The Mental Health Toolkit

I’ve decided that as I have lots of different tips and bits and bobs sprawled across my blog in various different posts, it would be good to put them all in one place. So I’m going to put together absolutely everything that has helped my recovery all in one post (it could be a bit long, you may want to grab a cuppa).

Mindfulness Meditation
When I first heard about this I thought it sounded really hippyish. I was like na I’m not into all that. Then, people kept talking about it on Twitter and I thought ok, maybe it’s not so bad? Maybe it’s not all floaty and ‘hmmmm’ sounds? Well, it’s not. In fact, it’s a very helpful tool that has helped me to deal with things a bit better as well as get a better night’s sleep. I’m currently using Calm – an iPhone app – each night before I go to bed. Here’s a separate post on meditation if you would like more info.

Self Care
I appreciate that this is quite a broad term and I think it can have different meanings for different people. Whatever ‘self care’ means for you, remind yourself that it’s not indulgent or selfish, it’s necessary. Make time for yourself to have a long bath, have a massage, movie night, reading, face mask, manicure, whatever. Remember, not indulgent, necessary.

Talking
I learnt fairly quickly that keeping everything to myself wasn’t beneficial. Quite the opposite, in fact. Whatever is going on for you, reach out to someone – anyone. Whether that be a professional, your parents, partner, friend, sibling, me! Just don’t keep it all in. Try – I know how hard it is – to verbalise what you’re experiencing or, if that’s too difficult, write it down.

A Hobby
As soon as I found something that I was really passionate about, my whole wellbeing improved. Not only is my mind busied by writing, it gives me a sense of achievement as well as inspiration from other people’s blogs. This is something that’s really important when it comes to keeping hopeful because it gives you something to look forward to and work towards, whilst being able to do it in your own time and at your own pace. Allow yourself to have a bit of fun and be inspired by yourself as well as other people.

Meeting Others
Meeting other people who understand what it’s like and forming genuine friendships has been so, so valuable to me. Not only online, but actually in person, too. Last week I went to #MHBSouthCoast organised by Mike and Mel and I had the most wonderful day. This sounds very odd, I know, but I could literally feel myself healing as I spoke to and hugged the people that were there. They got it. I’m not weird or crazy, I am, in fact, part of the most wonderful group of people. I can’t remember the last time I felt as content as I did on Saturday.

Therapy
Whilst there are many things that I’ve done myself and really that’s what I want this post to be focused on – easy ways that we can help ourselves – it would be wrong of me to not mention therapy. I’ve had two different types: when I was first diagnosed I had talking therapy (NHS) and more recently, EMDR (private). EMDR has been very helpful in gaining an understanding of how my mind is working and, as a result, how to help it. I’d highly recommend it for those who have trauma-related difficulties.

Herbal Medications
After I decided that I couldn’t manage the side effects of my prescribed meds, I decided to take a look down the herbal route. I was very dubious, like can a herbal remedy really make that much difference?? But it did. I have found Lemon Balm to be brilliant for anxiety. When I went on holiday last year I knew I’d struggle so I took one of these every day and didn’t have a single panic attack. Then there’s 5HTP: 5HTP is a herbal antidepressant – it encourages your body to produce more serotonin on it’s own – and I didn’t have any side effects with either of these. Of course, it’s different for everybody and please please please check with a professional before taking these, if you choose to try them. Just because they’re herbal, that doesn’t mean they’re totally safe and side-effect-free for everybody. Do not take 5HTP with any other antidepressant medication.

Educating Myself
This ties in quite nicely with therapy. When I first got diagnosed, my symptoms worsened for a while because it was like shit I’ve been labelled and now I’m mentally ill and I haven’t got a clue what I can do about it but having therapy – and, I should add, a good therapist – I now understand why my brain does what it does. Actually, it’s all very logical. Working out why you’re behaving in a particular way or getting the symptoms that you’re getting means that you can work towards improving them because you know what the problem is. Also, the realisation that actually, it does all makes sense, made me feel a lot less ‘crazy’ and helped to remove self stigma.

Routine
To many this seems very minor but to me, it makes a big difference. I think it’s important to remember that my personal experience is that of a high-functioning illness and this isn’t the case for everybody. Personally, going to work each day has been very helpful in providing a solid routine and a bit of stability – I know what I’m doing and what’s coming next.

Breathing Exercises
This sounds ridiculous but believe me, learning to breathe properly is really important. As I mentioned at the beginning, meditation helps a lot with this as well as specific techniques like the triangle exercise.

