Mental Health: The Priority
I made a vow to myself a little while ago that no matter what, I must look after myself first. I know that sounds very self-centered but by no means am I saying this with any negative connotations. What I am saying, is that it’s extremely important in fact fundamental to my mental health and wellbeing to make sure I’m good before making sure everyone else is good around me. This is being physically, mentally, spiritually plus any other -ally ending word you can think of kinda good. And I encourage every single one of you to do the same. The reason I am so adamant about this, is because in order for you to help others you must first help yourself otherwise everyone suffers in some capacity. For me, looking after myself is prioritising my health. Being an athlete means the physical side is pretty much taken care of as the training requires healthy lifestyle choices such as: good nutrition, sleep and recovery strategies to enable us to perform to the best of our ability. So good physical health basically comes hand in hand with the role of being an athlete. Whereas the mental side didn’t come quite as easily. Luckily, I am interested in psychology and have an affinity toward researching and sourcing information regarding ways to protect, manage, uplift and promote positive mental health and wellbeing. I am a big believer that everything begins and ends with the mind, in that for the most part we can learn to control our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Although, the below tips specifically focus on elevating mental health, it goes without saying; a healthy mind helps to create a healthy body. Tips to Help You Prioritise Your Mental Health: Meditation/Mindfulness Time and time again I will speak on meditation and mindfulness; it teaches us how to live in the present moment and to develop self-awareness which allows us to be in tune with our days and generally navigate through life better. When we accept the moment as it is and understand that in that very moment there is no right or wrong, there is a peace which comes with this level of acceptance. Mindfulness has increased my patience, given me a greater appreciation of the little things, it has improved the quality of my relationships and has generally helped to enhance my overall quality of life. Meditations can include affirmations; these are statements which you say (in your head or aloud) that aim to empower you. Similarly, visualisation is when you create a picture of an outcome before it has happened; both techniques have been found to improve levels of motivation and confidence as well as making you feel positive. Journaling/Writing Things Down The act of expressing your thoughts and feelings can feel very freeing. With journaling like meditation there is no right or wrong way to do it, it’s a personal endeavor that is completely your choice. For example, you can vent your frustrations; holding your feelings in and harbouring this type of energy can feel very stressful. I know at times we don’t want to offload our problems onto others which could be for a number of reasons: maybe we don’t want to stress them, feel judged or fear they may not understand. But writing it down is almost like you are telling somebody without telling them. You avoid the possible reasons that may prevent you from doing so and at the same time, getting it down on paper is getting it off your chest and out of your head and this can bring clarity around your thoughts. Last month we had the Daily Gratefuls Challenge whereby I asked people to write one thing they are grateful for each day. Gratitude journaling has been found to help one reflect, put life into perspective and to also lift mood. Do Things You Like to Do It sounds so simple but with age, comes more responsibility and the majority of us have to work in order to provide for ourselves, our family etc. Taking care of our responsibilities is a necessity but it’s too easy to get stuck in this pattern of work, work, work; and before you know it you no longer have “time” for yourself. If I asked: What do you like to do for fun? Have you got some things in mind? If you struggled to think of something I encourage you to create a list of likes. These are the things you do for the pure enjoyment of doing it. Remember as a kid we would get lost in whatever activity we were doing and time would simply fly by just because we were having fun. Give yourself permission to engage in an activity you enjoy, even if it is 5-10 mins it’s important that you learn to commit some time for you each day. Life is short and once it’s done, it’s really done. So here’s a question I want you to get in to the habit of asking yourself: Have I done something for me today? Self-talk I’m constantly talking to myself, yes you read that correctly. There is no one on this planet, in your entire lifetime that you will spend more time with other than yourself. