Easy ways to work on your own mental health

Following Mental Health Awareness Day Thursday I wanted to offer some ideas of simple things you can do relating to fitness and nutrition to help improve your mental health (whoever you are) and perhaps even help manage depression and anxiety:

1) Drink water

Most of us don’t drink enough water at the best of time and if you feel low the chances are you will drink even less. Fill a water bottle and sip throughout the day. Dehyration causes fatigue and has been linked to feelings of depression so drinking water is a cheap, low effort way of helping you feel a bit better.

2) Vitamin D

This can help make you feel better natutally. You can buy supplements, a light box, possibly use a sunbed or even better get outside and get some fresh air at the same time. Little effort required for a potential improvement in your mood.

3) Fish Oil

Omega 3 has been linked to improving symptons of mild depression. Make the effort to take a supplement each day – you can buy it in liquid form if you can’t swallow tablets (and are brave!). This was one simple habit that has worked well for me.

4) Eat regular meals

When you feel low eating proper meals at regular times can go out the window. Set an alarm for regular intervals and eat a small simple meal when it goes off. This will help stabilise your mood and create a feeling of routine and normality which can help when life feels like it’s crumblig around you.

5) Eat colourful food

Go to the shop and buy lots of different colourerd food. If you don’t feel like cooking buy prepared veg and fruit. Eating a variety of colours will mean your getting a variety of nutrients and will help improve your mood as well as your health.

6) Eat simple healthy meals

Eating healthy foods can have a dramatic affect on how well your mind feels. If I’ve had a bad week a simple healthy meal can help me feel more positive and in control of my own mind and body. It may sound stupid but when I eat well I feel like my body feels better and I’m looking after myself which in turn makes me feel brighter within myself. On days like this I won’t have the energy to cook a fancy meal so I go for a simple piece of salmon I can microwave or grill and a pack of microwave veg. 10 minutes to prepare a good quality meal.

7) Try some alternative meal prep

The holy grail of fitness freaks! Cooking is the last thing you want to do when you feel depressed. So if you find yourself having a good day make the most of it and prepare so batches of food that you can freeze. Then on days you just can’t face cooking you can defrost one of these meals and still eat something homemade.

8) Buy a slow cooker

Slow cookers allow you to make healthy tasty meals with little effort -and a casserole is brilliant comfort food. They are great for preparing a comforting meal without much effort and will make you feel better than turning to chocolate and other quick food sources that we often crave when we feel low.

9) Drink less coffee

Adrenal Fatigue and depression / anxiety are linked. Too much coffee puts you at risk of developing adrenal fatigue – drinking less will help reduce stress levels. You could try a herbal tea instead which many people find helps then relax.

10) Walk

Getting outside helps you move more -that will help your mental health. Fresh air will help lift your mood. Being outside will help increase vitamin D intake. Walking can help clear your head. Walking is free. In short one of the best and most simple things you can do to help yourself fell more positive.

11) Exercise

As I said moving has been shown to help manage many mental health issues. You may not feel much like it but it can be in any form and doesn’t need to be for long periods of time to help. Start small and build up as you start to feel like you can.

12) Dance

Stick music on and just move to the music. Music can improve mood as can moving which makes thos fun activity a win win mood boosting activity.

13) Try group exercise

Nerve wracking and requires motivation. Sounds awful if you aren’t having the best day. But if you can push yourself to walk into the room you can find exercise, motivation, good music and social interaction in one place. It’s hard to leave a class not feeling at least a little bit more positive than when you walked in.

14) Join a team or club

Another nervewracking idea. Another idea which will allow you to exercise which will help your mental health and get to meet new people, another great mood booster. It can also help boose confidence which will help your mental health dramatically.

15) Try yoga

A chance to challenge your body and stretch along with a focus on breathing and mental wellbeing. You could try a class or find a free video on You tube. You could do an hour or even 5 minutes. Whatever you feel like at the start there is an option you could try out and you may feel more relaxed by the end of it.

Do you have any other tips for improving your mental health?

