The last year has been very tough on all of us. The Covid-19 epidemic blasted itself into our lives and we have had to find new ways of coping. It has disrupted lives and livelihoods and changed the usual rules of social interaction, perhaps forever. Working from home changed from a helpful perk to a survival necessity. And all this occurred in a world economy that was not in the best of health.
Most of us have had to cope with many more downs and fewer ups. And this has had implications for our mental health and well-being. We have tended to put a brave face on things and we have shrugged off the situation. After all, so many other folks are in the same circumstances.
It’s important to take care of yourself and not succumb to nagging concerns and worries. Below are 10 practical ways to look after your mental health. They are not medical advice. They are simple, common sense support to help us stay on top of things.
1. Talk about your feelings
Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled. Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy. It takes concerns that are going round and round in your head and brings them into the open. Saying “I’m angry”, or “I’m anxious”, or “I am so worried” can help put distance between you and your issues. What’s more, it will encourage others to share their feelings as well.
2. Keep active
When we are wrestling with a problem we can become paralysed. We don’t know what to do or where to start. It is so overwhelming that we retreat into a corner, close up and avoid everybody. Exercise can boost your self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and feel better. Exercise gives you something to do. It puts you in control. Exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep and feel better.
3. Eat well
When under stress we either eat too much or skimp on good nutrition. Either one is not good for you and won’t solve your problems. Your brain needs a mix of nutrients in order to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body. A diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health. Eat at least three balanced meals each day and drink plenty of water. Try to limit the high-caffeine or sugary drinks you have, and avoid too much alcohol.
4. Drink sensibly
And talking about alcohol….. Alcohol is not a good way of enhancing mental health. Sometimes we drink to make ourselves more sociable, to escape problems, or just to get drunk. We may drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only temporary.
When the drink wears off, we feel worse because of the way alcohol has affected our brains and our bodies. Drinking is not a good way to manage difficult feelings. It can cause liver disease, heart disease as well as mental illness. Occasional light drinking is healthy and enjoyable for most people.
5. Keep in touch
When we are under stress, we often withdraw into ourselves. We avoid people. Before Covid, we could meet a friend in a coffee shop, but that’s not always convenient. Reach out to friends and family. Give them a call, send a text, or chat with them online. You will feel loved and valued. Make the first move: it’s good for you!
6. Ask for help
This is a tough one. There’s a voice in your head that says: “if I ask for help, I’m admitting I am weak.” If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help. Better to get help now, than buckle and break under the weight of your worries. Your family or friends may be able to offer practical help or a listening ear. When you ask for help be very clear and concise about what you need. Don’t apologise for asking for help. Make it a personal request, not a transactional arrangement. Asking for help is best-done face to face. Don’t leave it in the mail or a text. Just ask.
7. Take a break
Taking a break is like taking an impromptu holiday. It gives you special me-time. A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. Walk around your office building or home. Have a cup of coffee. Go and sit in the garden and listen to the birds. Or go away for a weekend. Go for an afternoon drive to nowhere in particular.
But. Taking that break is not going to work if you take your worries with you. Banish them from your mind. You have given them enough freedom. The break is for you – not for your worries.
8. Do something you’re good at
Now, this is a good one. What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? What did you love doing in the past? It could be fly fishing, pottery or a game of cards. You might knit a scarf as a gift for a friend or make a wooden toy in the garage. Play a musical instrument. Enjoying yourself can help beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy means you’re good at it. It clears your head, and achieving something boosts your self-esteem.
9. Accept who you are
There’s an old saying: comparisons are odious. We’re all different. And we are all unique. You have something very special to offer the world, so don’t beat yourself up because someone else has a better salary, more qualifications or better [what does ‘better’ mean anyway] looks. Accept that you are unique rather than wish you were more like someone else. Feeling good about yourself boosts your confidence to learn new skills, visit new places and make new friends. Good self-esteem helps you cope when life becomes difficult.
10. Care for others
This one may come across as a bit counter-intuitive. How can we take better care of ourselves, by taking care of others? It can be a friend, a relative or a neighbour. It can even be a pet. Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. Reaching out to help others adds value and meaning. It can bring you closer together. And in helping others, you will help yourself.
Take better care of yourself. Start today. You still have much to contribute.