In early December 2021 I was hospitalized for mental health concerns, as well as later physical health concerns. No one saw it coming, least of all me. I signed off work for two weeks and suddenly five months, including a three-month inpatient hospital stay, had passed. All this was triggered by just one event because I had been neglecting my mental wellbeing for some time.
I'm sharing this very personal information to break down some of the stigma and help those who might be struggling as I was.
My top tips for mental wellbeing
You don't need to wait to be mentally unwell to practice self-care. Mental health requires maintenance just like physical health and this is important as a preventative measure. Some key elements of physical and mental health are making sure you:
- Eat a balanced diet
- Drink enough water
- Get enough sleep
- Get regular exercise
A supportive workplace is a godsend! Withers has been really supportive to me during this time, so if you're in need of help, try to reach out to someone who can help either at work or via community based support services.
You can learn some skills to help you feel and regulate your emotions. For high levels of stress or distress TIPP is the most helpful skill I've found. This acronym stands for 'Temperature change, Intense exercise, Paced breathing and Paired muscle relaxation'. So if you are feeling stressed/anxious then here are some tips:
- If you are feeling hot, try drinking a glass of cold water quickly
- If you are feeling fidgety try a brisk walk
- If you are out of breath, try taking a few breaths extending the out-breath as much as you can
- If you are get very tense muscles, try taking a deep breath in, tensing all your muscles and holding your breath then saying the word 'relax' in your head as you untense all the muscles and breathe out
Hobbies are fundamentally important to wellbeing and need to be prioritized. Try doing just one hobby for an hour (our minds don't actually like multitasking). Examples of mindful hobbies are art, music, yoga and walking in nature. Try to flood your senses with the activity, for example on a walk in nature focus on what you can see, the feel of the sun (or wind or rain), the sound of birds singing or traffic passing, anything you can smell or taste, too.
Rest is a valid activity, not laziness. Rest isn't just sleep, which is fundamental for wellbeing, but also periods of time during waking hours spent doing less. Try making 'down time' part of your routine.
Some experiences change your body's response to everyday things and that's 'normal'. The amygdala (a key part of our brains) acts as a fire alarm for danger. In some people the fire alarm starts going off for burned toast. With time this can be healed through mindfulness and reminding your body that you are safe.
Vagal tone is important for health. The vagus nerve is the largest in the body and supplies all the major organs. You can tone this nerve by taking cold showers, doing breathing exercises and practicing yoga. This helps the 'bottom up' healing process to begin – your body tells your mind you're safe rather than you trying to think through a difficult situation. Over time, these activities can also increase your tolerance of stress.
You can answer 'how are you?' honestly. Friends, family and even colleagues would probably rather you tell them if you're having a bad day so they can help (or at least stay clear of your bad mood!). We habitually say we are fine, even when we aren't, effectively gaslighting ourselves. The only outcome of this is your body screams 'I'm not fine' at you until you listen. Acknowledging everything is not okay is the first step to get help.
I hope this helps. I am now much more mentally well than I have realistically ever been, even if some emotions and experiences are a bit raw from being exposed by this experience. My mental health recovery journey is the hardest thing I've ever had to do, but also the most worthwhile.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.