Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK.
My beloved mother in law ended her life last year. She was a great friend and ally to me – the best mother in law I could have dared hope for. Her life had become unbearable and she reached the end of her capacity to keep trying.
It was a shock, and at the same time not altogether unexpected.
Her medication had been changed, but no other support had been forthcoming.
My view, having been in the black pit more than once myself, is that medication is not always the answer. Having people to talk to, a safe place to unload and release the tension is more beneficial than simply medicating to numb the senses.
Some people do need medication, don’t get me wrong. I just think antidepressants and their relations are being over-prescribed the way antibiotics were 20 or 30 years ago, and look where that’s got us. GPs don’t have the time to listen (not their fault) and chronic underfunding means the waiting lists for free counselling are too long. It’s an investment worth making and if you can’t afford it, ask family and friends for help. If they can’t, call one of the helplines who will.
Hopefully you look after your mental health every week of the year, but if not maybe now is a good time to start?
I asked my members for some ideas to share for anyone who isn’t incorporating mental healthcare into their routines and had some great suggestions.
The Fresh Air of Nature
Going outside and reconnecting with nature is so important for grounding ourselves.
If you’re lucky enough to live and/or work close enough to a big open space, go breathe it in. Clear your mind and listen for the insects. If you’re really lucky there might be songbirds to change the tune in your mind too.
If you are in a city, go outside and look up. The sky is a vast expanse of possibility. When I used to live and work in London, I made a point of walking through the parks as often as possible, and visiting the little gardens hidden away in Soho. It lightened a heavy day without fail. Yes, even in the rain!
I walk my dogs every morning, and the day doesn’t really begin until we’ve been out. Yes, there are rainy days where I walk a lot faster, but on the whole it is my favourite start to the day.
This could be something calm and meditative like yoga, or energetic like running. Some people like to exercise alone, others find doing it with a friend more beneficial. I thoroughly recommend going for a walk with a friend – change the scenery, let your feelings out, recharge your batteries.
Sharing Your Woes
Sometimes the best way is with a paid professional, others prefer to confide in a friend or partner. There are also alternatives like the South American worry dolls – I was brought a set by my cousin and his now wife and was never quite sure what to do with them until my post this morning. You tell them what is on your mind and they take your worry away. You can even sleep with them under your pillow to pull any bad thoughts out of your mind while you sleep! Personally, I have found great benefit from a combination of professional care, a handful of friends who I trust with my dark and twisty bits and having dogs. Nothing soaks up tears like dog fur, and they listen more attentively than most humans are able to.
The Crisis Box
This was a new one on me, but I think it’s a brilliant idea.
Essentially you put together a box with things in it to self soothe by activating your senses, with a few suggestions:
- Touch – soft toy, stress ball, play dough
- Smell – essential oil, candle or bath bomb
- Taste – mints, tea or special sweets
- Sight – photos of happy times, snowglobe
- Sound – music or meditation to listen to
- distraction – books, puzzles, sudoku
- doing something opposite to your impulse – affirmations
- emotional awareness – a chart of how to identify which emotions you’re experiencing
- mindfulness – journal, colouring, yoga mat
- crisis plan – who are you going to call for help?
Take A Moment To Breathe
Ann McCluskey, one of my Team members, has kindly shared this 4 minute guided breathing meditation:
I would love to know what else needs to be added to this list. Please comment below.