For Mental Health Awareness week, we asked the Mental Health Foundation for some tips and advice on how to look after your mental health.
Talk about your feelings
Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled.
It’s never a weakness, talking can help you cope with a problem you’ve been carrying around in your head for a while. Just being listened to can help.
We know it’s not always easy to describe how you’re feeling. If you can’t think of one word, use lots. What does it feel like inside your head? What does it make you feel like doing? And it works both ways. If you open up, others might do the same.
It doesn’t have to be a big conversation. Many people feel more comfortable developing these conversations naturally – maybe when you’re doing something together. If it feels awkward at first, give it time. Make talking about your feelings something that you do.
Experts believe exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep and feel generally better.
Exercise also keeps you and your brain healthy.
Experts say most people should do about 30 minutes’ exercise at least five days a week. It doesn’t have to be sport or the gym. Walks in the park, gardening or even housework can keep you active. Find an exercise you enjoy and make it part of your day.
There are strong links between what we eat and how we feel. For example, caffeine and sugar can have an immediate effect.
But food can also have a long-lasting effect on your mental health.
A diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health.
A healthy balanced diet includes:
- lots of different types of fruit and vegetables
- wholegrain cereals or bread
- nuts and seeds
- dairy products
- oily fish
- plenty of water.
Eat at least three meals each day and drink plenty of water. Try to limit how many high-caffeine or sugary drinks you have and avoid too much alcohol.
Some people drink to change their mood, but the effect is only temporary. Also, because alcohol withdrawal symptoms affect your brain and the rest of your body, you’ll feel worse once the effect of alcohol wears off.
Aside from excessive alcohol damaging your body, you’ll need more and more alcohol each time to feel the same short-term boost. There are healthier ways of coping with tough times.
To help your mental health stay within the recommended daily alcohol limits:
- 3 to 4 units a day for men.
- 2 to 3 units a day for women.
Many people also smoke or use drugs or other substances to change how they feel. But, again, the effects are short-lived. Just like alcohol, the more you use, the more you crave. Nicotine and drugs don’t deal with the cause and they don’t solve problems, they create them.
Keep in Touch
Strong family ties and supportive friends can help you deal with the stresses of life. They can offer different views from whatever’s going on, keep you active and grounded whist helping you solve practical problems.
Catch up with people often, if you can’t in person then give them a call, drop them a note or chat with them online. It’s good for you!
It’s worth working at relationships that make you feel loved or valued. But if you think someone is damaging your mental health, it may be best to take a break from them or call it a day completely.
We also know that it can be hard to cope when someone close dies or you lose them another way. Counselling for bereavement or loss can help you explore your feelings.
Ask for Help
None of us are superhuman. We all get tired or overwhelmed. If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help.
Your family or friends may be able to offer practical help or a listening ear. Local services are there to help you too.
For example, you could:
- find a counsellor to help you deal with your feelings or make a fresh start
- join a support group like Weight Watchers or Alcoholics Anonymous to help you make changes to your life
- call the council about noise nuisance
- visit a Citizens Advice Bureau if you want advice on debt.
Your GP may be able to refer you to a counsellor. You should consider getting help from your GP if difficult feelings are:
- stopping you getting on with life
- having a big impact on the people you live or work with
- affecting your mood over several weeks.
Over a third of visits to GPs are about mental health. Your GP may suggest ways you or your family can help you. They may also refer you to a specialist or another part of the health service.
Take a Break
A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. It could be a five-minute pause from cleaning your kitchen, a half-hour lunch break at work or a weekend exploring somewhere new.
Give yourself some ‘me time’. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you. Taking a break may mean being very active. It may mean not doing very much at all. Take a deep breath… and relax. Try yoga or meditation, or just putting your feet up.
Listen to your body. If you’re really tired, give yourself time to sleep. Without good sleep, our mental health suffers and our concentration goes downhill. Sometimes the world can wait.
Do something you’re good at
Enjoying yourself helps beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it and achieving something boosts your self-esteem.
An hour of sketching lets you express yourself creatively. A morning on the football pitch gets you active and gives you the chance to meet new people. A hobby like gardening or the crossword can help you forget your worries for a while and change your mood.
It can be good to have an interest where you’re not seen as someone’s mum or dad, partner or employee. You’re just you.
Accept Who You Are
Some of us make people laugh, some are good at maths whilst others cook fantastic meals. Some of us share our lifestyle with the people who live close to us, others live differently.
We’re all different. It’s much healthier to accept that you’re unique than to wish you were more like someone else. Be proud of who you are.
Work out if there’s anything about yourself that you still want to change. Are your expectations realistic? If they are, work towards the change in small steps.
Feeling good about yourself boosts your confidence to learn new skills, visit new places and make new friends.
Care for others
Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together.
Why not share your skills more widely by volunteering for a local charity? Helping out can make us feel needed and valued and that boosts our self-esteem.
It also helps us see the world from another angle. That can help to put our own problems in perspective.
Caring for a pet can improve your wellbeing too. The bond between you and your pet can be as strong as between people. It can bring structure to your day and act as a link to other people. Lots of people make friends by chatting to fellow dog walkers.
Find out more about volunteering at www.do-it.org.uk.