Next week is Mental Health Week and I cannot remember ever talking so much and so openly about mental health in the recent years. Which is great, this was long overdue. People suffering in silence and isolation is not part and parcel with a forward thinking society.
I was on my regular commute to London on Monday morning, and having found a seat early on, I sat back and lazily observed the people around me. I looked at a girl standing opposite me, a few feet away and my eyes were drawn to her hands, perched high above her head as she was holding on somewhere to balance herself.
It took a few seconds to register that her hands were covered - from wrist to almost her elbow - in the very distinguishable marks that cutting leaves behind. there was not an inch of skin not marked with the small parallel lines of raised skin, slightly lighter in colour.
I experienced a number of feelings while trying to avoid locking eyes with her. I felt uneasy. Uncomfortable. Probably like you do reading this. But then realised, that whatever had happened to this girl, she was there, at 8am, on her way to work probably, making the effort. The marks were all healed, old. I wanted to tell her 'whatever happened, you got this'.
Mental health lows have a significant effect to how we lead our lives long term and can manifest in a variety of forms; from sweating when we get stressed for that presentation at work, to panic attacks and worse.
I asked Integrative Counsellor in West London, Roula Barlika, to share her insight and techniques for fighting stress, calming down and practising mindfulness. Roula offers help with low self esteem, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, weight loss counselling and other issues. Here is what she had to say:
"When life feels too much, when we feel overwhelmed, stressed, worried and depressed, we need to remember that there are always things that we can do to help us cope better. Even when we feel that we cannot change our environment, our situation, the people around us that affect us, we need to remember that we always have a choice on how we respond to all these.
We might not be able to control our environment, but we can control our response to it - Roula Barlika, Integrative Counsellor, www.innersightcounselling.uk
Believing that from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep we have a choice of response can be very empowering and can change the way we think, feel and behave. And of course this is easier said than done, but here are a few things we could do to help us along the way and can give us the emotional resilience to cope with what life is sending our way."
Photo by Lesly Juarez
Roula advises that you make a habit of going frequently for a mindful walk, regardless the weather. If you feel pressed for time, even a short walk can make a difference. Make an effort to not get lost in your thoughts throughout the walk, but try to notice the nature around you.
If possible, sit somewhere and close your eyes. Feel the breeze in your face, listen to the sounds around you without analysing them, and take some deep breaths. Give a rest to your eyes and your mind by focusing on sensory input from your other senses.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao
The main benefit of mindfulness is that it teaches you to give yourself a break from your own mind. A break from the continuous dialogue, the planning, the remembering, the comparing, the judging (mainly yourself), the contrasting, the worries, the anxieties. The list could go on.
You can practice mindfulness by using apps and/or joining a local or online mindfulness group or course. Some of the most popular apps are Headspace, Calm, and Mindfulness: Being Human. Roula particularly likes the 2011 meditations of the last app, so why not look them up! Remember that mindfulness practice works much better if practiced regularly.
The more you practice, the better you become in not engaging with your thoughts and feelings. You learn to acknowledge their existence and then continue with whatever it is you are doing in the present.
Photo by Tim Goedhart
For the moments that you feel that anxiety, worry, frustration or anger are threatening to take over your mind, Roula Barlika advises you use the "5-4-3-2-1" technique to regain control.
"The technique helps you to focus on your senses, distances you from the feelings and interrupts the spiralling negative thoughts. You can use this technique as many times as you need to", she says.
Identify five things you can see around you.
Identify four things you can hear.
Identify three things you can feel such as a button, your hair, an object close to you.
Identify two things you can smell.
Identify one thing you can taste in your mouth.
"If you find yourself being sceptical about the benefits of practising these interventions", she continues, "make a deal with yourself that you will try them daily for at least two weeks (and in the case of the “5-4-3-2-1” technique as often as needed) and then assess their impact on you. Frequent practice results in teaching your mind and body a new way of responding to events and triggers, improves your emotional regulation and reinforces your resilience".
Photo by Callum Shaw. Yes, taking the time to enjoy your coffee or tea, from from distractions, social media and more may be exactly what the doctor orders.
Other tips for keeping up with your mental health, from my Instagram friends:
No more people pleasing
"Cutting back on people pleasing by noticing where you’re saying yes for the wrong reasons and sacrificing your wellbeing is a big boost to your mental health". - Nat Lue, Author, Podcaster
Stop comparing yourself to others
"Comparison is the thief of joy: especially on Instagram and social media! Stop scrolling and comparing yourself to everyone else. Most people are not showing the bad stuff on Instagram!" - themerrallshome
"Relaxing with my fav candle and snuggling with a good book or podcast!" - throughannetteslens
"Self care: you can’t pour from an empty cup. You need to look after yourself." says themerrallshome
"Go and learn something new outside your usual world... reading- doing a craft- a new exercise routine. You need to get yourself fired up again. Go somewhere new- a new cafe- a new park - a new city. Looking at the world around us can be so inspiring...", Natalia Willmott, owner My Billet Doux
"Love an afternoon/evening colouring session. Definitely takes my mind to a happy place. Also, journaling or writing down a few sentences every day. Helping to either process your day or start off with a positive note" says Flamingo_Heaven.
"Writing down things you are grateful for is also a nice way to keep good mental health as reminding yourself of the good things in life is always comforting" says chuiyanxx while misslissaprice plan is "Getting away in the campervan for a night, just me and the dog" (sounds like an ace plan to me!).
The great outdoors
"Get out in the fresh air.....even just for 15 mins. A walk around the block, to your local park, a country ramble.....whatever. Just get out there & move. It’s a wonder for clearing your head!" - yak74
"Grounding techniques: If you are struggling, having a panic attack etc. Concentrate on your feet on the ground, how your hair feels against your skin and neck, how your clothes feel against your body" - themerrallshome
Less technology in the evening
"NO PHONES in bed" says themerrallshome
Sharing is caring
"A problem shared is a problem halved. So don’t keep your worries in and also try to assess a big worry from a little one. My father used to say, worries can be like a little cut on your finger. The smaller ones you can just put a theoretical plaster on and soon you’ll forget them (like the cut). The bigger ones you might also cover up, but if they still niggle a bigger plaster won’t help, but sharing them and solving them will. And don’t worry about having worries as we all do!" says postprentisdesign
"Share more, though the best thing ever has been getting a dog. Brilliant buddy for life." - arc_jb
"We write 5 positives for each day and then share them with the rest of the family, even when you're having a bad day there are positives to focus on!" - plattsac
If you have any other tips to share, I would love to hear what works for you!