Five self-help tips to support your mental health

World Mental Health Day is an awareness-raising day that promotes discussion and understanding of mental illness, and gives us the opportunity to stop and reflect and consider ways we can improve our mental health.

One of the key definitions of good mental health, by the World Health Organization, is the ability “to cope with the normal stresses of life”. So much of life can feel like a drain, and you can feel worn down by all the demands put upon you. Yet I would add to this definition that it’s vital to know what stressors you can change – and which ones you can’t. You won’t be able to change what other people say and how they behave. But you do have the choice over whether to let things bother you. You also have the power to change the way you respond to people.

If you’d like to find some ways to feel better mentally and emotionally, but you’re not sure where to start, then here I suggest some practical self-help tips that can help build your resilience to cope with the “normal stresses” of life…

  1. Stop comparing yourself with others

Comparing yourself with others – whether favourably or unfavourably – in itself can imply that at heart you don’t feel enough. Perhaps not tall enough, pretty enough, rich enough. Social media makes it so easy to follow the lives of others – celebrities, friends, family, distant acquaintances – that life can easily become full of likes, retweets and photo-edited posts. Research has shown that too much social media – especially comparing your life with others – can lower mood and self-esteem and basically leave you feeling bad about yourself. You might fear you’re missing out, or that other people are simply having a better time than you. A first step towards self-acceptance, and therefore less stress, is to catch yourself when you compare yourself to others. Swap the ‘less than’ thoughts with a mantra: “I am enough.” Over time you may come to believe it.

  1. Tune into how you talk to yourself

We can be incredibly cruel to ourselves when we allow an inner critical voice to have its say.

  • “You stupid idiot.”
  • “You’re so clumsy.”
  • “You should be way better than this.”
  • “You’re useless. Give up now as you’ll never get the hang of it.”

If we spoke to others in the same way we speak to ourselves, we wouldn’t have many friends left. If you fear you may speak in a derogatory way like this, I’d encourage you to tune into this self-talk. Note how you speak to yourself. For every critical word, find a kinder phrase to balance it out. Try replacing ‘should’ with ‘could’, and ‘must’ with ‘might’, and see how differently you feel.

  1. Allow yourself some ‘down time’

Having time off doesn’t mean being lazy or selfish or a waste of time. The always-on culture means your life is likely to be spent clutching your phone, checking emails so you’re on top of things, and rushing between meetings. Home0time becomes work-preparation time instead of the opportunity to relax and unwind. Yet that lack of space in your life can lead to overwhelm and burnout. No one can thrive on the perpetual stress we put ourselves under. Try reframing down time as the opportunity to enjoy time, and see relaxation and reflection as a change to invest in your mental health.

  1. Express how you really feel

There’s nothing like speaking your truth to make you feel better. Expressing how you really feel – and having your truth heard and acknowledged – can be uplifting and a relief. Not speaking your truth can leave you frazzled and resentful, and can lead to behaviours that you don’t really mean to do, but end up coming out that way because your truth is trapped inside. I’m not suggesting you spout everything that comes into your head, but if there is something important you need to say then find a way to say it. Journaling can be a way of checking in with your true feelings, and gives you an opportunity to express your thoughts in a way that won’t be judged or thrown back at you. Using your journal can be an outlet to support you through daily stresses.

  1. Complete a task

Yes, any task will do. Whether it’s tidying up a drawer, signing off a document, booking a holiday, cleaning the bathroom. Completion is the antidote to chaos. Life can feel overwhelming to the point that home, work, family, friends, relationship all need something from you. Lots of loose ends – from unfinished projects to unmanageable clutter at home – can leave you feeling depleted. Give yourself back a sense of agency and purpose by picking a task that you can complete and tick off your list. Note how much better you’ll feel when you do.

Swimming has buoyant benefits for mental health, says study

Regular trips to the pool can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to research.
(pic credit: scusi)

A major study into swimming and mental health has revealed that regular trips to the pool can make life feel more manageable – and can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The YouGov research, on behalf of Swim England, shows that 1.4million people have reported improved mental wellbeing thanks to swimming. These improvements for nearly half a million people include fewer visits to their GP for mental health reasons, and a reduction in (or no further need for) their mental health medication.

