The thing about mental health is that it’s not just a case of “one and done.” In my experience, you don’t get depression, get it fixed and then go on your merry way. For those of us who have experienced any sort of mental health problem, however large or small, taking care of our mental health becomes more like personal hygiene – something you take care of every day to ensure it doesn’t get too bad again.
This year has been particularly problematic, whether you’ve struggled with the restrictions of lockdown, experienced anxiety over getting ill or (as I have) struggled with wearing a mask in public places.
Here are some ways to take care of your mental health every day…
Move your body regularly
You don’t need to “do exercise” in a formal way with special kit and a class – unless that’s something that really appeals to you. Anything that keeps you from slumping in a chair for several hours at a time is good. I use my Fitbit to keep track of my steps, and aim to hit 10,300 steps by the end of each day. As well as this, you can set a Fitbit to buzz and remind you to move when you’ve not taken at least 250 steps in an hour. I use this as a prompt to get up and go for a walk around the block. Moving your body is a great way to keep mental health issues at bay, but it’s something you need to do regularly because if depression sets in, it will not take kindly to being taken for a walk.
Connect with others
Meet a friend for coffee. Better yet, combine this with the suggestion above, and meet a friend to go for a walk or even a run together. If you can’t meet up with someone in person, call them on the phone or arrange a video call if you can bear it (I rarely can). Try to reach out to people with whom you can talk about more than just the weather or what you’ve done this week. When you can connect with someone on a deeper level, you feel seen and validated which is always a good thing. If you don’t feel you can connect openly with a friend or family member, online therapy with BetterHelp could be of benefit.
Ask for – and accept – help
I am terrible at asking for help. I hate to be a burden to others, especially at a time when I know a lot of people are struggling. But here’s one thing you may not have considered: many people enjoy helping others. They actively look for ways they could help someone because it makes them feel good. Another thing to bear in mind is that everyone is their own person, and they are free to say no if you ask for help (as long as you are not trying to manipulate or guilt them into doing something). If you say “could you help me with this” and that person says yes, take them at their word and accept their help with gratitude. It feels really good to receive help from others.
Bear in mind too that help can come in professional form, and often that is just what you need to make sure you’re actually getting the help you’re after. If you are keen to try and improve your mental health, sometimes that means having a professional to help you understand what you are going through in the first place, whether that’s in the form of a private ADHD assessment or simply some talking therapy, or anything in between. All of this is going to mean that you are much more likely to get through it, and in one piece, so don’t be afraid to look out for this kind of help.
Help someone else
Following on from the point above: it feels good to help other people. It can lift your mood, and improve your self perception: suddenly you are the kind of person who helps people. This could be something as small as letting someone go in front of you in a queue or buying a coffee for a homeless person.
Connect with nature
There’s nothing quite like a walk in nature to make you feel all calm and peaceful. Apparently there’s some science around the colour green being calming too. If you can’t get out into nature, bring nature to you. Invest in some pot plants to brighten your living space. One thing that has really brightened my days lately is having bird feeders in our garden. There are several in a bush just outside the window, and so whenever I’m in need of inspiration or a few moments of calm, I can look out the window and watch the birds.
Yes, I know you’ve been breathing all day anyway – but have you tried “breathwork” to improve your mood and health? I find that the Wim Hof Method is easy to do and can make a difference with things like stress levels and focus – both of which can be early casualties of a mental health decline.
Bear with me here! Cold showers can actually improve your mood. The cold water can provide a jump-start to the system, helping to increase alertness and energy levels as well as endorphins. I finish my shower with a few minutes of cold water every day.
Step out of your comfort zone regularly
The thing about a comfort zone is that although it’s comfortable, it shrinks around you until there’s not much left inside of it. Stepping out of your comfort zone regularly, by doing things that make you feel a little bit apprehensive, helps to keep your comfort zone from shrinking – but it also makes you feel good about yourself. When you do something that makes you feel a bit nervous and nothing terrible happens, it makes you feel good about yourself.
Keep a list of ideas
When you’re feeling rubbish, the last thing you want to do is make an effort to find a way to feel better. Make a list of things you can do to help lift your mood. This could be anything from calling a friend to going for a walk. Keep the list somewhere it’s easily accessible, such as on the fridge or in a notes app on your phone.