Are you struggling with depression? Having trouble coping with stress? Dealing with anxiety issues? You’re not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on mental health issues like never before. The uncertainty of the last year and a half and the ongoing changes in our day to day lives have caused many of us to experience varying degrees of stress, depression and anxiety. We’re not just in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic, we’re in the middle of a mental health crisis too.
This week is Mental Health Awareness week and with that in mind, we’re going to share some top tips for prioritising self-care and putting your own needs first. Self-care is an important part of your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. If we’re not healthy in body, mind and spirit, then we’re not going to be of much use to anyone, let alone ourselves. Practicing good self-care techniques will keep you grounded and help you to deal with whatever life decides to throw at you. Self-care is not selfish, it’s self-preservation.
Healthy Work/Life Balance
Many of us struggle with maintaining a good work/life balance, especially during the last 18 months. Office workers found themselves banished to their spare rooms, kitchen worktops and bedrooms as we struggled to adapt to temporarily working from home. It’s become so easy to work through our lunchbreaks and past our working hours as we try to keep up with emails, video-calls and multiple projects.
As a consequence, our home life suffers as we spend less time with our family and friends, not to mention the lack of ‘down-time’ plays havoc with our stress levels and sleep patterns. We have to learn to switch-off. Sure, there might be the odd day where we have to miss a lunch break or work an extra hour in the evening to hit a deadline but it should not be the norm.
Maintaining a good work/life balance has to start with you. Recognise your patterns of behaviour and change them. Take your lunch break every day and aim to finish on time every day. We know that’s not always possible but make it your aim and try to establish it as the ‘norm’. Once your working hours are up, then it’s time to switch-off and re-engage with your home, family and life.
No matter the importance of your career or job, there should be no cause for you to put your whole life on hold to please your boss or your company. At the end of the day, everyone is replaceable. What will checking your emails at 10pm really achieve? They’ll still be there tomorrow. Is there even anyone still around to answer them?
Take Regular Breaks
It’s easy to get so engrossed in what you are doing, that you forget to step away and take a break when you need it. Whether it be dealing with work tasks or doing chores around the house, it’s always important to take ten minutes away, to rest and relax. Otherwise, you could end up burning yourself out and be useless for the rest of the day.
Learn to recognise when to walk away. If you regularly suffer from stress, make sure that you are taking breaks throughout the day to rest and refocus your mind. Use the time to calm down and switch off from whatever it is that has got you stressed out, worried or annoyed. Find a quiet spot, do something you enjoy and just take your mind off it.
Are you a relentlessly helpful person? Are you a hard-wired ‘people pleaser’? Does the idea of telling someone ‘no’ feel like an alien concept to you? I’m right there with you! If I had known 20 odd years ago that it’s okay to say ‘no’ to things, I probably would have saved myself a lot of late nights, stressful deadlines and a great deal of anxiety too!
If you have a lot on your plate and a team member or your boss asks you to help them with something that you know is going to eat into your time, it’s okay to say ‘no’. Just explain to them that you can’t fit it in but if you have the time you might be able to get to it tomorrow or whenever you’re next free. Similarly, if you’ve had a hard week at work and just want to have a quiet weekend relaxing, you can tell your friends and family ‘no’ if they’re trying to get you to do something with them.
Saying ‘no’ is not a bad thing if done in the right way. You’re not being rude, you’re just establishing healthy boundaries so that you can look after yourself. What’s the point of putting added pressure, stress and work on yourself if you’re already overloaded? There isn’t one.
Ultimately, your work colleagues want you to be an effective team player and your friends and family should want you to be happy and healthy. By saying ‘no’, you’re letting them know that you’re in control of your workload and self care regime. You’re also letting them know that you’re not a pushover and that your happiness matters.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that is regularly prescribed for those who are dealing with stress, anxiety, depression and panic attacks. The idea is to find a quiet spot, sit silently and ground yourself in the present by paying attention to thoughts, sounds, your breathing and the world around you. If your mind starts to wonder, you bring your attention back to whatever you are focusing on.
Having practiced some mindfulness myself, I can say that it is very calming. I find that it’s most useful for me first thing in the morning. I take my coffee outside to my back garden and watch the birds or close my eyes and feel the breeze on my face. It’s an important start to my day as it puts me in a good mood and makes me feel like anything is possible.
Mindfulness can be an important tool in your self-care arsenal as it helps to relieve stress and alleviate feelings of panic. As those of you who have the ‘Calm’ app on your phone may know, ‘A ten-minute meditation is the 1% of your day that uplifts the other 99%’. Try to fit 10 minutes of mindfulness into your day or use it whenever you feel your stress levels rising. You’ll be amazed at the results.