Of the 3.3million UK adults with mental health problems who swim at least once every couple of weeks, when questioned how swimming impacts their everyday life, responded:

  • 43% say swimming makes them happier.
  • 26% are more motivated to complete daily tasks.
  • 15% believe life feels more manageable.

Ian Cumming, chair of the Swimming and Health Commission, said: “Physical activity in any form can have a positive impact on a person’s mental health, but swimming is unique because the buoyancy of water ensures everyone is able to take part at a pace that suits them. Research shows that simply being in water can be restorative, particularly swimming outside.”

The benefits of any exercise whatsoever have been shown to benefit mental health. Swimming is said to offer versatility, whether you want a leisurely lane swim or to set yourself time and distance targets. All the while being supported by the water.

Hayley Jarvis, head of physical activity at the Mind mental health charity, added: “We all know that doing physical activities like swimming is good for our bodies. But our physical health and mental health are closely linked and being physically active can also be very beneficial for our mental health too. If you’re more active there’s good evidence to suggest that, at most ages, there’s a trend towards lower rates of depression. One study has found that by increasing your activity levels from doing nothing, to exercising at least three times a week, you can reduce your risk of depression by up to 30%.”

Perhaps worth digging out your costume and heading to the local pool.

How forgiveness is the antidote to stress

davanti counselling forgiveness

A forgiving mentality can reduce your stress levels to zero, says study (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/StuartMiles)

There’s an old adage that says holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. The refusal to forgive another for the perceived wrongs they’ve done against you may keep you on the moral high ground, but ultimately you could remain stuck, stressed and strung out. Forgiving the other means letting them off, and so you hold on tight to your sense of what’s right and wrong.

Yet not forgiving can lead to a lifetime of stress, which can affect your mental and physical health. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is the antidote to stress. That’s according to research published in the Journal of Health Psychology, and reported in Time magazine’s article Forgiving other people is good for your health.

Researchers from Luther College analysed the stress exposure, lifestyle factors, propensity to forgive, and physical and mental factors among 148 people. They concluded that people who are more forgiving are also more able to handle stress, and that “stress degrades and forgiveness protects” health. They added: ” Developing a more forgiving coping style may help minimise stress-related disorders.”

How so? More research may be needed to determine exactly how forgiveness provides a buffer from stress – but there is something healing about letting go of painful and resentful feelings regarding a situation. It’s not about letting the person get away with it. It’s about not letting your feelings consume your life.

Lead researcher Professor Loren Touissant from Luther College said: “More forgiving individuals may have a more adaptive or extensive repertoire of coping strategies that mitigate the negative effects of stress on health… People with higher levels of forgivingness also have a greater tendency to use problem-focused coping and cognitive restructuring, and are less likely to use rumination, emotional expression and wishful thinking.”

In summary, forgiveness means making the decision to let something go instead of torturing yourself by over-thinking it and wishing life could be different.

Only the lonely? Five strategies to help tackle social isolation

Life is so short. Share your heart and spend time with people who count. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/StuartMiles)

Life is so short. Share your heart and spend time with people who count. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/StuartMiles)

Ever had that moment when you’re in a group of people you don’t particularly connect with, and you’ve never felt more alone? Find yourself retreating to your bedroom more and more, so you can avoid social situations and be on our own? Or just prefer your own company to other people’s?

These scenarios can happen to anyone. Yet while planning some ‘me’ time in your diary can help you build resilience and feel emotionally robust, it’s when these tendencies for ‘alone time’ overshadow the impetus to socialise that issues can emerge. Increasing feelings of isolation when surrounded by friends or acquaintances – or a bigger preference to be on your own, to the exclusion of other people – can lead to bigger problems down the line. Even health problems, according to a recent study. Loneliness can be a bigger killer than obesity or smoking 20 a day. And don’t believe that feelings of social isolation are just for the elderly, either.

Research from Brigham Young University highlights the health worries for people who are lonely or socially isolated – and that means anyone of any age, size, culture or disposition. The obvious but often seemingly unachievable antidote to loneliness is to reach out to to others. Lead study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad says: “We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.”

