You might have known that smiling is contagious, but did you know that you can also trick your body into believing that your forced smile is real? In doing so your brain releases a cascade of feel-good hormones throughout your body. Crazy isn’t it?
If it’s that simple to be happy, then why do so many people feel sad?
Mental health is a subject the medical profession has only really started getting to grips with in recent years. Up until a decade or so ago, mental health was still discussed as if it were a state of mind, rather than a disease that could be managed or sometimes cured.
Different personalities deal with stress in different ways, but a life-changing blow can easily catapult any resolute optimist into a deep dark hole.
There are self care strategies you can incorporate into your life to help alleviate daily pressures. Ideas for self care can also help recuperation after a serious incident. Having your personal self care plan is advisable anyway to stay healthy in body, spirit, as well as mind.
Some quick stats around mental health
Mental Health USA research shows that:
- 25% of Americans suffer from poor mental health
- Half of all adults will experience some sort of poor mental health at some stage in their lives
- 20% of Americans will suffer from a mental illness within the next 12 months
These are depressing facts.
What is even more concerning is that if left unaddressed, poor mental health can easily spiral out of control, resulting in:
- Substance abuse
- Self abuse
- Suicide or accidental death
It is hard to pull yourself out of such a low state and go back to being the person you were before. Suffering in this way is a huge knock to your confidence. Having the right support structures around you is key.
However, prevention is better than cure and self care is vital in keeping a fit and healthy mind.
How to love yourself
Unhealthy self love is one that is self-centered, egoistic, and narcissistic. Healthy self love is confident, but not arrogant, and has the capacity to still love others too.
If you are feeling depressed and fearful of life it is hard to love yourself, let alone care for someone else as well. You are probably unintentionally displaying body language that pushes others away, leaving you feeling even more isolated, making you dislike yourself and fueling the spiral of negativity and pain.
You need to love yourself to let others love you.
Self care is crucial for recovery from poor mental health and vital for maintaining ongoing good mental health.
What is self care?
Self care is about nurturing the five aspects of a person: the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and social. If any of these are off balance your wellbeing will be affected.
I wrote a 101 style article on the basics of self care that is a good starting point.
Once you’re on board, here are a ton of tips for self care in this crazy new world we live in.
Self care as part of recovery from poor mental health
The feeling of being out of control often goes hand-in-hand with poor mental health. Create a self care plan to regain control and get on the path to recovery. Change aspects of your life and bring positive energy back in.
Here are some important factors to remember:
- Create a roadmap with clear goals to work to.
- Include easily achievable milestones to give you a sense of achievement.
- Focus on your life, don’t let your illness define you.
- Focus on your strengths and on problem-solving.
- Don’t linger on the past and learn to accept what you cannot change. Forgive yourself and others and move on. The future is what you can influence.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you take longer than you expect to achieve goals.
- Reward yourself with achieving success.
- Keep a record of what you have accomplished. What seems massive now might seem insignificant a few weeks down the line, so you don’t want to lose perspective of how far you have come.
Keeping tabs on your mood
The Daylio is a useful app to gain an objective view of how you are feeling and your mental state. It gives you a snapshot of a moment in time. You may just be curious and want to repeat it a couple of weeks later to see whether you are feeling any different.
The data only tells you so much, and in some cases it might be useful to discuss your results further with a medical professional. Not all mental illnesses are accurately identified with this tool so self-diagnosis is not a good idea.
Changes you can make to keep good mental health
A robust self care plan that you can actually use can reduce suffering from poor mental health. Let the small changes you have incorporated into your lifestyle become permanent features. Such behavioral alterations will have a huge impact on your wellbeing.
Kick off your self care with simple actions like these below:
- Eat a balanced diet
- Sleep the minimum 8 hours per day
- Exercise about 3 to 4 times a week. Running only requires a pair of shoes. Perhaps you prefer gym classes because you need the discipline of attending a paid session. Otherwise, take a 30 minute walk at lunchtime.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Do at least one thing that makes you happy every day.
- Practice good personal hygiene.
- Build relationships and stay in touch with friends and family. Let them help you and share your worries, and be there to support them too.
- Find ways to relax – read a book, go swimming, work on a puzzle, massage, meditation, cooking; whatever works for you.
This self-questionnaire by the National Institute of Wellness is a good way to assess how balanced your life is and may highlight any changes you want to make.
Self care ideas
Being relaxed and happy in yourself is a massive factor in terms of your resilience to disease and the knock backs life throws at us. You know the expression that someone died of a broken heart? Well, it’s not a myth.
If you are feeling incredibly low and struggling to find a reason to be part of this life your body can truly give up the ghost.
Here are other activities you can add to your self care plan, that support good mental health:
1. Look inwards and understand your own needs
It is important that you check in with yourself periodically. If you do not then you may not realize that things are changing or getting out of control.
Taking the time to stop and relax is beneficial in itself. Carve out 10 minutes at some point in your day to practice a little meditation, mindfulness, or just considered breathing and you will reap the rewards.
2. Connect with others
People with meaningful relationships are two to three times less likely to die than those without, according to the Mental Health America charity.
If you want an element of anonymity, there are communities, medical bodies and charities that can help, or hotlines to ring to speak to medical support or others going through something similar to you.
Storytelling has been shown to help recovery from poor mental health. Find someone you trust and tell them your stories.
3. Be part of your community
This helps with meeting new people who can give you support. Giving back to the community is rewarding in itself too.
4. Happiness breeds joy
Like I said, studies have shown that even forcing a smile causes your brain to believe you are happy, kicking off a chemical reaction with dopamine and serotonin that actually does make you feel happier!
So, make sure that you do at least one thing a day that makes you smile. Not only does it lift your mood but it can alleviate stress, lower heart rate, and help your immune system fight disease.
A smile is also a welcome to a stranger with whom you can make a new connection.
Many of us are likely to suffer from poor mental health at some point in our lives. The key is to put strategies in place to deal with problems as they arise, to prevent them from becoming something bigger and harder to deal with.
Some of this relies on our behavior and lifestyle, whereas other aspects are about being strong enough to ask for the help that is on offer around you.
Having the shocking experience of receiving a diagnosis of ALS two years ago I understand how easy it is to become depressed and struggle to find a reason to continue living. Self care has been incredible in terms of giving me back my happy headspace. I am always keen to hear your stories, so get in touch now!