Gradual Exposure
Ah. The hardest part. So you know when your whole body is telling you not to do something because you are so, so scared, and you physically can’t bring yourself to do it? That’s what I’m talking about here. Over the last few months I have deliberately done things that cause panic because the main thing I’ve learnt about anxiety is that fear breeds fear. The longer you put things off, the more scary they become. Claire Eastham writes about this in a much better way that I can in her book – We’re All Mad Here – where she describes the three different types of anxiety: the tiger, the bully and the frenemy. The frenemy rewards you for skipping activities or events by making you feel better for doing so, but actually, all this means is that next time you’re due to do that particular activity, event or similar, the fear will only be worse (separate post). Last year I made myself get on a tube, I went on holiday twice, I spent New Year away from home in a place I didn’t know, I travelled by myself, and now I know that I can do all of those things. By building up a little mental portfolio of things I’ve done, and nothing bad happened, now, next time I have to do them it will be easier. It will get easier every time.

Self Compassion
For me, this has been vital. It is very difficult to achieve – I completely understand and appreciate that – but I just ask that you try. I never really thought about it to be honest until I started therapy a few months ago and it kind of highlighted to me how negative I actually felt about myself. I learnt to appreciate the person that I am because of what I’ve been through, done, experienced, rather than penalising myself for it. From this point I realised that my body deserves to be treated right. It deserves to be fed, watered, etc, because it’s been through a lot. My mind deserves to be looked after. It’s fought battles resiliently and dealt with more than any person should have to deal with. For that, I credit my mind and my body. They’re still here despite everything and they deserve to be looked after. I feel like I’m waffling but I hope this makes sense?

A Sense of Purpose
This is a tough one, I know. I struggled a lot with feeling like there wasn’t really much point and I very often questioned what it is that I’m actually on the planet for. What do I bring? What is the whole point? Why am I here? These are very, very difficult questions to answer and I can remember forcing myself to not think about it because it sent me into episodes of very low mood (and consequently, panic). However. When I started blogging and writing about mental health, this became a lot easier. You may notice that many of these things link together and help each other, sometimes by accident, so some of these won’t be as difficult as they sound, I promise.

Cutting Out Caffeine & Alcohol
This is something that won’t be right for everyone and that’s okay. I stopped drinking about six months ago but it wasn’t really a conscious decision like ‘I must stop drinking’ – I’ve never really been a heavy drinker. I guess it just kind of happened. I don’t really like the whole feeling of being drunk and dizzy and getting a hangover etc. which made this quite easy but I just really don’t want to risk putting my mental health in danger again when I’ve worked so hard to build it back up. Caffeine is slightly different – sometimes I have it, sometimes I don’t. This is more a case of when I’m having a bad day I will avoid caffeine to prevent worsening of symptoms, but if I’m feeling ok I don’t even think about it anymore.

Prioritising My Health & Recognising When to Stop
Knowing your limits is absolutely vital, particularly for those who are high-functioning like me. Since I started my blog I’ve taken on quite a few different projects as well as trying to write regular posts and work full time. Recognising when to stop prevents burning out and enables you to stop pressurising and overloading yourself before it goes too far. Remember that no matter what it is that you’re trying to get done, is anything ever important enough to take priority over your health? Treat yourself like a human, not a machine.

Learnt to Manage (& Enjoy!) My Own Company
I used to really struggle being on my own and as I babysit every week, this is something that I really needed to work on for a while. When my anxiety was at it’s worst, I was in the house on my own, babysitting, and I had a panic attack. I hadn’t had one for a while and it felt like it had been building and building until it erupted. For some reason, I was just so scared of being by myself that night. I still don’t really know why. But I phoned Charlie who was playing tennis with a friend, hyperventilated at him for a bit and he came over and bought us pizza. After that I made a conscious effort to put a plan in place for evenings that I’d be on my own. I’d think to myself something along the lines of this: ‘ok, so if I get home at about 5.30, I can have something to eat and have a cup of tea, then have a bath and dry my hair. By this point it will be about 7.30. After that I can watch a movie/write a post, then read my book and get an early night.’ Even just knowing that I had this little plan of action in place helped a lot.

Time & Resilience
It doesn’t happen overnight. Recovery is a long and difficult process. Be kind and patient with yourself and always remember to look back at how far you’ve come. Celebrate small victories because within recovery, every single victory counts.

If you’ve made it to this point in the post, thank you, you are wonderful. Sorry for going on for so long, I just didn’t want to miss anything out that could potentially help someone.

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8 Comments

  1. February 5, 2017 / 10:47 am

    Really like this post, really good information, taught me some things to do! x

  2. February 5, 2017 / 11:18 am

    I like this list a lot… Prioritising my own mental health is a big thing for me, and something that’s taken me a long time to actually do (and not feel bad about)!

    Liz x
    Distract Me Now Please

  3. February 15, 2017 / 7:19 pm

    Wow. Amazing post!!! Gradual exposure has really worked for me, I have social anxiety and agree with how hard it is because your body/mind is telling you not to do it.

  4. February 16, 2017 / 2:46 pm

    Thanks for sharing this I think reading this was a good reminder to myself of what I should be doing. Great post!

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