels.

  • Actively try and smile and tell yourself you are confident, content and calm.
  • Begin to change your mindset and pay attention to the good rather than the bad.
  • Note down three new things you are grateful for every day.
  • Start the day with optimism and try and incorporate some things to look forward to several times a week.

Compassion  

Be kind to yourself. Often it is not so much a difficult situation or feeling that causes us pain or anxiety, but the negative judgement that goes with it. We tell ourselves we shouldn’t have said/done that, or that we should have known better or that we are stupid, lazy, pathetic.

  • Try and keep things in perspective and remember that we all have bad days.
  • When you notice your inner critic finding fault, examine whether it is as bad as you think and look for things that went well or what you could learn from the experience.
  • Take a few minutes each day to appreciate yourself – life can be hard, particularly now and you are good enough.
  • Act as if you are your own best friend and be a comfort not a critic.

Stay Connected

Humans are social beings. Lockdown has shown us how crucial it is to maintain connections with friends and family.

  • Make time regularly for meeting friends.
  • If you can’t meet in person, speak on the phone or on-line to friends and family.
  • Focus on relationships with people who make you feel good and who you can laugh with.
  • This talk illustrates why our relationships with others matter and how they can predict our happiness and increase our potential. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwhi3dE12MI

Ask for Help

If you are struggling with low mood, anxiety, depression or any other issue related to your mental health, talk to your GP, a psychotherapist or psychologist.

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