Time to Talk Day 2019
It’s Time to Talk Day today which got me thinking about my own mental wellbeing and that of my friends, colleagues and clients. Below are some of my thoughts on how to care for your mental wellbeing, starting with the theme of the day.
Time to talk
Talking about thoughts and feelings can help maintain your mental wellbeing and to manage those times when you may feel anxious, troubled or uncertain. It shouldn’t need saying but talking about this is NOT a sign of weakness; it is about taking control of your wellbeing and doing what needs to be done to stay happy and healthy. Sharing thoughts and feelings is a positive means of coping with an issue that may have been causing you concern for some time. The simple act of being listened to will help you to feel supported and less isolated with these thoughts. The fantastic thing about sharing in this way is that it can work both ways and help to reinforce relationships; if you are open and honest in sharing then it may encourage others.
I’m not naive enough to suggest that it’s always easy to find the words to express the thoughts and feelings that you are facing. In my experience, if you can’t think of the words, it usually means that you will need to try a different approach; maybe use stories, songs, pictures, a different set of language to that which you would usually. It doesn’t matter, as you long as you are able to share. It is also worth bearing in mind that the person you are sharing with may need you to elaborate or clarify what you are saying because it will be new for them too.
You shouldn’t feel that you need to sit down for a long, formal discussion about your wellbeing; most people feel more relaxed when these conversations take place spontaneously - perhaps when you're doing something together. Anecdotally, some of the most positive conversations about personal thoughts and feelings have occurred when cooking together, taking a walk together or in the breaks between more formal meetings.
It will almost certainly feel uncomfortable initially, but I promise you it will feel more natural over time as it becomes more ingrained as habit.
Being physically active
Physical activity releases chemicals in your brain (endorphins) that reduces the perception of pain and triggers positive feelings in your body and mind. But, there are myriad other reasons why regular activity can be beneficial (as I highlighted in a previous blog). Regular activity can improve your self-esteem, aid in levels of concentration, enhance your sleeping patterns and quality of sleep and can generally help you to look and feel better. Group physical activities can also lead to greater social engagement and collaboration, both of which can have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing.
It’s important to remember that physical activity does not just mean doing organised sport or going to the gym. Walking, hiking, bike rides, swimming in the sea (for the brave), gardening or housework can also keep you active. Personally, I like to do a mix of organised sport - 5 a side football twice a week, with walking and hiking with my partner. But, this is about what works for you.
One important barrier to try to overcome is that people often think of physical activity as formal physical exercise; try to make it a part of your daily routine and something you enjoy, something you can do in conjunction with another task (cleaning/tidying) or even both if you’re lucky. If you can manage this then it will seem less like exercise and more about being active; an important shift in mindset.
There is well documented research on the links between what we eat and how we feel; an obvious example is the immediate impact that caffeine and sugar can have on both our bodies and minds. But there can also be more long-term effects on your mental health that should be considered. A healthy balanced diet includes:
A range of fruit and vegetables
nuts and seeds
plenty of water
If possible, you should try to eat at least three meals a day with the largest of these (in terms of calorific value) between the hours of 12:00 and 14:00. This is so that the calories taken in during this time can be used to fuel you for the rest of the day. Consequently, try not to eat too large a meal too late at night. Your body and mind do not need the calories when it is “at rest” and these are more likely to sit heavily on you and potentially cause discomfort when trying to sleep.
I aim to drink at least 2 litres of water per day; I find it leaves me feeling more able to focus, less prone to headaches and it also helps with more efficient digestion (ahem). I also try to limit how much coffee I drink but not always successfully. The other areas that public health organisations advise you to reduce are sugary drinks and alcohol (see below for my thoughts on this).
It is important to note that clearly I’m not a doctor or dietician. These are my personal thoughts only. If your doctor or dietician has given you specific dietary advice then you should abide by that.
This is where I will attempt to strike the balance between being preachy and realistic. Here we go. We often (myself included) drink alcohol to change our mood. Some will drink to manage fear or loneliness for example, but, unfortunately, the effect is only fleeting. When the alcohol wears off, you will usually feel worse because of the impacts of alcohol withdrawal on your brain and body. Drinking alcohol is not an effective method for managing challenging thoughts and feelings; there are healthier, more sustainable ways of coping with the challenges that life throws at you.
Coming off my high horse now, I will freely admit that occasional light drinking does have some benefits (increased social engagement for example) and can be enjoyable for most people as long as you try to stick to the daily recommended intake. This is currently:
3 to 4 units a day for men.
