Caroline Crotty B.Soc.Sc. M.A. (Counselling & Psychotherapy) works with adults & teens at The Natural Clinic (www.naturalclinic.ie) 23 Sullivan’s Quay, Cork City and at Newtown Medical Centre Bantry. Caroline provides mental health & wellbeing talks and workshops to organisations, schools and community groups. Phone Caroline on 087-710-7032 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
What is mental health?
Firstly, we all have mental health and it changes over time. Whether we call it ‘emotional wellbeing’ or ‘mental health’ a simple description is ‘feeling good about ourselves and others and functioning well’. We might think that feeling happy means having good mental health but feeling happy is only one part. Feelings such as confidence or self-esteem, or deriving enjoyment from relationships or interacting positively with others are all important parts of our mental health.
How can we care for our mental health?
It can be helpful to start with the idea that our overall health involves our mind AND our body. Neither mental nor physical health exists alone. For example, if we are anxious about something (mind), we might get an upset tummy (body) and if we are not physically well (body) it may be difficult to remain positive (mind). Our physical health and our mental health impact on each other therefore to improve our mental health we can start by caring for our body and examine the basics of diet, sleep, exercise and relaxation.
For lasting results, make small changes over time. Introduce colour and freshness to each meal by eating a rainbow! Eat breakfast – after a night’s sleep we must ‘break fast’. For a noticeable difference in energy levels, over time, replace processed foods (high sugar/salt content) with freshly prepared foods. Limit alcohol intake as the ‘feel good’ factor is short lived. Rather than seeing food as ‘bad’ or ‘off limits’, create a healthier relationship with food. Take your time eating, smell, taste and chew all food and remember a little of what you fancy…
Getting enough rest helps to keep us positive. We are better able to tackle daytime stresses if we have had a good night’s sleep. Have your bed and your bedroom as relaxing as possible and banish all screens (that includes mobiles, tablets, televisions etc). Keep to a good sleep and wake schedule. Reducing caffeine and alcohol intake helps with relaxation and better quality sleep. Keep worries and anxiety for a scheduled time – not in your bedroom. Remember that exercise in (or outside) your bed helps with sleep!
Whether you buy a skipping rope (and use it!) or join a gym – start moving your body! Exercise benefits body and mind. As with diet, small changes make big differences over time. Take the stairs, park the car at the furthest point from the shop front door; dance to the radio in your home; touch your toes or jump. Exercise relieves stress and makes us feel good about ourselves. If limited mobility, ask your health care provider for guidance.
Start slowly, build up over time, keep at it and remember to praise yourself! Next edition – relaxation, breathing, being kind to yourself and others…
Previously Caroline Crotty, recommended ways to make positive gradual changes to our diet, sleep and exercise to help increase energy, feel good about ourselves and be better able to handle day-to-day stresses. To improve our emotional wellbeing, Caroline now explains that we should learn to relax, be kind to ourselves and others and to connect.
We need a certain amount of stress to keep us functioning but we also need to learn how to relax. Read a book, listen to music, take a walk, star-gaze, sing out loud, kick leaves or take a bubbly bath. Do something you enjoy (‘me time’) every day. Sit with closed eyes and visualise a place that makes you feel peaceful. Calm breathing, yoga or meditation are mentally active processes that leave the body calm. Simply taking time to notice and appreciate what is around us can benefit our wellbeing.
Calm breathing is a relaxation technique that can be practiced when calm and used when stressed. Practice at least twice per day for five minutes. Sit comfortably or lie down with one hand on your chest and the other on your tummy; breathe in slowly through your nose, hold your breath for one or two seconds then exhale through your mouth. As you inhale, feel the hand on your tummy rise as your lower lungs fill – the hand on your chest should remain quite still. As you exhale slowly through your mouth, your tummy will fall inwards and the hand on your chest still remains still. When breathing, think of calming words – ‘relax’, ‘calm’, ‘slow’ or ‘peaceful’. Concentrate on each breath as you relax.
Give Yourself A Break
We are our own worst critics. If we make a mistake or things do not go as planned, instead of going over and over it, try to be kind to yourself. No one is perfect. Ask yourself ‘Will this be important in six months’ time?’ It may not matter in six hours! Your overall mental health and wellbeing is not dependent on random incidents such as the children not getting ready quickly enough or not getting a parking space near the shops. Accept yourself for who you are. Embrace flaws and failings – they make you unique.
Stay In Friendly Contact
Having good relationships with friends, family, work or sports colleagues contributes to our wellbeing. Get involved with clubs, sports and societies and keep in contact. Volunteer for a charity. When possible, talk to people face to face but use your phone or internet to stay connected. If you need it, ask for help or offer help to someone else.
Kindness makes us feel good. It is beneficial to the person at the receiving end and also to the person being kind! Do something thoughtful BUT do not expect anything in return. It does not have to cost money or take up time – hold a door open; salute a passer-by; smile; chat; pet your dog or cat; post a greeting card. Kindness is contagious so pass on that bug!