This World Mental Health Day, 10 October, we look at ways you can take care of yourself and fill up your armoury with tools and methods to combat mental health struggles. There are lots of small things we can do to be kind to our mind, so read on to find out some of our tried and tested methods and discover what works best for you.
Firstly, what is mindfulness? The term “mindfulness” refers to paying attention to what is going on, inside and outside ourselves, at every moment. Some important aspects of mindfulness are:
- being aware of our thoughts and feelings
- reconnecting with our bodies – paying attention to the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the present moment
- practising gratitude for the “ordinary”, the day to day things that we often forget to recognise and be thankful for, and the little things we’d miss if they were gone
It’s a good idea to practise mindfulness in your daily life, check out some ideas for taking your first steps into being more mindful here. It can also be helpful to set time aside for a dedicated mindfulness practice, such as yoga, meditation, journaling, or tai-chi.
Another thing you can do is create a mental health first aid kit, which is a collection of strategies and intentions of self-care. Find out how to create your own mental health first aid kit and our suggestion of tools you can add to it.
It will come as no surprise to us all that there is a positive link between mental health and physical activity. Moving more and participating in exercise can have profound effects on how your mind feels and your overall well being, such as:
- better sleep
- relieves stress and anxiety
- boosts self esteem
- meet and connect with like-minded people
- helps with aches and pains
Whether it’s joining a dance class at your local leisure centre, trying out a yoga video on YouTube, going for a cycle with your family, or anything else – engaging in physical activity is an instant mood-booster and stress-reliever. Even a short burst of 10 minutes of brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood.
The great thing about using physical activity as a tool for your mental health is that it is accessible to all and has few (or no) costs attached. The NHS provides tips and tools to help you be more active, including advice for exercising with a disability and simple tips to move more in your day to day life.
Accomplish small goals
Often, our mental health can feel worse when we are experiencing overwhelm. When we feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, even the smallest of tasks can seem impossible to take on.
Reviewing your to-do list and breaking down your biggest tasks into smaller, more digestible chunks is a good way to start to ease the feelings of stress and make life feel more manageable. This could be something like “I want to find a positive thing that makes me smile today”, or “I want to get up and brush my teeth today”, or “I want to cook a homemade meal for my dinner tonight”.
Setting these smaller tasks is a great way to feel the reward once you’ve achieved them, and won’t feel like you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. They can also give you something to work towards to help you get through the day. When you achieve something, your brain releases dopamine (the feel good chemical). If you are regularly hitting small targets that you set yourself, you are consistently receiving that hit of dopamine which will overall make you feel motivated and positive.
While mental health struggles will not go away overnight, taking care of yourself will help you have more good days than bad. Actions such as achieving smaller tasks and taking things one step at a time is a step in the right direction.
Self-help CBT techniques
You may have heard of the term “CBT” before, which stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
CBT is a form of talking therapy that is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour are all closely linked and in fact influence each other.
There are many CBT techniques that you could try for yourself, which will help you deal with unhelpful and negative thoughts and boost your mental wellbeing. Check out some of the techniques here and see which ones you can implement into your daily life.
Get some sleep
We all have times where we can’t seem to drift off to the land of nod, or find ourselves waking up throughout the night. However, longer stretches of bad sleep can really start to affect our day to day lives and mood.
The National Sleep Foundation has produced the below table based on research, as a guide to know how much sleep you should be getting:
|Category||Sleep needed per day|
|New-born babies||14-17 hours|
|Adults up to 64||7-9 hours|
|Adults over 64||7-8 hours|
66% of adolescents cite poor sleep as negatively impacting on their mental health.
Poor sleep for prolonged periods of time can sap your energy levels, reduce your concentration, make you feel low in mood, and make smaller tasks seem overwhelming and unmanageable.
So, what actions can you take to tackle poor sleep and try and increase the quality of your zzz’s?
- Stick to the same times – creating a bedtime and wake up routine and sticking to it as much as possible helps teach your body to sleep better. This also means avoiding napping where possible.
- Ditch the caffeine – alcohol and caffeine can have a major impact on falling asleep and your quality of sleep. Try to avoid caffeine and alcohol in the hours leading up to your bedtime.
- Try a bedtime worry diary – one of the major causes of delayed sleep is a restless mind. If you often lie awake into the early hours stressing about your to-do list for tomorrow, financial troubles, anxieties, etc, then try setting aside time before bed to make a worry diary. Put all of your stresses onto paper, and tell yourself you’ll deal with it tomorrow. This can help to put your mind at rest.
- Create a peaceful sleep environment – turn off any screens in your room, and make your bedroom or sleep environment as dark, quiet, and cool as possible. This will make it easier to fall (and stay) asleep.
Check out some more advice from Every Mind Matters on simple steps you can take to ensure you get a restful night.
Sign up for anxiety-easing emails
The NHS “Every Mind Matters” campaign offers support for anyone struggling with their mental health, including an email programme of expert advice and practical tips to help deal with anxiety. The emails will also help you make these new steps part of your daily routine. Sign up here.
Children and young people’s mental health
It’s important to recognise that mental health struggles can start at any age. The emotional well being of children and young people is just as important as physical health, and good mental health can help develop resilience to cope with life and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.
What help is available?
- Talk to someone you trust, such as a parent, friend, or teacher
- Visit your GP, they can help refer you to other services and discuss different support options with you, or have a look at what resources are available to you in East Sussex
- Text the Young Minds Crisis Messenger to talk through your feelings with a trained volunteer
- Visit Every Mind Matters and explore the self-care tips and videos available for young people
- Read some of our mental health tools to tackle your low mood and struggles
If you are having thoughts of suicide, are harming yourself or have thought about self-harm, it’s important to tell someone. These thoughts and feelings can be complex, frightening and confusing, but you do not have to struggle alone.
If you cannot wait to see a doctor and feel unable to cope or keep yourself safe, contact one of the organisations listed here to get support right away. Or see further NHS advice on dealing with a mental health crisis or emergency.
Support and help is available.