How to look after your mental health

Jessica Lone Summers

We highlight some ways you can look after your mental health and create a more peaceful existence for your mind and body

With the topic of mental health being talked about consistently more, there is light being shed and unnecessary shame being lifted from the conversation. Until fairly recently however the subject was something of a taboo and the mere mention of the words “mental health” can still be known to cause a divide. There’s a large amount of progress to still be made socially, but individually there’s a plethora of ways for you to stay on top of your mental health.

 

Know how to use social media

Social Media is a great tool for staying connected with friends, discovering new hobbies, people and information or simply having a light-hearted laugh. 

However, there’s a very real and very dark side to social media that’s known for causing unhappiness. Faking your profile to impress others, struggling to pull yourself away from your screen or dictating events in your real life to suit that of your online persona are just some of the ways in which social media platform could become detrimental to your mental health. But, it’s not only the way you act online that can hurt you; online-induced envy triggered by what you perceive to be a “better” life is determinedly the most harmful experience that social media provides. We would all do well to remember that the influencers online have endless tricks to get the right shots; posing, lighting and meticulous planning goes into just one photograph or post and things are very rarely as they seem.

As a tool, it can be useful, uplifting and coalescing but remember that it’s just that; a tool. If you put down your phone and can’t imagine how to connect to existence without the virtual world then, perhaps it’s time to take a break. Instead of spending hours on end scrolling through and editing posts, try using it to meet people you otherwise would not have met, and see them in real life. Sites such as Meetup, Eventbrite or even Facebook groups provide numerous ways to connect to those with similar interests to you. Have a browse at things happening local to you and give it a go!

 

Learn how to meditate

Recognise that our minds aren’t stable entities that are impervious to damage. If a body can be hurt, bruised or catch a cold, then why don’t we treat our brains the same way? A bad mental health spell isn’t necessarily the start of depression, you mind might need some loving care and a helping hand to nurse your mind back to normal. Whether you are or you aren’t someone who tends to bounce back quickly, regular meditation will help you avoid spiralling down a dark path. According to Heathline meditation can help aid the reduction on stress, anxiety and lead to an increase in self-awareness among many other benefits.

If you’re not sure where to start, try an app such as Headspace which will guide you from beginner level onwards and is so useful for any on-the-go needs. Youtube tutorials are also a great place to start, and the breathing techniques you'll learn are endlessly helpful for instances when you feel your stress rising.

 

Exercise

Exercise is the one piece of advice that many don’t want to hear but won’t go away. Like it or loath it, moving is an extremely important part of human life and it’s essential for maintaining a healthy mind. The Mental Health Foundation reveals that “Participation in regular physical activity can increase our self-esteem and can reduce stress and anxiety”, as well as warding off immediate negative effects and lifting our short term moods it’s also proven to decrease the chances of many diseases later in life.

Don’t feel intimidated by the prospect of exercise, as long as you’re moving the recommended weekly amount (according to Mayo Clinic it should be 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week) you’re doing well.

 

Talk to someone

This one is so important. The phrase “A problem shared is a problem halved”, is so much more than just words. When you share what’s weighing heavy on your mind you will feel some relief at having someone else know the truth—even if the issue isn’t immediately resolved. Age UK conducted research exploring exactly this and they found that “around three in ten adults share their worries (29 per cent). Of these, over a third (36 per cent) feel brighter as a result”, showing that too many people are bottling up their worries when in reality it’s the letting go which will help free you. 

If you feel comfortable letting your family and friends know then it’s a great place to start, if you feel you don’t have anyone close to confide in then consider looking up a free local counselling service or calling a 24-hour hotline.

 

Get enough sleep

Sleep is quite literally our way to recharge. You’re not going to get much use out of a device on 10% battery and we work the same way—don’t expect that when you’re running low on sleep your mind or body will be able to function the way they should. 

The sleep debt cycle goes as follows: You didn’t get enough sleep so you’re worrisome and grumpy and then worrying keeps you up at night. This can go on infinitely until you recognise the pattern and make a change. 

Experts recommend getting at least seven hours sleep a night and no more than nine. Find out what works best for you around your schedule and stick to a routine. A regular bedtime and waketime will allow your body to become tired and awake when it’s supposed to. Here are a few extra tips for getting the right amount of sleep:

•    Stick to your sleep schedule even on your days off
•    Keep your room cool, we sleep better when we’re not hot
•    Make sure any exercise is at least a few hours before bedtime
•    Try to read rather than look at your phone/TV. Screens emit light that tell your brain to wake up
•    Avoid caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and eating food right before bed

If you have a more serious sleep problem try a charity such as Mind which has plenty of in-depth information on catching forty winks.

 

Eat heathily

Of course, it’s tempting to treat yourself to some naughty food from time to time. But if you “treat” yourself too often it loses its luxury. Try to stick to healthy food that will fuel your body in the way it needs. Cutting down on sugar, salt and saturated fat and making sure you’re getting your five-a-day are such simple but effective ways to boost your diet and feed your mind.

Cooking is also a great way to enjoy your food while knowing what’s going into it. Even if you don’t consider yourself a great cook there are easy staple meals out there to suit everyone and it’s such a reward to eat something you’ve prepared yourself.

Check out our recipes for some sumptuous ideas.

 

Find some friends

Loneliness is one of the leading causes of stress which often can lead to neglected mental health. Being lonely is nothing to be ashamed about and finding the cause of your loneliness is a great step for breaking you out of it. Anxiety, discrimination, big life changes, uncommon interests and low self-esteem are all factors that can contribute to isolation. Look at the fundamental reason why you’re feeling the way you do and then you can go about correcting that problem.

Join a class, a sports team or take up a new hobby to put yourself out there and try chatting to someone you haven’t yet talked to. Once you get past the initial awkwardness of a new environment you’ll be thrilled that you took a chance; everyone gets nervous, even the most confident-seeming people, so don’t feel as if you’re alone in this.

 

Give back

The notion of “giving back” is somewhat lost in today’s consumerist “me me me” culture. But, the act of giving back is truly so rewarding. Investing time in caring for the environment, volunteering for charities and spending time helping friends or strangers are all valuable ways to boost your positive mentality. 

Contrary to the way many of us live, thinking about yourself all the time isn’t a great way to live your life. “Me time” is undoubtedly important but the benefits you will reap from doing an act of good is limitless. Try not to flaunt your good deeds, and make sure they come from a place of sincerity. It doesn’t have to be something big, but a positive gesture every day will keep you feeling pleased that you added value to someone else’s day.

 

Unhappiness is a natural part of human life and something we all go through. If you feel as if you can't cope and none of the above suggestions are working for you please seek help from your GP for alternative options.

If you urgently need help and are feeling overwhelmed please contact one of the following hotlines:

Samaritans 
Call 116 123 
Email jo@samaritans.org
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day 
Email visit the webchat page
Papyrus  
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm 
Text 07786 209697 
Email pat@papyrus-uk.org
Childline 
Call 0800 1111 
The Silver Line
Call 0800 4 70 80 90