World Mental Health Day 2019

 

World Mental Health Day this year is focusing on suicide prevention, there’s some useful downloads on their website about this topic for a variety of situations and it’s worth a read (website link below).

https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2019/10/10/default-calendar/world-mental-health-day-2019-focus-on-suicide-prevention

There are two school’s of thought with ‘days’- mental health, women’s day and so on.  Yes – in an ideal world we wouldn’t need specific days to remind people are inequalities and reduce stigma.  We don’t live in an ideal world though and what these days do is start conversations – some of those conversations may well be forgotten tomorrow sadly, but for some the onslaught of coverage on one day could set in motion the impetus to make a change- either for someone specifically affected or in making someone more mindful.

There’s so much that I could write about today- from personal experience but I’ll limit this blog to three brief things I think worthy of being mindful of if you know someone who is currently struggling with any mental health condition.

One

It can be frustrating for those around someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts.  Often you try and help and feel like you’re being met with resistance at every turn.  These illnesses are not logical though and as well meaning as your advice may be you might not get the reaction you hope for.  You can offer the most practical and solid advice in how someone might feel better but self care is hard when you are really ill and even though it’s the thing that will help it can feel practically impossible to do.  As frustrating as that may be for you believe me the person affected will be equally, probably more frustrated and knowing those around them are frustrated can just add to the difficulty of climbing out of a hole.

If you know someone who is struggling, be there for them, offer an ear, even offer advice, but accept you can’t fix it and you may feel like you repeat yourself a million times before anything lands.  Don’t take that personally – you being there is probably helping even if it feels like it isn’t.  If someone is suicidal, as much of an impact and stress that will place on you and others around them- remember the stress they feel to get to that point is far greater- frustration and anger are normal and understandable responses but when people get ill they aren’t doing it to piss people off or make life hard for others, get time off work or get attention.

Two

From my own experience when I went back to work after being off for a long time due to mental health issues I found it really hard and one reason for this was there was no understanding of mental illness in the way there would be for a physical illness.  The procedures in place just didn’t work for managing what was wrong with me.  I’m lucky I have a good manager who took time to listen to me and understand and that helped me settle back in, but at first it was really hard because I felt like I was having to fight against a system at a time when I really didn’t have the capacity to do so.  It took me to bite the bullet ask for a conversation and try and explain.

You can understand in situations like this how so many people fall between the gaps and end up unemployed, isolated and feeling like there’s no way out.  It’s easy to drop out the system (if you stop going to the doctors because you really just can’t face anything they don’t chase you up for instance), you can have to jump through hoops to get help but often have no motivation to do so.  You actually have to fight to get help (or have someone fight for you) and often you just can’t when your ill.  You may lose your job because your company doesn’t recognise mental illness as a genuine illness and not have the capacity to fight that.

These situations could be improved with education.  I don’t just mean companies educating their staff to understand mental illness, I mean in some cases companies themselves need to understand better how mental illness can affect staff and how best to handle it at a variety of stages- both preventative measures, catching signs of problems early on and dealing with the aftermath of serious issues.

Three

Today is about making people aware of the importance of mental health, of being open about discussing it- because more people than you would ever anticipate will be affected to varying degrees over their lifetime.  Being aware everyday is important though.  If you notice that a friend or a colleague doesn’t seem quite right you haven’t got to have a conversation with them if you don’t feel comfortable.  It might be mentioning your concern to someone closer to them who could check in on them.  But equally it could be dropping them a message or calling them for a chat, inviting them for a coffee or lunch, anything to connect with them.  You know that thing we call being nice, letting people know they have people around them.  On a day to day individual basis that can be the thing that makes the difference, and because you never really know how much people are struggling making not being a dick a general life rule is probably the best way to help others maintain good mental health, not least because you never know what sort of things could affect someones so something you say in passing which means nothing to you could affect that person for hours even days after.

Jump 4.2 – Week 8

I’ve been AWOL for the last week, rather busy between a mixture of work and personal stuff, and I started writing this blog last Thursday but then never got round to finishing it.  I could have finished it if I’m honest, it’s just that in the grand scheme of things a few other things were more urgent.

So I guess that’s the lesson for me on week 8 of Jump 4.2; time management, priorities and allowing things to slide occasionally.

As a PA / administrator I would like to say I am pretty organised and hitting deadlines is vital for me to be good at my job, this blog would suggest otherwise perhaps, BUT another thing that is vital is knowing how to prioritise your work and getting the most important things done first.

