When we think of mental health issues, we often think about breakdowns, severe depression, crippling social anxiety and the inability to function and complete your usual daily tasks. However, I think it’s really important to remember that, much like our physical health, our mental health is on a sliding scale between our good days and bad days and everyone can benefit from an increased awareness and ability to cope with the times when you’re not feeling so great. 1 in 3 people suffer with mental health issues – and that’s not even including the many who are still embarrassed to admit that. I would argue that we ALL suffer from low mood, stress and anxiety – but there are times when feeling anxious is normal so whilst it’s not something we want to eradicate, we do benefit from learning to control out negative thinking and behaviours when those anxious feelings arise unexplained.
I am a chronic over-thinker. It stops me sleeping, it makes me indecisive, a perfectionist, sensitive – sometimes to the point where I feel like I’m unable to control my emotions. I’m completely aware at the time that it’s silly and nothing to feel upset over but that’s the most frustrating part. I feel like an idiot, embarrassed and physically I can’t control those feelings of breathlessness, feeling hot and tearful as well as that solid pain in your throat, crushing like a vice and making it difficult to speak. Eventually, after visiting my GP, I self-referred via Steps to Wellbeing which is a local NHS mental health service. You begin with a scheduled phone assessment where you discuss your symptoms, examples and touch on things that particularly affect you. It’s quite daunting but speaking openly on the phone with someone specifically trained in that area does help you to get your thoughts out, as do the questions they ask. Some of them are quite pressing, finding the more deep-rooted issues that lead to your symptoms and labelling your emotions (which I personally find SO difficult!) You’re then given a choice of treatments, in my case it was to tackle depression or anxiety – oddly, I scored higher on the depression scale but with a provisional diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety I chose to take my treatment in that direction. I chose one on one CBT sessions over group sessions as that just sounded terrifying but after attending a Wellbeing Workshop with a group, I decided to bite the bullet and switch to the group sessions. As well as cutting ten weeks off of my waiting time, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and get over my fear of talking openly in front of people. I’m fine doing it online but I even hate speaking on the mic when I DJ, I just can’t do it.
As my treatment continues I’m hoping I’ll have lots of tips and tricks to share with you and now that my introductions out of the way, the updates should get a little more bite-size. I’m obviously not a professional but most of these tips are common sense for general selfcare and, sometimes, I think it’s nice to read advice from someone who is in your position and things that have personally worked for them. These are some aspects of your lifestyle that will contribute to your minds health and I’ve found lifestyle changes are actually easier to make compared to altering my thought process and whilst they will not make those feelings of anxiety disappear, it’s important to build a good base health for yourself. You can start with these five important factors:
1 – Diet. It’s obvious – eat shit, you’ll feel like shit and if you’re anything like me you’ll look like shit too, and that will make you feel even more shit which is probably what’s pushing you into the cycle of eating shit. So break the cycle. Treats are fine but you should make an effort to keep your overall diet a nutritious one. Bananas are a great snack as they boost serotonin, plus they’re super cheap. Anything with magnesium is going to be a benefit for alleviating anxiety as well as keeping up your general veg intake. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, they almost always exacerbate negative feelings of being on edge. I also try and drink 3litres of water a day – carry a bottle around with you and refill it throughout the day, you’ll sip it more than you’d think! Check you my previous blog for more tips: Eight Easy Diet Tips and My Honest Food Diary.
2 – Exercise. When you’re suffering with mental health issues it can be completely exhausting, mentally and physically so the last thing you want to do is get ready, trek to the gym and half-ass a work out when you’re not motivated but the 30 minutes a day recommended doesn’t need to be strenuous by any means. Take yourself for a brisk walk, make things exponentially better and borrow a friends dog if you can or even walk with a friend. They actually recommend sex as part of this ‘exercise’ plan and even hoovering?! How ever could you chose between those last two options…
Personally, I’ve been enjoying yoga as ‘me time’ and this year I also started running (5k, outside) by joining an amazing beginners club (SRC Southampton) on top of my general work out routine. I want to step it up a notch soon and start more strength training. You can read more in a short series about my fitness journey Here, Here and then Here.
3 – Sleep. This is the kicker for me – ‘you’ll feel better if you get a good nights sleep‘ – OHHH, perfect…Guess I’ll just decide to sleep better from now on then, eh. HOWEVER, as annoying as it is, there are things you can do to help that mostly centre around a bedtime routine – time to relax and wind down before your head hits the pillow. Reading is a big one (I don’t read…) I do love a good podcast, though. The best difference I’ve made for myself, being self-employed, is that I have my computer and work etc set up in a different room almost like an ‘office’ so that when I leave the ‘office’ and go to bed, the routine and structure of it helps my body and mind to know it’s bed time and I fall asleep much easier than I have ever done before. My main issue is staying asleep, I wake a lot through out the night and disruptive/broken sleep patterns leave me feeling exhausted the next day no matter how long I stay in bed because my sleep cycle is never quite complete. Hopefully I will learn some new tips and tricks for this along on the way to share with you.
4 – Structure. Another big thing I’ve changed this year is the structure of my days. My work out routine kind of dictates when I’m going to eat as well as when I’m definitely going to be out of the office. Keeping structure is really important – really difficult if you have started avoiding things you don’t like, or even worse, avoiding things you actually love doing. I’m a big fan of lists and actually putting pen to paper, I use a Bullet Journal to plan my month, week and each day. So each month I’ll have certain tasks that need doing, which I’ll whittle down to what needs to be done *this* week and add them in with my repeated plans like yoga, running club and work. Then, each day, either the morning or night before I will roughly schedule my day with any solid plans and times such as a driving lesson or work and then plan tasks around those things, like going to the post office or writing a new blog post! I would 100% recommend a Bullet Journal for pretty much anyone – the best thing is they work for you however you want them to, there’s no ‘right way’…some are beautiful, creative and neat…mine is a right state but it doesn’t matter, it’s practical and does the job.
5 – Relaxation. This is so hard if you are regularly feeling on edge and restless, you can’t just relax because someone has told you to. Whenever I am relaxing I just berate myself that I should be working and I’m wasting time, thinking I should at least reply to my emails and post something to Instagram because I haven’t for X-amount of hours but it’s REALLY important to try and take time out. Yoga is that for me, meals out with friends and family, Pokewalks or watching Mad Men with Simon…just anything to make you switch off, however briefly. Make sure to treat yourself to some ‘real’ time-off now and again too – I recently went to Bath for the weekend which was perfect. Using my Bullet Journal, I’ve been tracking my hours worked versus full days off to make sure I’m getting a good balance.
I know many of you will roll your eyes at a lot of these tips, as we all do with those obvious things we all know we should be doing and, yet, we never do them. Unfortunately it’s a very complex puzzle and never going to be as simple as ‘stop worrying’…persistent and excessive worrying whirring around your brain isn’t something you can simply stop and when the worry and anxiety becomes uncontrollable it negatively affects your day to day life. It’s a habit you’ve formed and will take a long time to break out of, so let’s start with these small things that we can control.