2 to 3 units a day for women.
Where 2 units is a pint of beer (~4.5% ABV) or a standard 175ml glass of red wine.
Stay in touch
Maintaining strong social bonds (friends, family, colleagues, etc) can help you with managing the stresses of life. They can support, include and care for you in times of self-doubt, they can offer different perspectives on issues that you may be facing, they can help maintain your activity levels (see above) and they can help you with solving practical problems. Maintaining bonds face-to-face is typically the most effective method but it is not always possible due to issues of time and geography. However, you can always call or message them and stay in touch that way instead.
Think long and hard about the relationships that you currently have; do they make you feel loved and valued? Or are they mentally exhausting and potentially detrimental to your wellbeing? The positive relationships that you have are worth persevering with and solidifying whilst you may find it might be best to take a break, perhaps permanently, from the negative relationships that you are currently maintaining. I am under no illusions that this can be difficult to do!
It’s OK to ask for help
Something that comes up a lot in conversations I have with clients, colleagues, family and friends is that no-one is invincible. This may sound obvious but sometimes it needs to be said out loud. Everyone gets tired, overwhelmed or frustrated by the thoughts and/or feelings that you experience daily. That, or when things don’t go as expected and you must adapt to things that may be out of your control. I can’t emphasise this enough but if things are getting too much for and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help. Family and friends may be able to help but you should also consider other support services available to you locally. These include, but are not limited to:
Support groups such as Weight Watchers or AA to help you make changes to your life
Counselling/Coaching services (www.appcoaching.co.uk for example) to help you make a fresh start
Citizens Advice Bureau for a range of services including debt advice
Your GP if the negative feelings you are experiencing are: preventing you from getting on with life, having a significant impact on the people you live or work with, affecting your mood over a sustained period or leading to a lack of experiencing joy.
Your local Psychological Therapies service - in Devon, these are called Depression and Anxiety Services (DAS).
Taking a break
A simple change of location, pace or scenery can have a positive impact on your wellbeing. The scope of this is up to you and is clearly a personal decision that will depend on several factors. It might be a 10-minute break from your daily responsibilities, a slightly longer lunch break than usual or it could even be a weekend away from your usual space and routine with an opportunity to explore new things. The important thing is that this should be time for you. Taking a break might mean being physically active, it might mean doing nothing at all; this has to be your thing. It is important to take a step back and listen to what your body and mind are saying; if you’re feeling tired, give yourself time to rest. There are times when the word can wait its turn.
Do something you enjoy
Another common conversation I have with clients, colleagues, family and friends is about what they love spending their free time doing. What pastime do they lose themselves in? Do they still do it? If so, fantastic, try and do it more often! If not, why not? What is stopping you from a favourite pursuit? The simple act of doing something you enjoy, regardless of what it is, can help to reduce your stress levels and if you are able to do something that also gives a sense of achievement (walking 5 km, for example) this can have the additional benefit of boosting your self-esteem.
Being able to take yourself away from your worries, even if it is only for a little while, may also be a benefit of dedicating time and energy to a hobby. My go-to activity when I am worried about something or I feel that I need to lift my mood is to put my headphones on and go for a walk in Exeter, either into the city centre or along the river and down to the quay. You may even have seen me once or twice!
Or you can try something new; you never know where you might find your joy and meet new people along the way. For my partner, this meant joining the local choir.
It can be positive to pursue an activity when you can just be yourself. During this time, you should not be anyone’s partner, parent or employee, you should be focussed on you. It is OK to be selfish at times like this.
Be and accept yourself
Without wanting to sound evangelical, we are all different and we are all good at some things and need some help with others. We also choose to live our lives in different ways to others. This is also OK. It’s a much healthier attitude to adopt, if you can accept that we are all unique and our only competition is our self; each one of us can strive to be a better self. We can all be proud of who we are, what we believe in, how we choose to spend our time. We can recognise and accept what we are not so good at, but not let it to be detrimental to things that we do well.
Think long and hard about yourself and determine if there are things that you would like to change. If there are, you can work towards these changes in incremental steps.
Coming back to the original theme of Time to Talk Day. Yes, this is a positive step and a useful totem for highlighting that people should feel more comfortable with their mental wellbeing, but it should not just be about one day and it should not just be about finding the time and audience to talk these things through with.
If you’d like some help with this, please feel free to get in touch for a free introductory consultation.