• Caroline

World Mental Health Day 2020

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

* Updated on 21 November with more detailed information and suggestions. *

This week in class we talked about looking after ourselves as new mums - asking for help, going to bed early, not trying to do it all. One thing that I found hard when suffering from postnatal depression was the English attitude of "keep calm and carry on". Put a lid on your feelings. Smile and pretend that 'I'm fine, thank you'.

I honestly believe that so many of us would feel so much better if it were simply ok to not feel great all the time, to sometimes feel like sh*t, to ALLOW OURSELVES AND THINGS TO FALL APART once in a while.

On that note, here are the things that helped me feel better when I found life overwhelming. If you're struggling and need help right now, please phone the Samaritans on 116 123 (free and available 24 hours a day).

1. SPEAK TO A FRIEND: Getting too stuck in our heads is not a good thing so talk a good friend who will listen without judgement or advice. The feeling of being alone in the world – despite or maybe because of our global online interconnectedness – can worsen your mental state so think of one person who makes you feel good no matter what and speak to them.

2. EMBRACE NATURE: Head into the woods, your nearest park or go for a walk along the river. You will get much-needed daylight, vitamin D and fresh air as well as the grounding effect of trees which will help to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, reducing your stress levels and helping you gain perspective.

3. MOVE YOUR BODY: Our bodies were built to move and not sit in front of a desk all day long. So many postural issues and aches & pains can be solved by some daily movement. Little and often as opposed to a 2-hour half-marathon on the weekend will have a greater impact on your overall health and fitness. Get up and dance to your favourite song, go for a run, do some gardening or simply go for a lunch-time walk. Exercise releases feel-good hormones (endorphins) which can instantly lift your mood.

4. WRITE: Writing about what is worrying you during a set time period (set an alarm for eg 10 minutes) is a productive use of your time. Getting all those concerns out of your head (and body) and onto paper is incredibly cathartic and also allows you to gauge what you can do something about and what you can’t. (You can then choose to burn the paper afterwards which is also incredibly cathartic!)

5. DRAW OR PAINT: If you don't like to write, you can achieve the same result as writing by drawing or painting instead. Don’t worry about the end result but rather draw or paint anything that comes to mind and lose yourself in the process.

6. LISTEN TO MUSIC: Music has the power to change our mood. I use is all the time to instantly get into a certain mind set depending on what task lies ahead. If you play an instrument, lose yourself in it and allow whatever is going on for you to surface.

7. SPEND TIME WITH ANIMALS: Whether you have your own pet or 'borrow my doggy', animals allow us to be present in the moment and their zest for life is often infectious. This will also release the feel-good hormone oxytocin which will boost your mood with minimal effort.

8. VOLUNTEER: Helping others can give perspective on our own situation and thinking about someone else for a couple of hours also makes us feel good about ourselves. There is a great culture of volunteering in England and lots of smaller charities and causes that need your skills and time.

9. MEDITATE: Meditating when you’re feeling low is tough. Sitting with uncomfortable emotions will make us feel them more acutely. But that is the whole point of meditation; to allow whatever surfaces to surface without reacting to it. By breathing deeply throughout, we are processing what is going on so that we feel stiller and calmer in order to then deal with the challenges that lie ahead. If you find it hard to meditate regularly, I would set aside a time (eg first thing in the morning or last thing at night) as that will be easier to stick with and have a greater positive impact on your life – personal as well as professional.

10. TAKE UP YOGA OR PILATES: Both practices use deep breathing which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, or ‘rest and digest’ as it’s also known. This will help to lower your stress levels, reduce your blood pressure and strengthen your immune system. Many of us love the adrenaline rush that faster exercise or online gaming provides but if we are always in the sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’), the body and mind never get a chance to rest and re-build so that it comes back stronger and more resilient.

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