It’s so easy to be ignorant about things we haven’t personally experienced.
This isn’t necessarily on purpose or being narrow-minded, but learning more hasn’t been vital to some. To others, developing coping strategies has been key to survival.
There is a reason for the saying “ignorance is bliss.”
Not everyone has experienced a diagnosable mental health problem, however I am 100% positive that everyone’s mental health has fluctuated; sliding up and down the mental health continuum depending on individual circumstances and events.
The problem is societies urge to jump to labelling mental health a lot quicker than they would physical health which, as we know, leads to ongoing stigma and avoidable shame.
Mental health is being talked about more than ever, with celebrities opening up, and other platforms sharing inspirational stories far and wide; but we continue to focus on getting help when we’re feeling helpless. We often wait for the extreme struggle before reaching out, in an attempt to avoid the derogatory labels for as long as possible.
What if we altered this pattern?
What if we focused on prevention, and recognising changes immediately to avoid long periods of mental ill-health?
Imagine you were worried about your skin.
You’d be gentle with it, avoid added trauma, and maybe even look in your medication cupboard for some soothing cream for comfort. If it didn’t heal, you could head to the pharmacy for advice.
Still painful? Maybe it’s time to work with your GP and/or specialist professionals to get to the bottom of this.
Now, imagine this was your mental health. Self care is the cream, the first solution. Some people even use creams for preventative measures, to maintain a healthy glow.
“But I don’t need to practice self-care. My mental health has always been fine.”
To this, I’d argue that it is important for everyone to look after their mental health.
The brain is an organ just like every other, and although hardy, its kryptonite is stress.
Work, family, traumas, bereavements, moving home, and marriage—everything you can think of, both positive & negative—can bring a significant amount of stress. This means that we are all vulnerable to the impact this can have on our brains and mental health.
Making time for self-care can help us to manage stress & other troublesome emotions.
It’s so easy to excuse ourselves of activity when the weather is miserable or we are running low on motivation, but it’s vital to get those endorphins flowing.
Whether your movement is working an active job, going for a walk, tidying the house, doing yoga or going extreme with a HITT workout—make plans and stick to them.
I promise you’ll feel better afterwards.
Take a break & set boundaries.
With socialising comes pleasure and enjoyment, which has got to be good for our mental health. However, sometimes we can be so focused on not isolating ourselves that we burn ourselves out.
It’s okay sometimes to take a break. In fact, it’s more than okay, it’s necessary.
Set boundaries for yourself. If you really don’t want to do something, and feel it would actually do more harm than good, say no.
This can be tough at first for people pleasers, but you never need to feel guilty for putting boundaries in place. It’s empowering.
Surround yourself with people who inspire you.
When you do choose to socialise, choose to be around people who accept you for who you are, and encourage you to reach your goals; preferably whilst doing things that you enjoy.
I read that we are the product of the five people we spend the most time with. If this is the case, we definitely need to think about this wisely.
Monitor your alcohol use.
For my sober friends, this won’t be an issue. Everyone else, I’m sorry to sound like a bore.
I’m not saying quit drinking entirely, but make sure you’re not doing this to self-medicate.
I personally find it helpful to check in with my own emotions before consuming alcohol. If I’m unsure, I don’t drink. If I’m feeling fine, I have a couple and keep checking in throughout the night.
Alcohol is a depressant, and can often leave us with long-term anxieties for short-term fun.
Share your mental health journey.
This is the one we’re always told: talk to people.
I truly believe a problem shared is a problem halved. But also understand how crippling the lead up to this can be; wondering what they’ll think, hoping they don’t over-react, understanding they’re going to be upset.
If there is someone you can trust, I’d always encourage you to be transparent with them, whether this is a subtle change you’ve noticed or an ongoing mental health battle. If you find it easier, each country has confidential, anonymous helplines you can seek advice from.
Remember, sharing isn’t only in relation to struggles. Our positive mental health can be maintained by chatting to our friends about what we’re grateful for, how we managed a difficult time well or general daily conversations with people we love. I find journaling perfect for this, and will often word-vomit on to a page for my eyes only.
You may be used to self-care in this manner without even realising it, but being mindful to maintain this and use self-care purposefully will build up your emotional resilience further.
If this all sounds unusual to you, there is no better time to get started. Self-care allows us to protect our mental health and deal with whatever life throws at us.
Mental health is on a spectrum; we can’t completely avoid it, but we can care for it and practice prevention.