Mental Health at Christmas: More information
Self-care 1: food
How are you eating? Do a food diary for the last few days – is it mostly junk food? How can you improve what you are eating today?
Eating well improves your mental health and helps you concentrate.
Self-care 2: hydration
Are you drinking enough water (or suitable alternatives) - keeping hydrated can improve your concentration and mood, and stop you eating when you are not hungry just bored.
Self-care 3: exercise
Exercise is a vital part of maintaining your mental health, what have you done today that has raised your heart rate? Even if you don’t feel like doing it, if you can manage to do something physical you should notice that you feel better.
Can you list some activities that you can do even when you are in lockdown?
Self-care 4: social contact
It is really hard not to see your friends – can you arrange a group chat on zoom or speak face to face on WhatsApp rather than messaging? Maybe organise a virtual music festival, taking turns to DJ. If you just text message then you can spend too much time reading into what is being written, it is more beneficial to actually see them face to face.
Self-care 5: sleep
How are you sleeping? In these times of raised anxiety, it can be hard to settle at bedtime. Poor sleep has a negative impact on your mood and ability to function the next day.
Do you need to readjust your sleeping routine to get a better night’s sleep? It’s really hard when you are anxious, but try some relaxation activities before bed, maybe a bath or shower, some gentle exercises, even meditation. There are plenty of apps that have soothing sounds you can play when you are trying to sleep. (Headspace/Calm etc)
Overthinking? How to reduce the worry cycle
Do you find that you are spending time in a cycle of worrying thoughts that leave you exhausted, anxious or even angry? It can be hard to break the cycle but the first thing to do is to acknowledge to yourself that you are in that process, this in itself is enough to start you stepping back from the process. (Oh look, I’m doing that thing again when I overthink things).
The next step is to distract yourself from the thoughts – music, exercise, meditation, messaging friends, art, for example.
Mindfulness to reduce anxiety
You may have heard of mindfulness, but it is not all about doing long hippy meditations (although there’s nothing wrong with doing them if you like it and you have the time!)
Being mindful is really just about bringing yourself into the present rather than being lost in a negative thought pattern. You can use all your senses to help you try different ways.
If you are in bed, spend a minute listening to all the sounds you can hear ( this can work outdoors during the day too). Or during the day, take a minute to look around and notice what is around you, look at the detail of the pattern on the wallpaper, a photograph, the landscape etc.
Tell yourself a story about what you can see – I wonder who built that wall? Where were they from? Did they have a family? Did they get paid, how long ago was it, how was life different then?
Low mood: how are you feeling?
Learning to check in with your emotions and acknowledge and respond to your them is an important skill. We can spend our days so busy or lost in technology that we can be unaware of how we are feeling. Are you happy? Sad? Bored.
Look at Plutchik’s wheel to help describe your mood. There is no right or wrong way to feel, ‘it is what it is’, but if your mood is low, think about what things you can do to help you feel better – sometimes even a shower, doing your hair, putting on your favourite top can help.
Comfortable v uncomfortable emotions
We are sometimes told that feeling sad or angry is wrong, but we are humans with a full range of emotions and to deny the uncomfortable feelings is to deny part of ourselves. This can cause all number of problems. Today I am angry. That’s just how it is, it will pass. I might go and kick a football around or play some loud music to help it pass quicker.
It is easy to be kind to your friends or family, to do things for them, try to make them feel better. It is much harder to do it for ourselves. Have a think about how you might do something nice for yourself today – what might you do? Do one nice thing for yourself today.
Self-criticism: stopping the self-bully
We all have an inner voice, but for some of us the voice is harsh, negative and constantly critical. No wonder a lot of people suffer with poor self-esteem, when no matter what anyone else says our inner voice is the worst bully of all. Try and notice some of the critical things you say to yourself. Maybe even write them down.
Then take time to answer these criticisms as if you were talking to your best friend. It won’t be easy but the more you do it the easier it will be.
The happy place
Mentally paint yourself a happy place to visit when you are feeling low.
Spend a while remembering a time when you were happy. Try and visualise the whole scene, where was it, who were you with, what time of day was it? Thinks about the sounds you could hear. What could you smell? How did it feel? Was the sand warm beneath your feet? Was the sun warm on your face?
Notice how you feel as you are remembering. Try and revisit this place as often as you need.
Understanding anxiety and responding to the physical symptoms
What do you notice when you are feeling anxious? Does your heart rate increase? Do you grow hot or cold? Does your chest tighten? Do you become cross or snappy? Anxiety is a response to some kind of threat – maybe an obvious one like being attacked, or maybe less obvious like speaking in public, or currently the Corona Virus. Our bodies produce adrenalin and cortisol in response to this, so that we can fight it, run away from it, or play dead so it will leave us alone. The physical responses above are caused by this surge of adrenalin and cortisol.
To feel better we need to learn to soothe ourselves to reduce the production of adrenalin and cortisol and let the symptoms diminish. Breathing exercises, painting, baking, chatting to friends, brushing your hair, listening to music… experiment and find what works for you. Then next time you notice the symptoms, you will be able to manage better.
Other useful contacts
- studentsagainstdepression.org - resources to move away from depression
- youngminds.org.uk - mental health info and guidance
- youthaccess.org.uk - young people’s info, advice and counselling
- themix.org.uk - essential support for under 25s being bullied
- https://hubofhope.co.uk – links to local support services
- https://breathingspace.scot/ or 0800 83 85 87 - telephone helpline