Good mental health is not a given, just like our physical health, we have to work at it. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we are sharing some of our top tips for Mental Maintenance.
Community care means showing up; it means that when you find yourself in the position of being able to give more than you need to receive, you do so. Depending on who you are and your strengths, this might mean receiving messages from someone who needs to be comforted and heard, cooking a meal for friend who hasn’t been looking after themselves, reaching out to a friend who is lonely, volunteering and so on.
Over 9 million people in the UK – almost a fifth of the population – say they are always or often lonely (British Red Cross and Co-Op, 2016). The thing about loneliness is that it makes us feel as if no one else feels like we do, when in reality, millions other people around us are feeling the same. Almost all of us have felt lonely at one point or another. Reach out to others, reach friends, reach out to family and stay connected. If you can, call or meet up instead of texting (of course social distance rules apply), be curious about others, let go of expectations and don’t isolate yourself. Being able to feel safe with other people is one of the single most important aspects of maintaining good mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.
Of course we have to look after ourselves in order to best support others (a bit like the “attend to your own oxygen mask first before helping others” analogy) – but cultivating community in this way not only improves our mental health, but improves the mental health of others too.
Connect with your body and breath.
As we tend to avoid difficult emotions, they can later manifest as physical problems. Notice sensations in your body and take stock of where you are holding tension. Emotions like anger and stress can cause clenching of the jaw,: release your jaw, massage your face muscles and try yawning. Worry or anxiety can cause you to knit your brow without realising, for this: release your forehead by raising and lowering your eyebrows 2-4 times while inhaling/exhaling deeply. To release tension in the shoulders: while inhaling, lift your shoulders to your ears. As you exhale, draw your shoulders down and back, guiding the shoulder blades towards each other and downwards.
Slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body and connect with ourselves.
Connect with nature
47% of London is green space, seek it out while on your daily exercise. It is not about spending hours outdoors or wandering in the wilderness. It is about a walk in the park, it is about noticing that tree in the middle of the city. Virtually any form of connection to the natural world (outside of our internal world) heightens our overall well-being. When we extend ourselves, our perceptions, beyond focusing primarily on your own self — our own needs, worries, regrets or desires for the future, we become less anxious and more present in the moment.
Disconnect from tech
Disconnecting from tech will not only help you to achieve all of the above, but a digital detox goes a long way in allowing us the time to return to ourselves. Setting boundaries around screen time can really help sustain us; try turning of notifications for any work email accounts post- working hours. Researchers have found that unplugging after work can make a huge difference in your quality of life, mental health, and happiness. They found that when people disconnected from work related tasks, such as checking their work email after hours, they reported feeling fresher and better recharged when beginning work the following day. Also, try committing to not looking at your phone for the first hour of the morning or the last hour before sleep, time away from Social can help disrupt patterns of comparing yourself to others, help you sleep and improve your overall mental health.