A heavy workload last week, along with a spa afternoon booked in and mum mum visiting for the weekend meant I was a bit limited on time to do things I enjoy but aren’t money earners (like this blog) or non negotiable appointments (my mum, the spa).  So I accepted that some things I wanted to get done but which weren’t essential needed to be put on the back burner.

The thing is (and we all do it) it is easy to get caught up in the tasks we enjoy or feel comfortable with, but sometimes we need to be strict with our own time management to be more productive and serve our self the best we can.  Your priorities will constantly evolve so just being aware of what you need to do compared to what you’d do in a ideal world is the best thing you can do to stay organised.

By organised I actually mean sane.  When you don’t feel on top of your to do list (at work or at home) it’s difficult to feel good within yourself as stress levels rise and self care may begin to slip.  Can you always be on top of your to do list though?  Unless your superwoman/man probably not.  So as much as planning and sticking to your plan is important, part of time management in itself is knowing when to put something on the back burner for a bit, so you can get the important stuff done and feel positive rather than like a failure.

So what did I do in week 8 of Jump?  Well I stayed aware of my calorie intake even though I wasn’t actively aiming for a deficit, I stuck to lots of positive habits most days, I barely trained but decided around Wednesday that I’d accept that because I was actually a bit tired and felt like I needed a rest.  Oh and I had a massage!  That’s not sticking to Jump 100% but it’s not a bad week either.

What I’ve learnt over the eight weeks is more important than what I’ve done this last week.  What I have learnt is to be a bit more pragmatic about my diet and training.  Accept I’m in control of it, but it will still never be perfect because I’m an average person who will have social occasions to go to and days when I want ice cream for breakfast.  The key is to acknowledge that for every few ‘good’ days there might be some ‘bad’ days, yet one bad day doesn’t ruin a week that has otherwise been positive.  In training your mind to accept this you allow yourself the freedom to improve your training and nutrition rather than staying trapped in a never ending cycle of assuming you need perfection to achieve results.

So your training and nutrition is much like your to do list, sometimes you need to adjust your expectations and be flexible with timescales and actions to keep yourself sane, it doesn’t mean you’re doing badly just that your managing your time and your priorities appropriately.

Two things to finish:

  1. If you are a group exercise instructor or do a lot of group exercise classes as a a participant and would like to know more about Jump 4.2 drop me a message, I can answer any queries and maybe even help with a discount….
  2. Because I think it ties in well below is a link to my productivity planner which I designed to help you stay focused when you feel like things are getting on top of you.  If you are struggling to stay focused try using his for a few days to keep you on track (p.s. this is a day organiser not a fitness organsier).

Link To Productivity Planner

 

Under Pressure

An awful lot of the pressure in my life comes from me.  I’m probably not alone in that.  We face enough genuine stress in life without putting more on ourselves, but that’s exactly what many of us do, in one way or another.

I get annoyed with myself if I miss a workout, go over my calorie goals, make a mistake at work. I take these small things and build them into massive issues that can ruin my day- sound familiar?

The first step toward easing off of yourself is to identify when you might be making things harder on yourself unnecessarily.  Recently I’ve been making more of an effort to identify when I’m stressing about something I really don’t need to stress about and change that.

Here are some ways I’ve found helpful for cutting down on unnecessary stress.

1

Understand The Difference Between High Achievement and Perfectionism

When it comes to stress, “do your best” is better than “be perfect,” and in the long run, it’s healthier as well.

If you find yourself constantly going over mistakes you’ve made, noticing more of what you’ve done wrong than what you’ve done right, and getting anxious when you do a good-but-not-perfect job you may want to review how you view your own expectations of yourself.

2

Draw A Line Between Leading A ‘Full’ Life And An Overwhelming Life – Learn to Say No

Leading a full life is great (YOLO and all that) but if you don’t live a balanced life too, you can feel too stressed, too often.

Be aware of how you feel at the end of the day or weekend – if you’re constantly knackered maybe you need to let some things go or say no to some invites to allow yourself some time to relax. Exhausted people lose momentum eventually no matter how many exciting things they’ve done or got planned.

Manage your commitments in all aspects of life to help manage the pressure you put upon yourself.  If something needs to take longer then it needs to take longer, if it really really can’t then something else needs to give sometimes.

