This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. We all need to look after our own mental health, and recognise when those around us are affected by mental health problems. Most of us will suffer from some sort of mental illness, for some it will be the mental health equivalent of a cold and pass rapidly, but for many others it will be more serious. Recent research (A you.gov poll of over 4,000 people) has shown that in the last year 74% of UK adults felt stressed to the point that they couldn’t cope with something.

Protecting Your Mental Health

Seven Ways to Look After Your Mental Health (used with permission from Scriberian)

I saw this sketchnote by @scriberian that was shared by @GC_Rail on twitter and thought it was a really good example of how to look after yourself. So I asked them for permission to use it in this blog post, and they agreed.

There are seven ways to maintain your mental health listed, these are:

  • Talk
  • Be Active
  • Take Regular Breaks
  • Watch what you eat
  • Be mindful
  • Drink plenty of water
  • take time to think about yourself.

These all resonated with me, there’s the famous latin phrase baked in there, and also bits about the need to be aware of yourself and your environment. It’s really easy, especially at work, to get caught up in servicing everyone else and to forget to look after yourself too. If we don’t look after ourselves then we won’t we be able to help those around us. I suppose it’s the advice on the oxygen masks on aircraft. Always make sure your own is on before trying to help anyone else. That minimises the number of casualties, and it isn’t as selfish as it first sounds, because when you know that you are OK then you can devote all your energy to helping others.

Talk

This is obvious, yet very few of us talk to other people about our mental health. Given that 74% of people surveyed above were stressed enough that they couldn’t cope then almost all of us ought to have been involved in at least one conversation about mental health in the last year.

I know a few people that have had serious mental illness over my adult life. They’ve been the brave few that have admitted it and got help. Even then it isn’t something mentioned often. People tell us about coughs and colds, aches and pains, slips and accidents. Where is the similar conversation about anxiety, stress, despair, depression and worries?

I know that I don’t talk about it when I’m upset or anxious. Mostly because I’m aware that I’m way better off than others I know, and others I read about. My mental health is good, mostly. When it wobbles it’s really like catching a cold, after a couple of days I’m fine again.

Be Active

There’s plenty of evidence that exercise helps us feel less stressed, and it also gives us happy endorphins. It might be a bit of pain when you aren’t used to it, but it is worthwhile.

There’s definitely a link between stress and exercise. Our bodies produce loads of neurochemicals when we are stressed or threatened. These were good when we were evolving because they helped other parts of the body deal with the threat. It’s the fight or flight response that you might have heard of (although it’s been updated to fight, freeze or flee).

Exercise helps our bodies to proceed those neurochemicals into endorphins and reduces the overall stress level and makes us fitter. That fitness is good for our physical health as well as our mental health.

Take Regular Breaks

It doesn’t matter how much of a superhuman you think you are, you need to take a breather every now and then. It’s particularly important to step back and reflect on things. It’s only when you take that step back that you can decompress from the stress. It also helps you to put things into perspective. Often the things that stress you are inconsequential when looked at abstractly, but it doesn’t feel like that when you are in the midst of things.

So put the kettle on and take a time out. Relax and let yourself do something different. When the cuppa is finished look at things from a different perspective and decide how much it’s worth arguing about.

Watch what you eat

The older I get the more I can feel my reaction to what I eat. Also when I don’t eat I’m aware that it makes me irritable and less tolerant. Caffeine and alcohol also affect my moods and mental state.

What you need, at least what I need, is a balanced diet with fruit, vegetables, protein and only a little sugar and fat. Everything in moderation, and let yourself have a treat every now and then.

Be mindful

Here is the crux, you need to know yourself, and think about how you are thinking. It’s hard to be mindful every minute of the day. So you need to work at it. Learn the techniques and practice them as frequently as you can manage. Build in reflection time daily to think about it. Sometimes writing in a journal helps. I find my walks to and from the station between the office and home give me reflection time if anything is stuck in my head.

Drink plenty of water

Part of watching what you eat, but important enough to merit its own point in the list.

Dehydration affects us both physically and mentally. I get a sore head when I don’t drink enough. We should be aiming to drink two to three litres of water a day. The best way to measure is that you need to pee regularly and when you do it is colourless and odourless. If it isn’t, then drink some more water, a glass an hour, more if it is really hot.

Take time to think about yourself

Probably the most important, although all of the seven methods are important. You need time to be yourself without anyone else wanting anything for or from you. You also need to do things that make you happy, without worrying about what other people think.

If you get personal time it really helps you stay positive and engaged.

Find out more about mental health

If you want to know more about Mental Health then you could follow the Mental Health Foundation on social media or just read their website. The Mental Health Foundation are a UK charity for everyone’s mental health, promoting good mental health for all. Home of mentalhealth.org.uk .