Good habits to maintain mental health and bad habits to avoid
Good habits (not an exhaustive list). Good mental health habits are habits and routines you can implement to maintain and improve your mental health. Remember the stress container. Examples include:
- Eat a balanced diet. It is well known our gut bacteria synthesise around 95% of the serotonin the brain uses to regulate mood and activity
- Exercise regularly
- Go outside – sunlight and fresh air are mood enhancers and also help with vitamin D production
- Stay hydrated
- Laugh more – it doesn’t really matter what you are laughing at – within reason!
- Sleep well – the brain actually repairs itself during sleep
- Practice meditation
- Maintain good posture – another example of the physical linking with mental
- Take a break from technology. All technology!
- Keep a journal of your thoughts to help identify triggers and behaviour patterns
- Talk about it with people who care for you
- Get a pet. Not suitable for everyone but a possibility for some. Even a goldfish will do!
- Stop multi-tasking – it is exhausting and over-rated
- Consult a doctor and get a professional opinion. This is incredibly important as early intervention can dramatically shorten recovery times and improve outcomes
Bad habits (not an exhaustive list). Bad mental health habits are behaviours that have a negative effect on the way we think or the way we feel about ourselves. Examples include:
- Lack of exercise
- Excess and uncontrolled stress
- Overuse of a smartphone
- Overuse of social media
- Procrastination, which can lead to ‘last minute’ behaviour and more stress
- Co-dependency and maintaining toxic relationships
- Poor sleep
- Poor or unbalanced diet
- Overuse of alcohol or other substances
- Buying things you don’t need
It stands to reason that it can sometimes be harder to break a bad habit than start or maintain a good one. Some of the examples I have listed may even seem strange or counterintuitive, such as shopping less.
But knowing what the unhelpful behaviours are and working towards eradicating them will have a beneficial impact on mental health.
There are a number of services which everyone can access. In addition to this many people have private medical insurance provided by their employer or purchased themselves. These often include mental health support and counselling so please check your policy or talk to your HR department.
- Seek the advice and support of your GP. If you cannot do this and are in distress or need immediate help visit A&E
- Talk to the Samaritans. Their number is 116 123 and it is free, 24hours a day
- Text ‘Shout’ to 85258. They can help with arrange of mental health issues
- For practical advice on different types of therapy and medication, benefits, debt or money issues and your rights under the Mental Health Act call Rethink on 0300 5000 927
- Mind have an information line to answer questions about different types of mental health problem, where to get help, drug and alternative treatments and advocacy. Their number is 0300 123 3393. They also have a legal advice service 0300 466 6463
- Tell someone you trust what is going on with you
- Each borough has a Community Mental Health Team. Search online for the one that operates in your area
- There are also a number of online communities which people may benefit from
- NHS mood self-assessment questionnaire
We all have mental health and it is just as important as our physical health. Your mental health doesn’t always stay the same. It can change as circumstances change and as you move through different stages of your life. We all have times when we feel down or stressed or experience anxiety. Most of the time the feeling pass. But sometimes they can develop into a more serious problem that can affect anyone.
Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable mental health problems. It is characterised by a person’s ability to carry out a number of key functions and abilities such as learn; feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions; form and maintain good relationships with others; cope with and manage change and uncertainty.
Wellbeing is personal and subjective and covers all the environmental factors that affect us and the experiences we have. It recognises aspects of our lives that we determine for ourselves through our own capabilities, how we feel about ourselves, the quality of our relationships with others and our sense of purpose.
Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged in whatever we are doing at the moment, free from distraction or judgement. It means being aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them. Mindfulness is a skill which can be learned and improved through meditation and practice. Check out this easy questionnaire to see how you score and where you could get to.
Depression is more than simply feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days. When you are depressed you feel this way persistently for a few weeks or months rather than just a few days. It is a real illness with real symptoms. It is not something you can simply ‘snap out of’ or ‘pull yourself together’. Many people with depression also have symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety is a feeling or worry or fear that can be mild or severe. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their lives and in certain circumstances are normal and appropriate. But some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives. The most common form is Generalised Anxiety Disorder but can also cover conditions such as Panic Disorder, phobias and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
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"Happify provides science-based activities and games that are meant to reduce stress, build resilience, and overcome negative thoughts."
Visit these resources: https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/top-iphone-android-apps
Food and Mood
Knowing what foods we should and shouldn’t be eating can be really confusing, especially when it feels like the advice changes regularly. However, evidence suggests that as well as affecting our physical health, what we eat may also affect the way we feel.
Improving your diet may help to:
- Improve your mood
- Give you more energy
- Help you think more clearly
Please click on the link below to find out more. In the meantime, we have supplied some fun food ideas below:
- Quarantine cooking club: Arrange a zoom/facetime/whatsapp call with a friend or group of friends and cook a meal together. No meal should be enjoyed alone.
