There are 3 words that come up whenever you talk about mental health. The first is ‘stigma’ - people talk about stigma like it’s going out of fashion. But surely the only way to get beyond the ‘stigma’ is to face it head on. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve had mental illness. Of course I’m not, why would I be? It’s not like it’s something I chose. Plus, I’m not alone - 1 in 4 of us has mental illness, and you know what they say, ‘there’s strength in numbers’.
The other 2 are ‘just talk’. I still don’t really know what that means! What am I meant to say? Describing what’s in your head is a bit like trying to explain a colour to someone who’s blind. You can never step outside of your own experience to gain any perspective, to see if you’ve gone a bit wonky in the upstairs department. That’s why it’s so difficult to understand if you’re feeling lower than the average person, or more distractible, or have bigger mood swings. .
Unfortunately mental health is a tricky thing. It’s not like a petrol gauge on a car; there’s no simple way of seeing how ‘topped up’ your mental health is. Sometimes mental illness can creep up on you. Because it can take time it can also become your normality. That can mean that mental illness can take a while to go away too.
Why am I telling you this? Well, I finished treatment for my anorexia 2 ½ years ago and I’m not going to lie, I’m still learning new things. You can’t ‘complete’ physical health so why would we assume mental health is any different. Changing, improving and maintaining, good mental health is gradual and some of the smallest things can make the biggest differences. It is these little things that I wanted to share with you now:
Out Of Office
First up, this one. It sounds ridiculous, but putting my ‘Out Of Office’ on my emails really helps. That’s because being accessible all day, every day, makes me anxious I’m missing out. I’m constantly on my phone, worry about what I should be doing rather than what I am doing. Putting my out of office on helps relieve that anxiety and helps me ‘be in the moment’. Sometimes taking a break from the electronic attachment at the end of your arm can actually help put things into perspective.
Google Street View
But I don’t want to make out that technology is the cause for everyone’s mental illness. Far from it. In fact, I think you can use technology to help improve your wellbeing. For example, we’d all like to get away if we could afford it/had the time, but most of us don’t have a private jet and a clear diary. However, most of us do have the internet. With Google Street View you can go anywhere in the world without having to leave the office. It’s the lazy-person's approach to travelling (and saves you a tonne of money). Go wherever you want, at the click of the button and get a 2 minute respite from Alan in HR badgering you about those accountancy forms.
Moving on from that is mood diaries - what increases/decreases your mood? You see, one of the things that I have learnt about mental health is that a lot of it boils down to patterns of behavior. One of the best ways of discovering these patterns are mood diaries. There are some brilliant free apps that you can download and update throughout the day while you’re going about your business. These can help show when your mood might dip and give possible reasons for the activities that can help boost your mood.
Feel Good Folder
And, if your mood gets a little bit lower, here’s a way to pick it up. Let’s face it, no matter how much ‘self care’ you do, there’s no avoiding that your mood/emotions will dip at some point. On my phone I’ve got a ‘feel good folder’ of photos that make me smile whenever I’m on the go. It can be anything you want - pictures of family, friends, random puppies I’ve seen on Twitter or memes people have sent me on Whatsapp. Plus, when I’m not on the move I’ve got youtube playlists of songs, videos and TED Talks. Whatever it is that makes you smile, make sure you have access to it whe
Have A Shower
Another quick pick-me-up is to have a shower. Some of the best thoughts I’ve ever had have come to me in the shower. It’s not really surprising as you’ve got no distractions, no interruptions and it’s just relaxing. A shower as soon I wake helps order my thoughts, or having one when I go to bed helps clear my mind.
Finally, thinking long term, what are your goals? It’s hard to hit something if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. Giving yourself tangible, achievable things to aim for in your career, personal and social life can be a great way of feeling like you’re getting somewhere. Plus, sometimes just the act of thinking what you would like to have/achieve can be exciting which is a great motivator.
But I’m not going to pretend I’m the Dalai Lama. There are loads more ideas out there, and probably thousands of better ones. Part of the secret to good mental health is to look for new and improved ways to maintain your wellbeing. So, have a think (and if you come up with some better ones, please let me know!)
You can see Dave's critically acclaimed show 'Mental' at the Brighton Fringe, tickets are available here. Tickets for the Edinburgh Fringe run are here. His book about living with an eating disorder can be purchased here.
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