We all have days that are more difficult than others. Having a “mental health tool kit” of techniques to help you through these days can help.
Here are ten ideas for what to keep in your tool kit, they are all things I find helpful myself.
Notice Your Inner Voice.
Try to simply be more aware of your inner voice. Without passing judgement on yourself, notice if you are having regular negative thoughts or being overly critical of yourself. If you are, congratulate yourself for noticing and achieving the first step to better mind management.
Be Kind to Yourself.
Who is your worst critic? For many of us it’s ourselves. A good rule is to never speak to yourself in a way that you wouldn’t speak to a friend. Constructive criticism can be useful for learning; but try to focus on what you’ve done well too. At the end of each day, or after a challenging situation, take time to reflect on what you did well.
Mind Your Language.
Studies show people who use more positive language live longer. Watch out for negative language in your thoughts or speech and if you catch yourself, change your language to something more positive. For example, if you notice yourself thinking “it’ll never work”, change this around to “I’ll try my best to make it work”.
It is easy to think of stress as being something that happens to us; and we often talk of situations “being” stressful. In fact, a situation cannot be stressful; rather stress is caused by our reaction to a situation. When going through difficult times, ask yourself what you could do to change your situation; consider if there is anything that would make you feel more in control, however small. Feeling in control will help you feel less stressed. If there is nothing you can change about your situation, change your reaction to it. Ask yourself what positives you can take from it, what you can learn and how it can help you grow stronger. Scientists call this cognitive reappraisal; they found this is what allowed prisoners of war to survive prison camps; and it is what allows disabled people to become Para-Olympians for instance. This technique can be used on a daily basis by viewing day-to-day events in a positive light instead of focusing on the negatives.
Remember the Good Times.
Studies have found we can increase our serotonin levels (our “happy hormone”) by recalling happy memories. When you are in the shower, washing the dishes or stuck in a supermarket queue, make a mental list of 10 positive things that have happened recently, whether that day, week or month; and whether big or small. Perhaps cooking a nice meal, going for a nice walk or improving a skill? Remind yourself how good the thing felt and the feelings of positivity rushing through your mind will help you feel more positive overall. This is also a great exercise to do if you wake up at night; positive thoughts will help you get back to sleep much more easily than negative thoughts.
Set a Daily Intention.
If you wake up and think “this is going to be a terrible day”, the chances are it will be! Think about how you would like the day to turn out and set that as your intention. Say it out loud or better yet, write it down, to give it greater force. If you have a challenging day ahead of you, your intention might be “I am going to cope with today and not lose my temper”. You can also set an intention for any part of the day. Even if your morning hasn’t gone as you would have liked, it doesn’t mean you can’t turn things around for the rest of the day.
Be Kind to Others.
According to the Dalai Lama, compassion is the root of happiness. And studies have found that hostility reduces life-expectancy while “agreeableness” protects our health. By putting others first, considering their feelings and points of view, we can improve our relationships. This reduces stress in our lives and helps us build circles of support. Practice being kind to everyone you encounter, whether members of your household or a passer by in the street. A simple smile at a stranger usually results in a smile back and you will both feel happier. If someone does challenge you, see this as an opportunity for growth and to practice patience.
Visualise It Going Well.
If you feel nervous about an upcoming situation that you perceive will be difficult (a work Zoom call perhaps?), your subconscious mind will associate feelings of nerves with the situation, making you all the more nervous when the time comes. Instead, picture yourself doing well, feeling good about the situation, and others responding positively. Your subconscious mind will then associate these feelings with the situation, helping it to go the way you would like it to.
Talk About It.
A problem shared is a problem halved. You may well find if you talk through your problems or how you are feeling with someone, it doesn’t feel so bad afterwards. That could be a friend or family member, a paid person like a counsellor, or could you make use of a telephone helpline?
Write About It.
If talking about what’s on your mind doesn’t sound appealing, what about writing it down? Journal writing is a popular tool for working through problems, and another technique I have come across recently is the concept of “morning pages”. It involves writing 3 pages of A4 paper as soon as you wake up. You must hand write them, without using any short-hand, and you must write exactly 3 pages: no more, no less. Don’t stop to think about what you are writing: just let the words flow from your subconscious. It’s also essential that the pages are completely private to you – you may want to destroy them as soon as you have finished to be sure you will be free from the worry of someone else finding the most intimate inner workings of your mind. It may feel awkward on the first page but by the end of the third page you may well have solved the problem. Many business people use this technique.
Don’t forget to seek professional help if you are worried about your mental health.
You may also like to check out my blog Good Mood Food to find out what dietary changes could support your mental wellbeing.