The experience of the past almost two years has been different for everyone, as have our reactions, but there’s no doubt it’s been a difficult time for us all. We know living through the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions this has brought has been incredibly tough, and we want to thank you for playing your part to keep everyone safe.
Taking care of your mind as well as your body is really important, particularly during times of uncertainty. That’s why it’s so important to do what we can to look after our mental health and wellbeing, now more than ever.
After the festive period, the New Year can seem like a good time for a fresh start, and a chance to begin the year with a healthy mindset. You may already have some ideas for New Year’s resolutions, such as starting a fitness kick or reaching out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while.
You may also be looking for ways to improve your mental health in 2022. There are little things we can all do to look after our mental health. The little things we do for our mental wellbeing can help a lot; helping us lead happier, healthier lives and cope with life’s challenges.
1. Look after yourself physically, to feel better mentally
Your physical health and mental wellbeing are linked, and as such, there are lots of positive changes you can make to improve your physical wellbeing that will also have psychological benefits.
Exercise boosts the ‘happy chemicals’ in the brain, known as endorphins, which ultimately improve your mood. Try and make the effort to engage in some form of exercise every day, even if this is just doing a few star jumps, and it’s likely that you’ll feel better as a result, both physically and mentally. There are lots of exercises that can be done where space is limited, and PE instructors may be able to help with in cell exercise routines.
It’s important to try to eat healthily and not overeat. Not only does this have obvious physical health benefits, but a healthy diet can also have positive effects on your mental wellbeing. Even where choice is limited, trying where you can eat a little more fruit and vegetables rather than extra slices of bread could help.
Get plenty of sleep
Getting good-quality sleep is important for your mental health and can make a big difference to how you feel. When you are spending a lot of time in one space with little activity, it can be difficult to have a healthy day and night routine. Try and keep active and engaged in activities during the day, perhaps have a routine which involves exercise, drawing, writing, or reading and then have night-time routine that includes getting ready for bed and turning off the television. Not being able to get to sleep or waking up and not returning to sleep can be difficult and irritating. Remember that the less activity that your brain or body do during the day the less rest or sleep you need. Try not to worry or get irritated if you are struggling to fall asleep, maybe have something prepared to do if you cannot fall asleep like reading or sketching – something that you enjoy and find comforting to do, try to not drink coffee close to bed time or upon waking up early. Ask healthcare for some information on tips for sleeping.
2. Connect with others
We know that connecting with others is important for your mental health and can help you feel better.. During the pandemic, visits and opportunities to socialise with others has been limited. There are other ways to connect with people that you care about; over the phone, drawing and sending a picture or writing a letter. Think about how much other people would like to hear from you. . It has been tough for everyone and talking to someone about how you are feeling or finding ways to help other people can all help to improve your mental wellbeing.
3. Practise self-care
It’s so important to practise self-care as a means of improving your wellbeing. It can be easy to focus on the needs of other people, rather than what you want, but taking just a small amount of time for yourself can be hugely beneficial.
Stop being so hard on yourself
It’s so easy for us to be self-critical and hard on ourselves, which can have a negative impact on our self-esteem and wellbeing. If you find that you beat yourself up over small things, and engage in negative self-talk, ask yourself whether you’d say the same things to another person. If the answer is ‘no’, then why would you say them to yourself? Instead, try to re-frame your negative thoughts so they’re helpful. As you notice negative, odd or upsetting thoughts, tell yourself that these are “just thoughts” and take deep breaths.
Recognise your signs of feeling stress
Is your mind racing? do you feel your heartbeat faster? Is your jaw clenched or grinding or your fists clenched? Learn to take notice of these signs. Just noticing your stress can help you feel better. Once you recognise these signs, there are a range of things that can help further. Taking a deep breath can turn your bodies fight or flight response off, deep breaths can also help reduce anxiety. You are in control of your body and your thoughts.
When you recognise that your mind is racing, or your fists are clenched – name it. What is happening here and how do you feel? Naming a feeling such as ‘stressed’ or ‘angry’ moves brain activity from the emotional parts of your brain to the thinking areas and can have a calming effect.
Do something with mindful attention
Try and plan something you enjoy doing everyday and do it mindfully. This could be something as simple as eating something and noticing the texture in your mouth and chewing every mouthful thoughtfully, or drawing something taking note of every movement the pencil makes. Even just sitting still, recognising the feel of your feet on the floor, your sitting bones on the bed or chair and taking a few moments to stop thinking of everything else and concentrating on this. Just doing this once or twice a day can help you to ‘re-charge’ and improve your mood. Set time aside for this each day, or a few times a week, so these activities are something that you can look forward to. Allowing yourself to figure out what hobbies or activities make you happy can help to boost your mood, lower stress and build confidence.
Notice 5 things
To help really focus on the here and now, noticing 5 things can help reduce anxiety and over thinking. Look around you and notice
5 things that you can see
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
4. Don’t be afraid to speak up
This has been a difficult time for everyone and feeling sad, anxious or worried, angry or fearful are all normal feelings when we cannot control what is happening around us and life isn’t the same as it usually is. These feelings and worrying thoughts don’t always mean that you have a mental illness, but it is useful to talk about them so that things do not become any worse. One in four adults and one in 10 children experience mental illness every year in England. It is not something you should feel shame about, it can affect anyone at any time. It’s better to act early if you feel like you might need support for how you are thinking and feeling.
If you find that you are struggling, it’s important to recognise that support is available, and you can arrange an appointment with the healthcare team, who are there to help.