I have been inspired to write this blog about mental health off the back of the Prime Ministers announcement of new policies aimed to help people who experience mental health difficulties. Over the years, we have had many announcements from most of the political parties about how they are going to improve mental health services. Sadly there has not been the required investment and priority given and for many people who experience mental health issues there is simply not the support available.
As someone who has lived with mental health issues, it can have a debilitating and profound impact on your life. With no support from the health service it became clear I had to find my own way for getting better and keeping well. Even if you are lucky enough not to suffer from mental health issues, I am sure my five approaches will help you live a rewarding, healthier and more productive life.
A few years ago I enrolled on an eight week mindfulness course (or a mindfulness-based stress reduction course to give it’s full title). I had read much about the benefits of mindfulness and had high hopes this would stop me experiencing hideous and dark periods of depression. Well it didn’t straight away, but it gave me some tools to make it easier to live with the ups and downs that life throws at you. If you’re looking for a quick fix then mindfulness is not for you. But if you invest in the course and regular practice, over time you will reap the rewards. I am now experiencing many benefits including less stress, less rumination, less self-criticism, no depressive episodes as well as living my life in full colour rather than in black and white.
There is so much research available demonstrating the benefits of exercise on both mental physical health that there is little point in going into it here. All I can say is ‘just do it’. It can be hard to get motivated but each time I exercise I feel so much better for it and it reinforces the benefits of making the effort. Find something that will work for you and fit into your lifestyle. I walk our dog everyday but also like to work up more of a sweat three times a week going out on a bike ride or in the gym. It helps me to decide at the beginning of the week which days I am going to exercise and if something comes up that day I make sure I find another day. I have recently become a convert to yoga. Being someone who is not a fan of ‘down dog’ and difficult yoga classes, I have a great yoga teacher who tailors the stretches and movements to my heath needs so I can practice them regularly at home.
We really are what we eat and I have found out the hard way the impact nutrition can have on your health. When we are not feeling great it’s easy to grab something high in carbs or sugar. These days I don’t think we have any excuse for eating unhealthily. There is so much free information online and free recipes you can download. The difficulty is willpower! Like exercise and mindfulness, the more effort we make to eat well the better we feel. To kick start my healthy eating I visited a nutritionist who helped transform my approach to food. You might also want to think about getting some blood tests done via your GP to identify if you are deficient in anything; I found I was lacking in Vitamin D and iron.
4. Making sure your needs are met
At times, we get stuck in life and need a little help along the way. Sometimes talking to friends or family can suffice but another approach is to get independent support from experienced and qualified counsellors or coaches. I have used both over the years for various reasons. What they have helped me do is map out my needs and find ways to make sure they are met. You might not need someone else but the relatively small investment I made has resulted in some life changing decisions.
5. Gratitude diary
This one is free! At the end of each day write in a diary or notebook three things you are grateful for from that day. You may think you have had a rubbish day where everything went wrong but you will surprise yourself and will always be able to find something positive, however small. It could be you enjoyed eating your lunch, someone smiled at you and said thank you, or you are grateful for having a dog always overjoyed to see you.
I have been lucky enough to be able to fund my way back to health. Recognising not everyone is in that situation I have recently become a member of a steering group called ‘Pathfinder West Sussex’; a partnership of service providers with the aim of providing personalised mental health and wellbeing support to anyone with a mental health need. The work is funded by local Clinical Commissioning Groups and West Sussex County Council. Having come up against a brick wall with the NHS when I needed it most, I am passionate about trying to improve the service for others. Let’s hope it gets better!
I am very thankful for many people who have supported me along the way. Here are just a few useful links and people you may wish to explore to help you.
Ed Halliwell is a leading teacher, author and influencer on mindfulness in the UK. Ed runs mindfulness courses in Sussex.
Anna Macedo is an inspiring yoga teacher in West Sussex, dedicated to helping everyone make their own improvements.
Martina Watts is an expert nutritionist, lecturer, conference speaker and health writer.
Lynne Russell is a qualified professional homeopath, personal and executive coach, NLP and hypnotherapy practitioner in Sussex.