The Mental Health Toolkit
Mental wellbeing is something that needs taking care of on an ongoing basis. It is possible therefore to create a mental health toolbox, incorporating as many as possible of the methods described here that are proven to support mental wellbeing. By taking a positive attitude towards maintaining mental wellbeing it can help prevent the likelihood of becoming overwhelmed. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercise, good sleep habits, having meaningful social interaction, working towards realistic and achievable goals, undertaking meditative and embodied practices, such as mindfulness and yoga, are all ways in which support and help individuals to become, and stay, the healthiest version of themselves, both physically and mentally.
Looking After Mental Health Day to Day - We Have the Power
While the ways in which we choose to look after ourselves differ, and we all enjoy different things. The first thing to remember is the influence that we have, the power that we have, over our own mental wellbeing when we approach it with a positive mindset. This doesn't mean only focusing on positive thoughts and attempting to root out any kind of negative emotion or thinking from our lives — not at all. It is important not to resist negative emotions because all emotions are healthy in moderation, and, in many situations, negative emotions can be extremely helpful in guiding us away from things that aren't right for us or that could harm us. It can be helpful to frame emotion and cognition as our internal system trying to keep us safe and guide us. The point is, as the comedian Jim Carrey says,
'...Depression is legitimate….’
Also, if you don't exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep, consume positive material, surround yourself with support, then you aren't giving yourself a fighting chance.' Without support, it can be incredibly hard, or impossible, to muster the momentum to take on all of these lifestyle adaptations, while feeling depressed or anxious, but this course is also here to help you to find preventative measures, to keep yourself well. Staying mentally well requires commitment, time and repetition. Just like anything else, you don't become a master at it overnight, and consistency is far more effective than sporadic intensity. Of course, wellbeing practices don't ward off difficult life circumstances beyond our control, but they do help support our wellbeing, to the extent that when something challenging happens, we will be much more likely to be able to handle it and remain mentally and physically healthy.
Mindset and Self-awareness
Most of us take our thinking patterns for granted, or, if they serve us well, don't particularly notice them. However, when negative thinking becomes a problem, we can find ourselves very distressed by our thoughts. This is because the brain can't really distinguish thought from reality — in many ways, what we think is our reality. This is why the mindset is so powerful. Mindset includes your beliefs about yourself, life, the world and other people, as well as your attitude to daily wellness. The best way in which to begin working on your mindset is to become self-aware as to what your existing patterns of thought may be, and where they may be preventing you from accessing a higher level of wellbeing. This is a very simple practice, which costs nothing, yet it can bring huge rewards. It simply requires patience, open-mindedness and a non-judgemental quality, as you discover your inner patterns. For example - If you find yourself reflecting about improving your diet and thinking, 'Oh, but I can't cook' or 'I don't know how to serve more vegetables' or 'I couldn't live without Coca-Cola,' the practice of self-awareness is to notice this, and then consider what might be a healthier mindset to cultivate around these specific ideas. This is often what is meant when people talk about 'self-talk': the way in which we internally talk to ourselves about things. It is completely possible to alter your self-talk, and when we do, the differences can be profound. It can also be helpful to imagine yourself as another person or as a friend. Would you say to that other person or friend the things you say to yourself? Most of us experiencing negative thinking wouldn't dream of it. Yet, if you were to talk to that friend in that way, how would you expect them to feel? This reflective self-awareness mindset practice can help us to foster greater compassion towards ourselves, which, for many people, is one of the absolute foundations in establishing better mental health.
While this is not a nutrition for mental health web site, there is a huge amount of evidence supporting the central role of nutrition in our total health, both physical and mental. There is no definite separation between physical and mental health because your brain is part of your body! If you're not nourishing your body with good nutrition, neither are you properly feeding your brain. Diets high in saturated or trans fats, salts, sugars and calorie-high, but nutrient-poor, foods, such as fast food, are associated with all manner of health problems. The most commonly reported are obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, but the elephant in the room is very often mental illness. Having a physical illness is also a burden mentally, and this is something that is often overlooked. Put simply, to be a healthy, balanced human being, it is vital to eat a healthy, balanced diet.Without this central nutritional support, you simply can't be the healthiest version of you.Diets rich in whole, unprocessed foods, with a high vegetable content and limited consumption of animal products and a wide variety of fresh ingredients across all the food groups (protein, carbohydrate, fats, fibre) are proven to support better vascular, digestive, metabolic, cognitive, emotional, endocrine (hormonal), reproductive and musculoskeletal health. It is also vitally important to stay well-hydrated and to limit or cut your intake of alcohol, stimulants, such as caffeine, and any other substances upon which you may feel that you have some kind of dependency.
