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How to Manage Mental Health When Things Get Tough

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Times of uncertainty, stress and change are all expected parts of life, and this topic is especially prominent during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. But how do we manage our mental health when things get tough?

Take stock

One of the most effective things we can do to manage our mental health is to be aware of changes and events in our life that may impact our mental health.  Sometimes, changes in our mental health occur before the realisation of a change in our life circumstances.

Therefore, keeping stock of recent events or changes in our routine or lifestyle can be a fantastic way to recognise and accept difficult times. One study suggested that those who accept and recognise periods of uncertainty and challenges are better at managing their mental health during stressful events.  

Understand the neurology

Brain activity has a huge impact on our emotions and mental state. Despite it’s complexity, there are a few points we can understand about how it works during times of stress, and how we can apply this to managing our mental health. During difficult or stressful events, our brain is primed to release cortisol.

This causes a spike in adrenaline, which is followed by the hippocampus (a part of our brains associated with memory) triggering memories that may assist in how to best handle the situation. However, during prolonged stress and rumination, our cortisol does not decrease. This leads to our brains having difficulty in working efficiently to think rationally, leading to difficulty in managing our mental health. 

Slow down

At times of stress, our brains can seem to be working harder than ever – but taking the time to relax and slow down can be an effective tool in lowering raised cortisol levels, allowing our brain to function more efficiently.

It is OK to admit that we are not going to be as productive as we want to be. It is easy to be too hard on ourselves during challenging times, so remember that being able to accept that taking things a bit slower than normal might be a positive way to look after our mental health during tough times.

Commit to getting back to basics

When life is unpredictable, it is sometimes best to focus on what you can control. Things you enjoy – staying active, taking time to relax and watching your sleep – can be basic things that we can all do.

By committing to some basic things to look after ourselves, we can develop positive routines which can aid in managing both physical and mental health during times of stress. 

Try to find elements of gratitude

Dealing with loss or tough situations can make finding small elements of gratitude seem challenging. However, gradually taking the time to appreciate the things we have (along with the positive aspects of our day) can be a useful positive exercise in reducing cortisol and managing our mental health.

Finding gratitude may not always come easily, but like a muscle, it can be developed and worked on with practice. 

Final thoughts

With the current events of 2020, many of us are experiencing uncertainty and are navigating new situations. Managing our mental health is extremely important to help us navigate unexpected and stressful situations.

Fraser Smith, PhD is the CEO of GetPsyched. He also hosts a YouTube channel, where he creates contents on a range of topics within psychology. 

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