Write it Down
When you’re suffering from depression, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with feelings of sadness and thoughts that you’re not good enough. It can also be hard to talk about the way you are feeling with other people. For some of us, admitting to a mental health issue still feels taboo and can make us feel like it’s something to be ashamed of or something that we’ve failed at in life. It’s not, but we still can’t help how we feel.
If you’re struggling with your emotions and don’t feel able to talk to someone then try writing it down instead. The act of putting pen to paper and writing out the feelings and thoughts that are weighing you down really can be beneficial for your health. Just getting it on paper and out of your head will help to lift some of the weight from your shoulders. It could also be easier for you to show someone what you’ve written rather than having to say the words outloud.
Asking for help when you’re struggling can be very difficult so please use whatever form of communication you can to get your thoughts out of your head and try to share them with someone else if you can. Above all, if nothing seems to be working for you then please, please contact your GP and get some help. You have nothing to be ashamed of and they will help you to get the treatment and support you need.
Spend Time With Supporters
There’s nothing worse than feeling bad about yourself and having all of your faults highlighted or picked upon by a friend or family member. Like it or not, nearly everyone has someone in their lives that makes them feel as though, whatever they do, it’s just not good enough. Why do they do it? Is it to make themselves feel better about their own failures? Is it general nastiness? Or is it just a complete lack of empathy or self-awareness? Who knows?
The important thing is that YOU DON’T HAVE TO SPEND TIME WITH THEM. If you’re in a place where you’re already struggling with your mental health, I would strongly recommend that you avoid the negative people in your life at all costs. I know this is difficult if it’s a family member but ultimately, they’re probably not going to change and you don’t need to be made to feel bad about yourself. If you can’t ditch these negative nellies then avoid them as much as possible until you feel strong enough to deal with them.
Instead, try to surround yourself with supporters – the friends and family who believe in you, care about you and cheer you on at all costs. These are the people in your life that will always make you feel good about yourself. Cherish them and believe them – you are important and you do matter! The more time you spend with these people, the better for you, your confidence, your self-worth and your mental health.
We all have the odd, hectic week where we just can’t get our shit together when it comes to meal times. I recently had a week where I just couldn’t seem to sort out lunch or dinner despite the fact that I had food in the house. I forgot to defrost meals in time to cook them in the evening. I didn’t notice that we’d run out of bread until I went to make a sandwich. I had to work late so I didn’t have time to nip to the shops and get the essentials. Instead, we lived on takeaway for three days straight – lunch and dinner.
By the end of the week, I felt yucky, bloated and tired. I had cravings for salad and broccoli and spinach and I was drinking water by the pint to try and cope with all the salt in my body. Consequently, I am NEVER doing that again! Eating unhealthy even for 3 days made me feel awful.
Eating healthily on the other hand, always makes me feel good. It’s not that smug sense of ‘I’m so healthy’ either. When I get enough vegetables and fruits throughout the day, my mood improves, I’m able to focus more easily and I feel like I have more energy. Eating a proper, balanced diet with the right nutrients and vitamins is vital for our wellbeing and our mental health. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still enjoy the odd takeaway but healthy eating is the goal from now on.
At ‘So Just Be’, we seem to bang on about the importance of exercise in every blog we write. That’s only because it’s true and we care! Getting enough exercise is vital for both your mental and physical wellbeing. Regular exercise promotes the release of endorphins in the brain, making you feel happier and more relaxed.
Gentle exercise also helps with physical problems such as neck problems, shoulder pain, back pain and poor posture. We’ve all spent the last year or so regularly locked up in our houses and glued to our laptops. Just doing some gentle exercise and stretching can help you to get back into shape and feel happy and less stressed. Try it!
The most important element of self-care is making sure that you treat yourself at least once per week. We don’t mean that you should go mad and book a spa day every weekend or buy expensive bits for yourself all the time. We mean taking some time out for yourself to relax and enjoy doing something that makes you smile.
Have a pamper session with a bubble bath and your favourite products. Paint your nails. Indulge in that hobby that you love but never seem to have time for. Read a book in your favourite armchair. Watch your favourite movie and chill out on the sofa with a glass of wine and a bowl of popcorn.
Whatever it is that makes you feel happy and relaxed, make sure that you let yourself spend time actually doing it at least once per week. Life shouldn’t be all work and no play. It’s not healthy to just keep giving and giving of yourself without taking some time out to replenish your energy and do what makes you happy. All work doesn’t make Jack a dull boy, it makes him an exhausted, frazzled, stressed-out mess in need of some serious down-time.
We hope that this article has helped you to identify some areas in your life where you can make some positive changes to improve your mental health, stress levels and general wellbeing. Remember, self-care is not selfish. It’s necessary, important and it just might save your life. Look after yourself, prioritise your needs and love yourself first.