The World Health Organization makes it clear that overall good health is impossible without good mental health and stresses that an absence of any mental health disorder does not necessarily indicate mental wellbeing. That it is only achieved through each person’s ability to fully ‘realise their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.’
‘Good mental health is absolutely fundamental to overall health and well-being,’ said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. ‘COVID-19 has interrupted essential mental health services around the world just when they’re needed most.’
It may be that we will have to accept inevitable mental health disruption particularly during the current pandemic and world events, but there are mental health habits, just like dental health habits, that can resist being overwhelmed by anxiety, depression and mental health disorders such as OCD
Prioritise your basic needs. It is easy to slip into chaotic sleeping and waking times. Routine is hugely influential on your mental wellbeing, providing predictability at an unpredictable time. Maintaining similar pre lockdown or employment schedules will encourage your body and mind to go into ‘automatic pilot’ and can reduce overthinking.
Eat well and regularly, if you are increasingly at home, see this as an opportunity to explore new ways of cooking. Slow food will be a novelty after lunch hour of fast food. Add a walk or some exercise every day making it part of your daily routine. That way, you will take your walk without having the ‘shall I, shan’t I’ conversation.
Treat your self-esteem as if it is a priceless painting. Easier said than done eh! But crucial to good mental health and is your theoretical armour against the world. Unfortunately, self-esteem gets confused with arrogance or self-importance. It could not be more different. Think of it as being your own best friend, that means not talking or treating yourself in a way that you would never do to any other human being. It is having boundaries and understanding what you bring to the table.
We all accept our friends and family including their faults, yes, we fall out at times or find each other irritating and many of us are usually gentle about pointing out flaws in someone we love if we say anything at all. If anything, it is their faults that endear them and make up their individual unique personality. Regard yourself in the same way and when you start berating yourself about being ‘useless,’ ‘a failure,’ ‘ugly,’ stupid,’ please stop.
It is not true, and it teaches you nothing, furthermore, it slowly removes that ‘armour’ that protects you from the world. If you do not like facets about yourself, ask for help to change and learn from the process. If not, accept them for what they and you are. Nobody, including yourself, can ask for more than your best, and certainly not 24/7.
We are all human
Work on knowing yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses. This is about understanding how you function and what triggers difficult emotions and reactions. Giving you strategies to avoid or resolve them.
Emotional intelligence is difficult to grasp but there is an enormous amount of information on the internet to help you understand and manage yourself in tricky situations with others. The beauty of emotional intelligence is the ability to begin to understand what is behind other people’s reactions and subsequently enabling de-escalation and understanding.
It is not about trying to resist our emotions but to be more articulate with them, knowing what makes you angry, then diffusing or releasing it in a safe constructive manner.
Setting reasonable expectations
It is human nature to construct expectations around important interactions and when these are unrealistic and inevitably unmet, the disappointment can be incredibly painful. Be kind yourself when setting your own goals and targets, losing a stone in a week is simply not feasible. It sets you up to fail, unconsciously but deliberately, which reinforces those negative beliefs about yourself.
Alternatively, you may refuse to accept failure and put yourself under enormous pressure to achieve. If you do achieve, you set yourself higher goals or failure causes self-hatred. It is a self-perpetuating cycle.
Nobody can control the external world and attempting to set or control your expectations of others is doomed as well as being both incredibly damaging to yourself and your relationships. Self-check your expectations of others, is it reasonable? Do you feel continually disappointed by those around you? Is your life made difficult because others will not do what you think they should do?
It is perfectly normal to set yourself goals but there is more than one way to eat an elephant – one bite at a time. Split the goals into smaller ones making them easier to achieve and less disappointing when you experience hurdles or easier to accept if they do not work out.
Yup, I can hear the groans from here and sometimes the company of a highly positive person can be annoying. It can make us feel somehow deficient for daring to have negative thoughts.
Positive cannot exist without negative but there must be a balance and not having conscious checks on your mind going into overdrive on doom and gloom creates an escalating cycle of fear and anger. You cannot always drive these feelings out with positivity, but you can take a step back and consider whether you are being rational, check it out with friends and family or write it down and read it after a couple of hours.
We all have bad days, but they do usually pass. Without them, how would we recognise the good ones? Accept the day as a bad one and try not to resist it. Be kind to yourself and let the feelings do what they do and flow through you, but decide to have a good day tomorrow.
If you are struggling day after day then it is time to reach out for help and support from friends, loved ones or your Doctor. We are all living through unprecedented times and feeling increasing anxiety and depression is the same as consistent pain in any other part of your body. It is warning you that something has gone awry.
Relax and chillax
Not the best thing to say to someone who cannot sleep due to their mind imagining every possible physical sensation could be an infection. If anxiety is with you every waking moment, take some time off from it. Follow your routines but add in an hour a day when you can allow your anxiety, fears, and doubts to run riot. Give them an outlet and at a set time, stop.
Have a long luxuriant bath or immerse yourself in a film, book, or activity immediately after your anxiety hour. There are many mindfulness and meditation apps or techniques available online and losing yourself in an activity you love is just as healing.
Your body is in high alert mode and cannot sustain that state of emergency for prolonged periods without physical and mental detriment. Find a healthy way to have a break if you are unable to turn it off completely. If this does not help to manage your worries, then please contact your GP to discuss solutions.
Humans are a social animal and have a survival need for interaction and connection with others for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons why this pandemic is so debilitating. Online interaction can be a lifesaver or the devil incarnate. Limiting your interaction to people and posts that make you smile, or laugh should be on medical prescription. Try and limit news sites to once or twice a day. Too much unwelcome news that you are powerless to change is harmful so keep it to a minimum.
Get out of the house every day and walk among people, even if you have no conversation. It is a little archaic but write a letter to a friend or loved one; listen to podcasts; research something that fascinates you, it could introduce you to new friends.
That does not mean training for the Olympics, but it could be walking to the local shop or another local landmark every day. Using your body, getting into the fresh air, seeing other people, and reconnecting with nature through the weather, sky, the grass is indisputably one of the singular best things you can do for your mental wellbeing, your sleep, and your bodily functions.
The benefits of any type exercise as well as simply being outside is hugely beneficial to mental health and it has the effect of returning mountains back to molehills.
In a nutshell
- Try to keep to regular sleeping, waking, eating and exercise routines.
- Work on your self-esteem every day.
- Examine your reactions and triggers to increase your emotional intelligence.
- Set reasonable expectations of yourself and others.
- Try to balance both positive and negative thoughts. This ties in with fastidiousness in your self-esteem habits.
- Add relaxing activities to your daily schedule.
- Try to interact with somebody every day.
- Physical outdoor exercise.
And give yourself that ring of confidence.
Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.
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