3

Think Like An Optimistic Realist Rather Than A Pessimist

Realistic positive thinking (focusing on the positive without completely ignoring and failing to address issues that require a response) can help you to be more effective in your life, and less stressed along the way, research has shown.

One of the best positive thinking strategies you can adopt is optimistic thinking, which is a specific pattern of thinking that allows you to focus your attention on your accomplishments which allows you increase your confidence to do your best in the future.

That doesn’t mean not dealing with problems – just not focusing on them over the positives all of the time.

4

Allow Yourself To Feel Then Take Action

An effective way to help yourself through stressful times is to become more aware of how you feel and why (perhaps by journaling, talking things out with a close friend, or even talking to a therapist if necessary, sometimes it means just having a really good moan) and then once you’ve acknowledged those emotions instead of trying to fix them there and then decide to undertake one or two small activities that will bring something positive to your day.  The activities can be completely unrelated, it’s more the act of just doing something positive and feel good that matters here.

In other words – acknowledge what is getting you down then focus on what you can do that day that is positive (it could be a tiny action) rather than trying to fix your entire mood in one go.  It won’t fix things but can just improve how you feel a little bit.

5

Accept Your Weaknesses, And Those Of Everyone Else

Give yourself a break. You can also relieve stress by giving everyone else a break as well, don’t take things as personally, don’t hold onto grudges, and try to see the best in people by understanding how things may feel from their perspective.

I wrote recently about the fact you can’t be positive all of the time.  In the same way you can’t avoid all stress, these things are just part of life.  You can be proactive in managing your reactions to these stresses, which goes a little way towards making you feel good about things.

Taking a Break

I’m currently 5 days into a week away. This is my first beach holiday since 2015 and has been exactly what I needed. I normally opt for city breaks over the beach (largely due to my lack of tanning ability!) but these can often leave you coming back more tired than refreshed. So this week was long overdue and has been a chance to completely relax, enjoy some sun, read, eat and drink at leisure.

Taking time for yourself doesn’t have to be reserved for holidays or spa breaks though there’s plenty of ways you can make time for you everyday and plenty of benefits for doing so. Just taking out 30 minutes a day to spend some time on yourself away from people and work makes all the difference to your mental health, you could:

  • Go for a walk on your lunch break
  • Read a book or watch your favourite film
  • Take a long bath
  • Go for a coffee
  • Sit and read the papers in peace
  • Exercise
  • Practice Yoga
  • Just sit and do nothing
  • Paint your nails or put on a face mask

Doing this can have numerous benefits;

  • Greater well being – doing something for you will make you feel happier, less stressed and more positive towards yourself
  • Improve work life balance – taking time away from work can reduce potential for burnout and make you happier within your work
  • Allow for self reflection – spending time alone can allow you time to reflect on your own thoughts and emotions
  • Improve concentration – taking a break allows you to come back more focused than you were before
  • Improve productivity – taking time out can actually mean you get more done after due to feeling rested, more focused and positive
  • Reduce stress and unwind – taking time out will almost always make you feel better, put things in perspective and leave you feeling more relaxed.

With that I’m off to enjoy the last couple of days of my holiday, and there will be less of a break between now and the next one this time!

Post Marathon Blues

Today’s blog topic is a request (possibly my first ever topic request!) and is focused on the Post Marathon Blues.

This doesn’t just need to apply to marathons, it could equally apply to people who have trained for any big sporting even (half marathon, 10k, big swim or cycle, triathlon, a show, a tournament- anything where all your focus for several months has been working towards being in your peak physical form and at the top of your game for one specific event).

How we feel after an event is not something we tend to focus on.  We put lots of thought into preparing for things and on the day itself and even on the immediate recovery in the hours or days after a physical event.

But many people report feeling a bit down in the weeks after a marathon or other big event.  Words like lost, aimless, flat, down, void, lacking in motivation come up in conversations.  It’s a lot like that feeling you get when you come back from a holiday and the realities of normal life hit you and now because the holiday has been and gone you don’t have anything to look forward to.

This is due to both physical and psychological reasons.