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, you are in your own head thinking your own thoughts and sharing things with yourself that no other person knows. I’m not entirely sure what the estimated number of thoughts that a person has per day, but a figure well in the thousands seems pretty realistic. With that being the case, it’s a must and completely necessary that we have and work towards a healthy relationship with ourself. If you don’t cheer yourself on who will? More often than not, we are our own biggest critic and we need to learn to show some self-compassion. As you would a friend, you need to be kind, give yourself permission to make mistakes, forgive, praise and speak to yourself in a positive manner. If you don’t have a healthy relationship with yourself how do you expect to have healthy relationships with others? Minimise Your Exposure to Stressful Stimuli The brain doesn’t distinguish between physical and mental stress nor does it discriminate between perceived or real stress. Stress is stress and it can have a significant negative impact on your body and overall wellbeing. Yes, things can become really stressful and there are events we cannot plan for which disrupt life in a way we may have never imagined e.g. 2020. Although we can’t control the unfortunate things that happen we can control how we respond to them. And we can also control how much stress we expose ourselves to. The first thing you could do to minimise stress is delete news apps off your phone/tablet, another suggestion is to turn off your notifications on apps that constantly demand your attention (Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, emails) another tip is to place these apps on the last page of your phone screen. You could also put your phone face down when you are not using it, as this avoids the light grabbing your attention when receiving a notification. And one of my favourites, is the do not disturb/silent function; as no notifications come up at all once it’s on. Making use of these tips gives you a level of control, the chance to switch off and avoid stress inducing stimuli, it’s really about being intentional and having some space away from everything outside of you, in order to help you focus inward and on the things that you want to do without disruption. Go Outside Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) typically occurs during the winter months, but some people may be affected during the summer. It is a kind of depression that requires clinical intervention, so it’s not something to be taken lightly. With that said, I have mentioned it because I want to highlight the importance of going outside and how a lack of exposure to the sunlight can be significantly detrimental to your health. I know quite a few people especially during the time of strict lockdown really struggled without a garden and because of that experience, are now making it a priority that they have or can access garden space in some capacity should they move to their next property. Lockdown may have shown us all that being cooped up indoors, staring at some kind of screen all day on a regular basis can make us feel quite low and pretty irritable. So my tip is to make the most of your outdoor space, get some fresh air, enjoy the sight, smell and sounds of nature and let that sun shine on you. Move Your Body All forms of physical activity are known to have a positive influence on mental health. From stretching in the morning, walking up and down the stairs, taking a stroll, gardening, doing Yoga/Pilates, running, doing a HIIT circuit, and playing any kind of sport can only be beneficial for you. This is because exercise/physical activity activates the reward center of your brain which releases endorphins; these are the feel good hormones in our body that gives us positive emotions like happiness, joy and general wellbeing. There is also a sense of achievement which comes with accomplishing an activity that you set out to complete. Exercise can also help to improve characteristics such as: determination, resilience, and self-belief. Physical activity further highlights the notion of a healthy mind, a healthy body. As it also works the other way round; what you do to the body has an effect on the mind. Learn to Say No I think this may be one of the most difficult tips. When prioritising yourself and your mental health you need to understand that it is okay to say no. We may want to say yes to everything such as: people asking for favours, requests from work, attending social events/gatherings, or even answering the phone. These are examples of things that demand your time, energy and attention. And if you don’t feel like giving the above up in that specific moment then that is perfectly okay. We have to set boundaries otherwise we will end up spreading ourselves too thin and that’s when we feel overwhelmed. You may begin to stress and as a reaction start to adopt unhealthy coping strategies that will impact you negatively. This is something we all need to be mindful of and avoid as best as we can. So I’ll repeat it again, learn to say no to things that do not serve you. And remember that you are entitled to say no. I hope you found this post useful and can implement some of the tips mentioned. There are many more ways to help you prioritise your mental health, however the ones I have touched on are what I personally do to make sure I stick to my word of making my mental health my priority. I’d love to hear your thoughts, do you use any of the above strategies? Is there anything you do that I haven’t mentioned? Would you like to know more about any of the above tips? If so please leave a comment, get in touch via my social media which is @Sabrinabakare or drop me a message on the contact page.