- Plant based and Vegetarian option: https://deliciouslyella.com/recipes/
- BBC Good Food: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/
- Joe Wicks, The Body Coach: https://www.thebodycoach.com/blog/cats/recipes?loadmore=true&pc=21#art11
Sometimes searching for the right workout can be longer than the workout itself so we have provided you with some helpful apps and links below to get you motivated:
Nike Run Club: https://www.nike.com/gb/nrc-app
The Body Coach: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAxW1XT0iEJo0TYlRfn6rYQ
Women’s Health: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwGBV6mXtBB3O-rEQpevYHA/videos
Instagram Online: For any Instagram fans, most personal trainers and gyms are offering live workouts on their Instagram story. It might be worth giving your favourite celebrity PT a follow.
Work vs Home
Supporting your mental health whilst working from home is incredibly important. My Whole Self has shared a 3 page document with tips on how to improve your wellbeing whilst working from home.
- Wake up
- Get ready
- Set up your workplace
- Get moving – outdoors or indoors
- Take breaks and remember to hydrate
- Get connected – adapt your working style e.g. video calls instead of emails
- Virtual social sessions
To follow soon...
Potential signs of deteriorating mental health
Not an exhaustive list and not necessarily a confirmation. Remember, we are not psychiatrists or psychologists. Professional help should be sought for any significant worries.
One widely recognised visualisation is the concept of the stress container. Everyone has one and stresses flow into it.
If the container overflows then problems can develop. People with a low vulnerability to stress have a larger container and vice versa. It isn’t possible to prevent stresses flowing into the container as this happens via life events.
But it is possible to let the stresses out of the container by learning and adopting helpful coping methods. The following are among the signs that the stresses in the container may be building up to unhealthy levels.
In the interests of time I will focus on the more common mental health problems of depression and anxiety. In practice it is often seen that both conditions present at the same time. These are some of the potential warning signs of depression:
- An unusually sad mood that does not go away. Sadness and depression are often used interchangeably as if they were the same thing. They are not. The key element to watch out for is how long the feeling persists. Feelings which last for more than 2 weeks are something to watch out for.
- Loss of enjoyment and interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
- Lack of energy and tiredness. This in itself can lead to loss of enjoyment of activities
- Poor self-esteem or a loss of confidence
- Feeling guilty about situations which a reasonable observer would not fault you for
- Difficulty in concentrating or making decisions
- Having difficulty in getting to sleep, staying asleep or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in food or eating too much
- Bleak and pessimistic views of the future
- Having suicidal thoughts or thinking the world would be better off without you
- Feeling emotionally blunted
- Feeling anxious, irritable, angry or over-reacting to situations
- A perception of loss of control over emotions
People with depression may look and act depressed or anxious or they may not. Particularly with milder cases the person will often attempt to hide the depression from others and may be successful at that.
The signs and symptoms can also vary between men and women. For example men are more likely to try to hide the condition with overuse of alcohol which shows up as a dependency. On further diagnosis the true problem then emerges.
The list above clearly has a lot of potential signals on it but the key thing to remember if to seek professional help if you are identifying with more of them than you would like. A negative thought system links many of them.
Anxiety and depression are very different mental health conditions but they can often occur together. One key difference between the two is that symptoms of anxiety can be much more physical in nature. They can include:
- Palpitations, chest pain, rapid heartbeat or flushing
- Dizziness, sweating, headache, tingling or numbness
- Choking, dry mouth, nausea, more frequent trips to the bathroom
- Muscle aches and pains especially neck, shoulders and lower back
- Restlessness, tremor or shaking
However, anxiety also has psychological and behavioural effects. These can include:
- Excessive fear or worry about past and future events
- Mind racing or going blank
- Decreased concentration and memory
- Difficulty in making decisions
- Irritability, impatience or anger
- Restlessness or feeling on edge
- Tiredness, sleep disturbances and vivid dreams
- Unwanted, unpleasant and repetitive thoughts
Clearly some of these overlap with symptoms of depression but since the two conditions are different it is important not to make assumptions about one or the other without seeking medical help. Anxiety can be socially debilitating. It can make people avoid situations, experience distress in them or have an urge to escape situations that cause discomfort. It can also lead to repetitive compulsive behaviour. There are many types of anxiety disorder but Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive disorder are among the more common.
The NHS has an online Mood Self-Assessment tool which can be found on their website and which we will post a link to on our upcoming MH page on the DP website. By all means take the test but please remember there is no substitute for professional medical advice if it is required.
Coping strategies in lockdown
Go with the flow – try to identify what I can and cannot control and don’t get too up-tight about the things I can’t.
Try new things to add variety to the day. If it works it works if it doesn’t just move on and try something else.
Reserve my commuting time gained for some me-time to read or meditate.
Expand my repertoire of healthy dishes I can cook.
Remember to shave. It’s tempting not to bother but I can attest that taking it off after 5 days growth can sting a bit!