A lot of work within the sector is not physically demanding, very often, work activities can be repetitive and limited in their scope of movement. This makes doing regular, balanced exercise a high priority. The body stays healthiest when we do varied exercise, which uses all of our muscles and joints, but also takes different forms: combining aerobic (cardio) exercise with strength and mobility exercises is the best approach. It is recommended that you look at the NHS website, for ideas and inspiration. The key thing to remember is that exercise releases endorphins, which are powerful mood-lifting hormones and which can have a hugely beneficial effect on our mental health when we experience their release daily or at least multiple times per week through exercising. Human beings did not evolve to sit still or to only perform repetitive, static actions, but even small changes can create massive improvements to our wellbeing. Exercising for only 30 minutes per day can help people to make huge transformations in their health and in the way they feel, both physically and mentally.
Getting enough sleep is instrumental for good physical and mental wellbeing. Sleep is a powerful restorative process for the human body, which helps our cells to repair themselves, but it is also vital to our memory and healthy cognitive processing. It is recommended that we get 6-9 hours of sleep per night, and, as much as possible, that we stick to a routine, preferably within the natural circadian rhythm of being awake during daylight hours and asleep during the night. Winding down before sleeping is a very effective way in which to ensure a higher quality of sleep and to relax, which can be very beneficial when dealing with anxiety and stress. Doing gentle stretches before bed can help to relieve residual muscle tension, which also helps bring about deeper sleep. If you have trouble drifting off, listening to a meditation or relaxation recording can help. For more advice on improving your sleep, visit NHS online resources.
Set Wellbeing Goals
Feeling a sense of empowerment is greatly helped by having realistic goals that you can work towards and then achieve. Make sure that the goals that you set are 'SMART': specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound, and get creative. If goals are not realistic or achievable — or take so long to realise that you lose focus — then the experience of goal setting can become counterproductive and lead to feelings of demoralisation and despair because they will not seem achievable or be achievable. Create a bite-size approach towards working on each of these areas of wellbeing, and don't expect to suddenly be able to overhaul your whole life in one go. Perhaps start with exercise and aim to go for three 30-minute walks per week, or start with diet, and aim to include at least your five-a-day every day. Achievable, workable goal setting is a fantastic way in which to gain a sense of control around your wellbeing and also to ensure that you are fostering habits and practices that will build you up and nourish you, rather than drain and deplete you. It can also be incredibly helpful to draw up a Wellbeing Action Plan at work, and this may be something that you could suggest if there is not already provision for this. This is a way in which to become more conscious about the things that help you, and others, take care of mental health and begins with noting down the things that you notice help to keep you feeling well and balanced. From this list of your personal resources you can then deliberately work these experiences into your weekly routine, to help ensure that you can maintain your mental and physical wellbeing. For example - Going for walks, eating well, having relaxing baths and spending time with friends, family or pets.
As humans, we are social creatures, and we thrive on authentic connection with others. If this is missing in your life, ask yourself where you might be able to find it. Do you have particular interests or enthusiasm for a hobby or pursuit? Connecting over a shared pastime or interest is a great way in which to build relationships and bonds with people. Having strong bonds in your life, in general, can provide a healthy backbone for carrying this forward into the workplace because it not only encourages positive interactions but helps build a sense of perspective, relieving some of the social pressures felt when the only people with whom you interact or see week to week are your workmates. The biggest pressure on mental well-being over the last 18 months has been working from home. More and more studies are starting to be produced now that tell us what we already know. We need to be with people, around people and communicating with people, may be not as often as before, but certainly not as little as we have had to do.
Mindfulness Practices, Meditation and Yoga
These practices can be grouped as 'embodied' practices — practices that bring your awareness directly into the present experience of your mind and body, just as they are. If you are in the midst of intense depression or anxiety, these practices may feel a little uncomfortable to begin with, but they are also proven to help people overcome these mental health problems. Mindfulness is a type of meditation, and, essentially, it is the practice of observing your experiences, as they are happening, instead of simply behaving, thinking and feeling on 'autopilot'. Many people find that bringing mindfulness into their life affords them a window of greater inner autonomy and can help them to regulate their reactivity to triggering situations and to quite naturally learn how to manage their mental and emotional wellbeing. Other forms of meditation, such as focusing on your breath or a particular object, while allowing thoughts and sensations to arise, are proven to be of a significant therapeutic mental health benefit. Yoga comes from a similar traditional lineage and helps you to integrate your awareness of mind and body. Many people find yoga practice relaxing and calming, and the emphasis on deep, conscious breathing in yoga practice also literally soothes the nervous system, helping to diminish the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety, while also improving strength, flexibility and bone density.
Conversation can be such a powerful resource. People so often overlook this or forget it, but simply chatting through your experience with another person or a group can not only be immensely freeing for you, but it also frees and empowers others to share their true feelings and experiences. This fosters closer relationships and a greater sense of belonging and helps to dissolve feelings of loneliness and separation. It doesn't matter who you talk to, either — the very core experience of relating to another person provides a deeply therapeutic benefit.