If you break a bone, you see a cast, if you cut your finger you wear a plaster, but what happens to our mental health? How do we first aid our mental health and wellbeing?
I’m not saying that all mental health issues can be cured or helped with a bath and a face mask but how we treat ourselves can help us navigate that thin line between feeling a little frazzled or completely overwhelmed. There is a big difference in being mentally unwell and mentally well, obviously serious mental health conditions are not going to go away using the techniques I have put together, they are more aimed at people who have busy lives, who never stop and who sometimes just need a little me time (or is it you time?)
As a modern society we strive to do more, to be more, to do it all. We have to be everything to everyone. We work, we run homes, raise children, we blog, Instagram, we run around life doing it all but have you ever just stopped and thought what is all of this doing to your mental well being?
A while ago I felt a little overwhelmed with everything in my life. I was dealing with infertility, working 50+ hours a week, running a home, trying to spend time with family, making time for everyone and it all got a little much for me. I was lucky that I was able to say enough is enough and, I made some changes. I cut back to working 36 hours a week for 3 months, I took time for myself and there really is no shame in saying I was at a breaking point and needed to slow down. The experience taught me so much and as a mental health nurse I know the importance of looking after both physical and mental well being. I’m writing this blog not as a nurse but as a person who has used these tools to help her feel calm, in control and more positive about life.
Everyone talks about self care and self care Sunday, but really I feel self care is something we should do as an ongoing practice in our daily life. As I have thought more about it we should all take time each day to feel, allow ourselves to have emotion and allow ourselves to say it’s ok to feel how I feel, recognise what caused it, work out how you can deal with it and most importantly learn from it.
My mental health first aid kit consists of 7 things
I use the headspace app on my phone and I am genuinely a big fan of meditating, it’s not all umming and ahhing as I first thought! Meditation for me is so much more, it is time for me to sit back from my thoughts and see them with a clearer mind. I sometimes meditate for 5 minutes and sometimes 30 minutes it just depends on what time I have, what I need to clear from my head and what I want to achieve. I work in a Dementia care unit and some days I come home and I have not had a split second of silence for my 12.5hr work day. I will at times come in from work and just tell Neil I need a few minutes and I will just go and lay down on our bed, in complete silence and just focus on my breathing, I will think about how my body feels, the sore feet, sore back, the hard callus I have developed on my thumb from constant writing, I will breath in and out counting each breath and being completely focused on my body and what it needs. Sometimes I lay there and feel completely calm and need nothing but to breath, sometimes I need to think over a problem and how I feel about it, and most of the time I just think about how good it is to be home to the quiet. I know not everyone has the opportunity to have this quiet time but even a few minutes of time to just breath can be such a positive step for your mental health.
The 5 minute mantra
This is my favourite thing to do, my five minute mantra basically is five minutes of time with intent. It’s the five minutes in a day I ‘allow’ myself to be annoyed, sad, angry or simply to just be. I use it mostly when I am upset or anxious and I give myself five minutes just to wallow in the feeling, to cry or huff or be sad. Those five minutes have really helped me deal with the stress of life and I have found them a real comfort to know I can for just five minutes feel all the feelings. It helps me deal with emotions, helps me understand why I feel the way I do and it helps me to cope with it, understand my emotion and move on from it. Even if you don’t feel sad or need to deal with a feeling these five minutes can be just as wonderful used to reflect and be appreciative of life, work, a certain person or just to be still and watch the world going by. Five minutes a day can make all the difference.
Hands and feet
This one is simple, When I feel anxious I take a few minutes to put on hand cream or a foot moisturiser. Sometimes this take a matter of minutes and other times I take a little longer at it, Sometimes I do a hand or foot mask (I once did both at the same time and I wouldn’t maybe be advocating this as you can neither walk properly or use your hands all that well!) The simple act of putting on a moisturiser can be so calming, particularly on your hands. Taking the time to slowly put the cream around your skin, noticing the feeling on your skin, getting in between all your fingers and around the nails, doing each cuticle one by one pausing just for a few seconds to give them all a little extra moisturiser. It really is a very calming thing to do and I find that doing this when i’m feeling very overwhelmed and busy helps refocus my mind and gives me a minute or three to stop when things get too much, to pause for thought and reset my focus for the day.
Time out for you
This may seem like a simple one and you don’t have to do this every single day but I try at least three times a week to take time for me, go for a walk, do a face mask, read my book, go to the hairdresser or get a pedicure amongst other things. As much as I feel self care is not all about the masks, baths, lotions and potions I do feel it is a part of helping us feel normal and human and calm. It’s not for me completely about the face mask itself, its more the ritual of the process, using a body scrub and focusing on your skin, smelling the soap and oils, using creams and lotions lovingly on your skin and creating a sensory experience which is time consuming, loving and focused on you. It for me is all about finding meaning in the ritual, it’s not about having a bath to show it on the ‘Gram’ it’s about taking a specific time to focus on you, your body, your mindset and your wellbeing.
