• Inga

Mental Health Awareness Week - What does mental health mean to you?

May 14, 2019

For me it’s not about having to feel my best everyday. But about being my best friend when I’m not feeling my best.

It’s how you talk to yourself in private, in the midst of difficulty, a challenging situation, a setback in your life that really says it all.

Is your relationship to yourself loving, nurturing, rational, compassionate, patient and kind?

Or does your mind replay negative stories, give into fear, filter out the good qualities in you and make you doubt yourself to the core of your being? That you’re not worthy or good enough somehow?

We have all kinds of thoughts racing through our minds everyday and we’ll always have opposing feelings, two sides of the coin for every emotion.

But what’s the dominant theme - optimistic or pessimistic, rational or irrational, loving or self-beating, a reflection of reality or delusion? And how easy or difficult it is to come back to a state of balance?

Mental health problems can tint everything you do with doubt, worry, sadness, hopelessness, apathy or indifference. Which can be so draining. I know too well.

In the spirit of mental health awareness week, I wanted to share the tools in my toolbox that help me ground myself when I get anxious and overwhelmed, but more importantly help support my mental health for the long run.

Because I truly believe maintaining your mental health is no different to your physical health. Prevention is better than cure and there are no quick fixes. Self-care has to become a part of our routine to support us in the busy world we live in. Practice only works when we practice and it matters less what you do as a one-off, but how regular and consistent are your check-ins to yourself. Here are mine:

- Meditate

A true game changer for me. Most of my mornings start with 20 minutes seated meditation and most of my afternoons are recentered with another 20 minutes. Mental health problems is all about what goes on in your head - it makes sense you would go to the source by paying more attention and becoming more aware of the content inside of your head. To notice how you feel from day to day, how calm and peaceful are you behind the noise and distractions and where you might need to adjust. It's like clearing the junk files from your browser, closing the tabs in your mind to give you more clarity and free up some mental storage.

It can be daunting and vague to just sit down and start meditating, so if meditation is new to you, get yourself started with an app. I really enjoy Headspace, but I've heard great feedback about Calm and Insight Timer (completely free) as well. You can also find guided meditations in your local yoga studio. It can be as quick as 2 or 5 minutes as you build it up. The key is to get it into your routine so it becomes a familiar and helpful tool in your day-to-day.

A little goes a long way - always!

- Talk about it

Talk about it with a friend or family member that you trust. Voice it out, so that the voice inside your head can be challenged and rationalised. It’s not even about making it positive per se, but rationalising it. Most of the stuff we fear or say to ourselves is absolute bonkers! Speak it out, so you can see the absurdity of it yourself. And you know what happens when you voice your biggest fear or problem to someone? It feels less big. At the very least you get a different perspective on the matter and feel less alone.

- Exercise

Our bodies are made to be moved. Our joints and muscles are there to be used, stretched and strengthened. Our mind responds to the body being moved, just as it responds to it not being moved. Physical activity releases happy chemicals in the brain and literally helps grow new cells and connections in our brain, it's known to help reduce stress and boost your immune system.

I love reminding myself of this phrase if I'm lacking motivation "I really regret that workout said no one ever". We always feel better after it, because moving is just that good for us.

So give your body the love it deserves by preserving its mobility and strength. Find an activity that is enjoyable to stick to and make your why be bigger than the physical appearance and look goals. It's not about how you look on the outside, but how it makes you feel on the inside. Don't get trapped in quick fixes and bursts of exercising, but focus on what makes it easier to stay consistent with physical activity so you can keep a strong, mobile and healthy body for the long run.

- Spend time in nature

As with exercising, we don’t even need science to support it (even if there's lots of evidence to do so) to know how it feels to stay indoors for the whole day compared to a full day spent in nature or simply outside. It grounds and connects you.

You and your worries start to feel a little smaller, yet you get a sense of belonging and actually being a part of something bigger.

Find ways to squeeze it into your day - can you get off the bus or train earlier to make your walk longer, are there outdoor spaces in your office to have lunch at, a nearby park for a quick 5 minutes stroll in the neighbourhood.

Find ways to squeeze it in your weekend - getting outside of the city, going for a walk with a friend or by yourself with a podcast to listen to, finding a bench to read your book from.

- Be more disciplined with what unsettles you

Switch off from technology more often - does scrolling Instagram first thing in the morning or last thing at night time, make you feel better or more restless?

Unfollow what doesn't inspire you - tidy up your social media consumption by only following accounts that truly inspire and resonate with you, not the ones that make you compare and leave you feeling not good enough. If it unsettles you, makes you feel bad in any way - simply unfollow. The accounts I follow now are mainly to do with yoga, health and mindfulness + a few doggies accounts here and there, because it makes me smile.

Leave work on time - keep an eye on your workload and if you need to have late nights, plan and know when this will go back to the regular schedule. Don't let it become the norm.

Be precious of your weekend - I'm less and less inclined to go crazy boozy on a Friday or Saturday night if it's at the expense of the next day. It's just not worth it and differently to a workout, I have regretted that last drink many a time.

Finally, I always remind myself that it's OK to not feel OK. Back to my mantra from the start of this post this is where it matters the most - can you be your best friend, when you're not feeling your best? And I have no doubt we all have that best friend looking out for us inside, we just need to start listening.




If you need urgent help:

- Download the Stay Alive App

- Visit your GP

- Go to your local A&E Department, open 24 hours a day

- Call the Samaritans on 116 123 (free and open 24 hours a day)

Help is available and you are never alone ❤️