Physically the day itself will probably have left you feeling extremely tired, a cumulative effect of weeks of training hard and the extra effort of the day itself and you may have picked up blisters, bruised toenails and niggles which don’t help make you feel great about yourself.  Your endorphins will have been high during the event and as you settle back into normality this can have an effect of how you feel as you struggle to replicate the high you felt in that moment again.

Mentally, you no longer have the event to focus on and that can leave you feeling like life has no meaning or focus after months of everything you do revolving around training (can’t go out Saturday have a long run on Sunday morning, can’t eat that as I’m in training and so on).  It can make it harder to you to motivate yourself to eat well or train as you no longer have that reason for doing so.  Many of us thrive on routine and having something meaningful to us to work towards and once you reach your goal where do you go from there?

Thankfully, these feelings tend to only last a few weeks and people normally spring back to their normal self but there are things you can do to help yourself feel better in this situation and feel the positivity you probably expected to feel after your big achievement.

Celebrate

Plan to do something nice to celebrate your achievement – a massage, spa break, celebration meal.  Take time to congratulate yourself for what you achieved so it doesn’t feel insignificant now.

Book something nice

Similar to above, you could consider booking a weekend break or holiday- something to focus on that is nice and not exercise.  This is bound to improve your mood

Reflect

Think about what you achieved, all the positives and even what you would have done differently in hindsight.  Think objectively about whether it’s something you would like to repeat or if once was enough.  That way if you choose to train for the same event in the future you know what pitfalls to avoid and if not you know you can confidently say once was enough.  Sometimes reflecting on your feelings can give you more ownership on how you feel and help you both make decisions and manage your emotional responses better.

Recover Properly

Get a sports massage, continue to eat nourishing food (and enough of it) to help the body recover, stretch, get some good quality sleep and take some time to just sit and chill.  Any sporting event which take a toll on your body requires some proper mindful recovery in the days after to help you feel better physically which in turn will help you feel better mentally.

Do some low impact exercise

Don’t feel like you need to be back training he day after.  A week or two off could be exactly what your body needs.  If you feel the urge to exercise though try and stick to low impact options which place less strain on your CNS.  You may want to try some yoga or similar during this time.

Don’t run for a couple of weeks

Similar to above, a couple of weeks not doing the exercise you have just trained hard for can be beneficial, both in allow you to physically recover but also give you that little bit of excitement when you do go back out for that first run after a couple of weeks.

Find a new challenge

After a couple of weeks when your rested and refreshed this could be the time to think about what comes next.  Another run of the same distance, a step up to the next distance (Ultra anyone), maybe looking at trying something new instead.  Setting your next goal will give you a renewed sense of focus.

Above all, don’t stress about feeling a bit blue after a big event.  It’s human nature and being sensible and kind to yourself is the key to letting it subside.

Equally, if you suffer from depression anyway, don’t let the idea of post event blues put you off training for an event.  Research has shown that having something to aim for and the training and self care associated with that training can be beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of depression and as long as you are mindful that you might feel a bit down immediately after the event and have your coping strategies in place this should have a generally positive impact on your mental health.

Being Busy

Quick blog today because I’ve had a busy couple of days at work and want an evening off to relax!

I say I’ve been busy, I’ve actually been pretty productive with what I’ve got done.  When I set to do a job I’m good at focusing and not distracting myself until it’s done.  This week I’ve boxed off a fair few tasks that have been sat on my to do list for a while and were at the point they HAD to be done.

That causes a bit of stress though, leaving things until you HAVE to do them.

What I much prefer to do is plan stuff in and get it done in comfortable time so I don’t feel that stress.

What has held me back from doing this has been my routine, I’ve not allowed my self the time to be in control.  This means on occasions I’ve had to be reactive.  That’s not how I like to work.

This in turn has a knock on effect on my training and nutrition as I’m rushed and sometimes some things have to give.

So my plan for the next few weeks is to nail my morning routine.  Alarm goes off and I get up, no snooze button, no waiting until the last minute then having to rush around.  By allowing myself time to stat my day right I know the rest of my day will fall into place as I’m generally good at time blocking my day, I just need to avoid the domino effect that happens if I start the day on the back foot.

To be honest there isn’t really a point to this blog, it’s more just my internal musings…. but if you are feeling overwhelmed at the moment, take a look at your week and pin point why, then work out what one change you can make that would improve that situation.