Have you ever noticed how blowing out one big long breath can make you feel better, Try it next time you feel that little tightness of stress or anxiety bubbling up in your chest. Does anyone else ever get that? When you just feel a big bubble of tightness in your upper chest and you feel anxiety or stress creeping in? I get it sometimes when things are all go in life and I deal with it by breathing. You take a big breath in for 7 seconds and blow out for 14 seconds (or as much as you can) doing this three or four times can really help in the search for calmness and help center you back to the tasks ahead. I use it a lot in work when there are fifteen things going on at once, I breathe think and re prioritise my day and go at it full steam with a clear head and a less anxious feeling.
Neil and I had this conversation a while ago, imagine the scenario. You have bought tickets for a show, gig, night out and the week of the event comes and you don’t want to go, you can’t be bothered, you no longer are interested in it or you are simply so busy you just wish you had an free evening to rest and have an early night… what do you do?Everyone I have posed this question to has said they would go regardless, most saying how can they not go? They bought tickets after all! I myself wouldn’t go, why? Because if you don’t want to go to something, you do not have to! The cast of Jersey boys won’t be calling round to your house to ask where you were, Ed Sheeran won’t be ringing your mum to see why you didn’t go, the bank manager isn’t gonna give off that you spent money and didn’t use the ticket… I often feel that we impose social conventions upon ourselves, we think what will other people think and end up at times doing stuff we don’t wanna do, stuff we don’t have time to do and stuff that makes us unhappy learning the power of the word no can be so empowering. I’m not saying that you should be overtly negative and say no to life’s opportunities, i’m just saying that in the grand scheme of life if you are working a long week and you don’t feel like going out to see Mama Mia 2 no one’s gonna judge you (although Meryl Streep is life so maybe go see that one!) Don’t ever put yourself in situations you don’t really want to be in, learn the power of NO.
The importance of the not so silent
I use Spotify each and every day. I have a subscription that I have had probably for the last four years. Never a day goes by when I don’t use it. Letting you in on my secrets here but I have lots of different playlists, happy ones, sad ones, Christmas ones, sing along ones, Disney ones, calming ones. I find songs I like and I add them to my playlist and they help me a lot, I put them on in the car and usually sing along at the top of my little lungs, I pretend I’m Beyonce and drive home from one of ‘those days’ feeling fancy AF windows down blasting the tunes singing and letting all the stress of the day fly off me, I find music to be one of the most powerful things in helping when you feel a little stressed, I find it actually second only to the affect our olfactory senses have on how we feel but that’s another story. Music can make us feel things we never felt possible, happy, sad, determined or excited to name but a few, it evokes memories, it sparks creativity and I use it as a tool every day to make myself feel positive and to help me work with my thoughts, feelings and emotions to hopefully ‘live my best life’
So there we have it, my list, my 7 things that help make me me, that keep me sane and make life much more fun. As I have said I know that this won’t be for everyone and I am in no way giving this advice as a nurse in any way but after 10 years of nursing both as a student and qualified Mental Health Nurse I feel I have gained a lot of insight into it all and I myself use these techniques daily to help ground me and prevents me getting overwhelmed by life. It is important to keep a little idea of how you can first aid your mental health. It’s not a plaster for when things break, to me these techniques are here to help me keep myself together and keep me calm, keep me sane and help me appreciate the good with the bad, learning to deal with the stress of modern life can be a very successful tool in learning to have a more positive mental health outlook. When writing this blog I got talking to my friend Keava, she is literally like a little spirit guru, filled with Positivity, love, mindfulness and plastic free living, she and I have extensive conversations about mindfulness and how self care isn’t just for Sundays, we need to take care of ourselves each and every day, whether that be a day at the spa or three minutes found in the chaos to just take a breath. So from today try and give yourself time each day to pause for thought, take time for you, feel your feelings, allow yourself to feel, to understand and cope with it all, cry, laugh, breath and sing your lungs out every day of the week, because looking after you is important, it is not selfish, it isn’t pathetic and you aren’t a bad person for needing five minutes quiet time. Its normal, life is busy and chaotic at times, I know i’m not the only one feeling overwhelmed at times, so go out there and own it, be you and live life to the fullest of its amazingly awesome possibility
Always remember to smile, smiles are the gifts we give each other.