Mental health is something that I’m very passionate about, and my own views on the subject have changed dramatically in the past few years due to personal experiences. I used to think that mental health was something that was only important if there was something wrong. Now I know that positive mental health is actually something that can be promoted and whether your mental health is good or has difficulties it exists nonetheless. Just as we look after our bodies physically we need to look after our minds as well.
Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (14th-19th May). I know some people roll their eyes at “awareness” events but I believe, with mental health especially, awareness and causing conversations is critically important. Since becoming more mindful about my own mental health I have been lucky enough to be able to discuss mental health more with friends and family. Just starting a conversation can be all it takes to encourage someone to take time to look after their mind or to trigger them to seek help and advice from professionals whether that be a doctor, counsellor, well being centre etc.
Without these conversations many people suffer in silence. It is shocking to hear how many people do not believe their problems or emotions are ‘bad enough’ to warrant speaking to a professional. From personal experience I think a lot of people do not seek help for fear of rejection. However, for example, the NHS recommends speaking to a GP when low mood persists for more than 2 weeks as this could be a sign of depression. This is just a guideline and everyone’s situation is different, so that needs to be taken into consideration. If you feel like something is not right you should always seek advice.
The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year is stress. Stress is incredibly common and (unfortunately) a very good example of how mental health and well being is integral to many peoples every day functioning. The Mental Health Foundation says that stress is a key factor contributing to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, therefore by reducing stress it is likely that we will reduce the instances of such mental health problems.
Personally when I am stressed I have my own set of coping mechanisms. Whether your stress is due to university, work, family, friends, finances, health etc it is a good idea to have a list of some things you can do when you are stressed to try and reduce the impact that the stress has on your daily life. A few things I do when I am stressed or having a bad mental health day are:
- Ask for help if possible.
- Go to the gym/yoga.
- Practice mindfulness/meditation.
- Create lists of important things to do to reduce the amount I need to remember.
- Try to balance necessary activities with those that are pleasurable and those which are necessary.
- Break tasks down into very small pieces, e.g. instead of “Do assignment” break it down into; print off instructions, create a rough plan, look at resources, add resources to plan, write intro etc.
- Make a plan for revision but don’t make it unrealistic, this will make you even more stressed when you inevitably don’t achieve it! Make sure your plan includes studying and also pleasurable activities such as sport, being creative or having a movie night with housemates. Also try and plan in flexible revision time a couple of times a week where you can catch up on anything you may be behind on.
- Understand what you need to know. Make sure you have checked the specifics of what your exams are about, there is no point spending time revising things which are not relevant.
- Try not to compare yourself to others. Studying in groups can be incredibly helpful but it can also cause a lot of unnecessary stress. If you prefer to study alone then don’t feel bad saying no to group studying, just ensure you do spend time with other people outside of your planned study hours.
- Remember to take care of yourself. This includes showering, getting dressed into ‘proper’ clothes not just pyjamas, grocery shopping, eating well, drinking plenty of fluids and having conversations with other human beings.
- Treat yo’ self. Rewards are just as important as studying. To many the reward of studying hard will be a good grade but often that is a delayed reward. Taking time to reward yourself straight after a hard day or week of studying is important. Whether that be with a slice of cake or watching a couple episodes of something on Netflix, do something to allow your brain time to relax.
A few lot of these things are good for promoting positive mental health when you are already in a relatively good head space. They may be too much for someone who is experiencing forms of anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions. Everyone is different so please always speak to family, friends and your GP if you feel something is not right.
- Mental Health Books
- NHS Moodzone
- iTalk (Hampshire based)
- Mind (Solent)
- Mind (Manchester)
- Be Mindful