But how to reach out socially when you feel unable or unwilling to do so? Here are my five tips for starting to combat loneliness: (more…)

More emotional support needed for the 6 in 10 mothers suffering postnatal depression

59% of new mothers suffer the baby blues, but 75% don't seek support from their midwife (image courtesy of m_bartosch/freedigitalimages.net)

59% of new mothers suffer the baby blues, but 75% don’t seek support from their midwife (image courtesy of m_bartosch/freedigitalimages.net)

Midwives believe that the main focus of postnatal care should supporting the new mum emotionally, and yet 75% of mothers do not turn to their midwives for help with the baby blues.

A Royal College of Midwives (RCM) survey has found that 75% of midwives think ‘organisational pressures’ determine the number of postnatal visits, while 60% think that mums need emotional support as a priority.

The percentage of women feeling down or depressed after giving birth  is 59%, says the survey, and midwives find themselves having to “paper over the cracks in an underfunded adn under-resourced postnatal environment”, which is having a “detrimental effect on the health of women and children”.

A quarter of the women who completed the RCM survey, carried out in conjunction with parenting website Netmums, say the maternity team had not asked them if they were coping during postnatal visits. Yet 24% of student midwives say they are adequately trained to deal with postnatal mental health issues, and 29% say they don’t feel confident enough to recognise mental illness or emotional illness in women who have recently given birth. The report recommends a review of midwifery training to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to deal with these issues.

Sally Russell, co-founder of parenting website Netmums, says: “There is an urgent need for more support for new mums’ mental health. With over half the new mums in the UK suffering baby blues, we are in danger of letting vulnerable mothers slip through the net and suffer serious mental illness. Many women who are struggling often blame themselves for ‘not coping’, and so don’t necessarily know their midwife can help. As the RCM report shows, it’s vital we train more midwives to help vulnerable women at this crucial time. Every mum deserves to be treated with compassion and have the chance to talk about their mental health as well as their physical health.”

Postnatal depression can be an isolating and frightening experience for new mothers. If you feel you would like counselling support at this vulnerable time in your life, call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling@gmail.com for a confidential appointment.

Bickering parents affect their kids’ mental health

Unresolved arguments between parents can create insecurity in their kids. (pic courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/freedigitalphotos.net)

Unresolved arguments between parents can create insecurity in their kids. (pic courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/freedigitalphotos.net)

Parents who bicker in front of the kids, and fail to resolve their arguments, could affect their children’s mental and physical health, according to a report by relationship charity OnePlusOne.

The study looked at ‘destructive’ and ‘constructive’ conflicts and how they affected children. In destructive conflict, parents sulk, slam doors or make their kids the focus of the row. Constructive conflict is where parents resolve their differences during the argument.

Destructive conflict can have social, emotional and behavioural effect on kids. They might start to suffer psychosomatic pains such as stomachache and headache. The insecurity they feel can also affect their growth. Kids growing up in this way can be more likely to perpetuate these conflict behaviours when they become parents themselves. 

Report co-author Dr Catherine Houlston says: “If a child sees his or her parents in conflict then work things out, they understand it’s possible for difficult situations to be resolved, and they feel more secure.”

Turn Blue Monday into ‘Blooming Monday’

Mental health charity MHRUK is urging everyone to wear bright colours to combat Blue Monday.

Mental health charity MHRUK is urging everyone to wear bright colours to combat Blue Monday.

Today is meant to be the most depressing day of the year. Christmas festivities are well behind us, and it’s a while before the clocks go forward and we can enjoy some daylight on our journey to and from work. That’s why mental health charity Mental Health Research UK is urging us to change one thing about our appearance in a bid to brighten up the saddest day in the calendar.

It is calling on individuals and organisations to ‘ditch the grey on blooming Monday‘ and to pick bright colours from our wardrobes instead of our usual darker shades. Even if workplace dress codes insist on formal clothes, the charity says that people can brighten up their day with a colourful scarf, tie or even socks.

While this may sound lighthearted on a bleak day, the point of MHRUK’s campaign is serious: to combat the stigma of mental illness, raise funds to research into the causes of depression, and “develop better treatments to reduce the misery resulting from it”.

MHRUK found that 30% of workers leave home in the morning before sunrise and return home after sunset during the winter, putting them at risk of seasonal affective disorder.

Visit www.blooming-monday.com for ways to get involved in the campaign.