Maintaining mental health is a balancing act. It’s a bit like housework, in that you can’t just do it and then it’s done; you have to sweep your floor every day. Taking care of your mental wellness is something that requires regular attention. Sometimes it can feel like it needs constant attention.
Modern life can be stressful and hard work, and those things don’t go so well with a propensity towards mental health issues. Having already had a massive nervous breakdown a few years ago, I am perhaps a little more vigilant about these things. Now that I am a single parent, I can’t afford to let things slip. So when I start to notice things going a bit… wobbly I make sure I’m doing everything I can to avoid it getting any worse.
Here are some tips for maintaining mental health…
- Look at your diet. When I feel rubbish, all I want to eat is junk. But then I feel rubbish and bloated and horrible. And then I feel crappy because my clothes don’t fit so well. Not winning. Try and get in at least one proper meal, with some decent vegetables each day.
- Stay away from the booze. I don’t think you really need to be told about how alcohol and any mental illness are not a winning combination. Aside from interfering with any medication you may be on, it’ll also make you feel physically rubbish, and your mood won’t be too great either.
- Get outside. The thing about depression and many other mental health conditions is that they make you not want to do the things you know would probably make you feel better if you did them. Going for a walk in the fresh air won’t cure your depression, but it might help you to avoid going any lower.
- Talk to someone. I still find it really hard to do this; I hate to burden the people around me with my problems when I know that everyone struggles with their own issues. I also know from previous experience that my local mental health services are far from adequate; there is some ridiculous, protracted procedure whereby you call a number that’s rarely answered and beg for an appointment to speak to someone and you’re usually offered something in six weeks’ time. Luckily we live in the digital age, and you can now get counselling online from services such as Better Help.
- Reach out. I am a single parent, and I work from home. Aside from those brief few moments in the school playground I don’t often have proper, genuine conversations with people. When I start to feel a bit rubbish it usually comes with a feeling of not wanting to be sociable. I don’t want to make eye contact; I don’t want to make polite chitchat. But I know that isolating myself will only make things worse. I’ve learned over time that when I’m feeling down one of the best things to do is send a few texts to friends and see who is free to meet for lunch over the next few days. It means taking precious time out of my short working day while S is at school, but it’s important to maintain those genuine connections with my friends. I don’t need to talk to them about how I’m feeling; we can talk about all sorts of things. It’s more about the connection which can often be lacking when my mental state starts to wobble.
- Meditate. I am a big fan of meditation. I use a free app called Insight Timer which I absolutely love, and I try to meditate at least once a day. I find that it helps me to just calm down and stop the chatter that goes on in my head throughout the course of a normal day. It helps me to organise my thoughts and to just feel better. I can’t really explain it – but it does help. And it’s 100% free so definitely worth a try. NB: sitting in silence and ruminating on how crap your life is, is not meditation!
- Help other people. There’s a particular kind of good feeling that comes from knowing you’ve helped someone, even in a really small way. You don’t need to suddenly volunteer at a homeless shelter five days per week – but the next time you see a homeless person begging, buy them a cup of coffee. We have a lot of police in Salisbury at the moment, and since they’re mostly spending their shifts guarding cordon lines, it’s a safe bet they’ll smile if you hand them a cup of tea or a snack. Find something you can do for someone else, and watch how it makes you feel good.
- Think twice about social media. Social media is addictive; it sets off that dopamine response in our brains so that we scroll and scroll and scroll. It’s a waste of time, and we can easily lose hours getting caught up in Lolcats and other people’s drama (there’s really not enough of the old Lolcats on the internet these days in my opinion). It’s easy to either end up comparing ourselves to others or get into an argument that’s really none of our concern, and then that bad feeling just adds to our existing rubbish feeling. You don’t have to go completely offline for a week or something, but do try to limit your social media usage for a while and see if it helps with your mood.
- Switch off the TV. This is another one of those things that can become a time suck where we just sit in a semi-zombified state watching all sorts of junk on the screen. The blue light stimulates the brain, so it’s a bad idea to watch TV before bed, but also have you ever just stopped and asked yourself: Is this the best use of this hour/30 minutes? Often the answer is no. For me I have a big problem with getting to the end of the day or week and saying to myself, you lazy bitch; you’ve achieved nothing. I find that if I at least keep the TV switched off then I can argue with that voice in my head that no, I’ve not been wasting my time. I don’t know, I just generally feel better about life if I read a book or do just about anything except sitting in front of the TV for hours at a time!
- Know yourself. This is probably the most important tip to be honest. It’s really important to get to know yourself: what are the signs things are going downhill? What makes you feel good? What makes you feel bad? These things will be different for everyone, and knowing yourself can really help you to make sure you don’t go too far down the rabbit hole. For me this is where meditation and sitting in silence really helps – it gives me the time to sit down and actually ask myself how I feel, keeping an eye on how things are going.