A few months ago I wrote a blog post about changing my relationship with food and starting to take a healthier approach to my life. The post focused on the physical aspects of health, in particular eating the right foods and treating my body properly.
Today I want to look at taking a healthier approach to the mental aspect of my life, paying particular attention to ways I can look after my mind.
Frequent readers will know that I have the tendency to get a teeny bit anxious from time to time and last year things got pretty bad. I won’t dwell on the past, but it’s safe to say that I reached a point where I knew things weren’t too good and I wanted to take more control over my mental health – not too dissimilar to the epiphany I had just before I wrote about my physical health. It’s my belief that in order for us (okay, me… and maybe you) to make a change and take action, something bad has to happen. You know what they say, things get worse before they get better.
When it came to changing my approach to caring for my mental health, my initial steps weren’t too dissimilar to those in my physical health plan. I still had to define the plan and find the motivation to make changes.
Please let me make it clear that this post isn’t really about coping with mental health problems. I have no medical training whatsoever and, whilst I do on occasion talk about my own experiences with anxiety and provide tips on coping strategies, this is less about mental health problems and more about a change in general mentality towards life.
1. Define the plan
In order to start doing things the right way, you need to know what’s wrong. It’s important to identify what’s not working before you can see how things could be better. For example, are you stressed? If so, what stresses you? Do you have terrible Sunday night blues? Or post Christmas lulls? Do you have a quick temper or get pissed off easily? Whatever your ‘weakness’, look for patterns in your behaviour to identify how and where things become difficult.
2. Find the motivation
Once you’ve identified what causes stress/anger/anxiety etc, it’s good to think about the knock on effect that it has on the bigger picture. For example, an easy example is: I get stressed at work, I come home pissed off, the house is a mess and I am too sore to tidy it and so I become frustrated. From there it’s one small step to a crappy evening and an early night before my day is over and it starts all over again tomorrow.
My motivation for taking a more proactive and healthy approach to my life was that I didn’t want a bad day or a bad moment to impact on the bigger part of my life. I used to have that horrible habit of thinking of one bad thing in my life then adding six more to the list and deciding the whole world was falling apart, when in actual fact I was just out of milk. That needed to change.
It’s so unbelievably important to recognise the link between your physical and mental health. As a fibromyalgia sufferer I know this only too well, and yet I still find it difficult to drag myself out of the house. Swimming is brilliant for fibro, it’s gentle on your body and the water helps to soothe your aches as well as relax your mind. Getting fresh air is important as well, and a gentle walk in the countryside does wonders for your body and your mind.
4. Spot the signs
When you know you’re starting to struggle, it’s time to be proactive and do something about it. We all have moments where we can feel a slight change inside, even if it’s not reflected in our conversation or behaviour, and that slight change is the most crucial of moments.
For me, I start to get that nausea in the pit of my stomach and a slight nervousness at the thought of leaving the house. That’s when I know I absolutely have to leave the house and make sure anxiety doesn’t grab hold of me, because once it starts to dig its claws in, getting away from it is so so much harder. Take some time to relax, to talk to people, to write down your thoughts, and practically improve the thoughts inside your head.
5. Surround yourself with the good people
This, for me, is one of the most important things about being mentally strong. Unlike your physical health – where you can go it alone and do pretty well – you need a bit of support when it comes to your mental stability. There are so many people in our lives that cause us stress or take us to a deep, dark place, and this is the time to leave those people alone and surround yourself with the people that bring good, healthy, happy thoughts in to your life.
6. Create structure
I always thought that my mental health was one of those things that I would proactively ‘do’ something about when things were bad, but a wise man once told me it made far more sense to look after the health of my body and mind continually, therefore decreasing the chances that things would become bad. Kinda stating the obvious, I know, and he wasn’t wrong.
Creating structure can be difficult. Meditation, Pilates and yoga are all popular ways of finding inner calm and once you find the class that works for you, the results can be incredible. I’m still looking for that perfect class (South Londoners – let me know if you have any recommendations!) so in the mean time I’m creating structure through 365 Days of Mindfulness by Yvette Jane.
This pocket-sized book gives a different task or thought each day of the year, forcing you to focus on something specific or something new every day. Today’s task is: Do less, do it more slowly, more fully and with more concentration.
Over the rest of 2015, I’ll be sharing some of Yvette Jane’s mindfulness tips on the blog. I’ll talk you through the one’s that really make a difference – along with photos and my own thoughts in the hope you benefit from them too. And, if you really like them, you can go and buy the book!
Let me know if you have any tips for keeping your mind happy and healthy. Imagine what perfect beings we would be if we managed to sustain this attitude for a healthy mind and this approach to a healthy body! Wish me luck.