We entered the new year with a bang, excited with what 2020 had to bring. One of your New Year resolutions, along with half of the population was probably to join the gym and get in shape…However, as important as our physical selves are, we sometimes tend to neglect our mental health. With a new era of openness, we’re more able to discuss our mental health issues honestly without fear. So, here are some tangible steps you can take to improving your mental health today.
As a person with anxiety, myself, talking about my own mental health issues is sometimes one of the hardest things for me to do. But I’ve quickly realised that being open and talking about my feelings, to the right person, helps take some of the worries away, it’s almost like I’ve moved the problem away from me and put it out into the world. It also really helps me put things in perspective when I voice my thoughts out loud. I’m still learning that talking about your feelings or thoughts doesn’t automatically equal weakness and that I’m not burdening someone just because I’m taking time out of their day to talk – most people tend to see it as a compliment that I’m opening up to them. Sometimes I can’t even articulate what I’m feeling into one word or why I’m feeling it, so I either write it down first or just say lots of words rather than one word to describe my feelings. It will feel awkward at first, but it helps to know that people do care about you and want to be there for you. The key is to interact with someone who is a “good listener”, someone you feel comfortable speaking to and you know is there to listen rather than tell you how you should be feeling.
2. FIND A POSITIVE OUTLET/CHALLENGE YOURSELF
Keeping active and doing exercise is a great way to not only help your physical health but also your mental health. It can really help raise your self-esteem. Setting goals to achieve can give you something to focus on and when you do achieve, this can often cause chemical reactions in your brain, which can help you positively change your mood. Now exercise might work for me, but that might not be what interests you. Doing anything positive that gives you that natural chemical reaction is the best outlet to help. Whether that’s something more creative like painting, dancing, swimming, learning a language or writing, finding a free activity that you enjoy and will give you that sense of achievement really helps.
3. RE-EVALUATE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS AND AVOID NEGATIVITY
This point is so important, it might seem like the most obvious thing to say avoid negativity, but sometimes it’s present in our lives without us even noticing. We aren’t usually aware of toxic people and relationships and how it’s affecting our relationship until its too late. If you find that you feel uncomfortable when you’re around a certain person, place, or thing, find an alternative to replace it. Being able to identify a toxic relationship can really help create healthy ones. Some key signs to look out for are:
- If there is constant drama surrounding them
- They constantly put you down or compete with you
- You know they talk badly about you behind your back
- They’re jealous of you spending your time with other people and don’t want you to grow
- Everything is constantly about them
- You’re always giving more than you’re getting
- You don’t trust them
- You don’t like who you are around them
- You’re always making excuses for them
- You don’t like how they treat other people
Just remember toxic relationships don’t just apply to romantic ones, try to set limits, boundaries or cut off toxic people altogether. Nobody ever wants to do this, but your health comes first.
4. PRIORITISING YOURSELF AND SELF-CARE
a. Putting yourself first can mean different things to everyone. But put simply, it’s important to take time to care for your physical, emotional and mental health. Self-care can be as simple as getting a really good night’s sleep, or even filling up the bathtub, putting a facemask on and just taking a pause for a minute. It can also be done in the form of bettering yourself, taking a few language classes, a few cooking classes travelling, treating yourself to a shopping trip or even eating healthy. The type of self-care doesn’t matter as much as the effect: It should make you feel like you’re taking care of yourself in a way that combats anxiety, depression and stress. You can start by just setting aside 10-15 minutes (minimum) in your day to focus on yourself and your thoughts. I personally love setting aside ‘Me Days’ where I don’t make any plans at all, instead, I use the day to just focus on myself, take care of my skin, cook, go to the gym and anything else I would like to do, it’s all for me. Don’t be scared to be selfish.
We’ve all been told about the importance of getting 7-9 hours of restful sleep each night, but personally sometimes my mind races so much that I tend to get about 3 hours of broken sleep each night. Being sleep-deprived then makes my next day worse and worsens my mental state. Sleep is important for keeping our mind right, so listen to your body. If you’re really tired, give yourself time to wind down, sleep. To wind down, I usually use apps like CALM and avoid any caffeine a few hours before bed. Turn your phone brightness right down and put it straight on night mode. I also tend to put on flight mode when I’m sleeping to avoid any disturbances. Keep your bedroom as a sacred place, don’t do work in your room or anything other than sleeping or relaxing. Soon you’ll begin to associate your bedroom as a safe haven for sleep.
6. EAT RIGHT
What we eat definitely has a direct impact on our brain, mood and overall mental health. It can disrupt our sleep, make us more lethargic or sick. Foods that help the brain give us more energy, help our skin and internal systems, put us in a good mood and more. Obviously not everyone reacts to food in the same way. Eating dairy and gluten really affects me negatively, and I don’t eat it on a day to day (it helps that I’m allergic to dairy). And sometimes, even starving yourself impacts your mood significantly – ever heard of being hangry? The best place to start is by cutting out the “bad fats” that can damage your mood and outlook, and replace them with “good fats” that support brain health.
Some mood booster foods include:
- Fatty fish rich in Omega-3s such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, tuna
- Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts
- Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, Brussel’s sprouts
- Fresh fruit such as blueberries
- White meat like chicken/turkey
7. FIND MEANING IN YOUR LIFE
a. Engage in something that helps you find purpose in life and makes you feel valuable. Maybe that’ll be something as simple as taking on a new hobby, drawing, writing, learning an instrument. Get connected with loved ones, family, friends or kids. Maybe even get a pet – caring for a pet makes you feel like you’re providing value to another life, they also give you love in return, unconditionally.
8. GIVE BACK
Helping others or giving back to the community around us is often ingrained into us and we derive purpose from giving back to people. You can get involved with schools, youth groups, churches or even volunteer with charities like Age UK where you can help look after older people.
9. KNOW WHEN TO GET HELP
If you are concerned about your mental health or a loved one, reach out to the following support groups and helplines in the UK.
Charity providing support if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30 am to 5.30 pm)
A charity helping people living with manic depression or bipolar disorder.
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15 to 35.
Phone: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)
Men's Health Forum
24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
Written by Precious as part of the Priest London Team