It's Mental Health Awareness Week, run by the Mental Health Foundation. Their work is brilliant, and this awareness week is hugely important, but we all know that mental health needs a constant focus.
Paul McGregor, mental health campaigner, speaker and founder of Everymind, a company focused on improving mental health at work, gives us his top 5 tips that are universally appropriate to use year-round to support our mental health.
Over to you, Paul.
As another mental health awareness week passes us by, I’m writing this in the hope that the awareness around mental health continues. In fact, I’m personally on a mission to normalise mental health conversations inside and outside of work.
My drive comes from personal experience: my dad committed suicide in 2009. He had had no noticeable signs of mental illness and his loss came as a huge shock to all that knew him. I battled with grief, depression and anxiety, but did all I could to prove to others I was dealing with it. Inside I was broken, and eventually decided to seek help.
There is still a stigma associated with mental health, and people still suffer in silence. Today, my aim is to build awareness around mental health.
Here are my top 5 ways to improve your mental health:
1. You’re not alone
It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. We all have mental health. We all have a mind, emotions and feelings, but the silence and stigma surrounding this causes us to feel alone.
We struggle to tell people how we feel because we think they won’t understand. We believe they’ll judge or shame us. But actually, I’ve realised that even if the first person you reach out to isn’t willing to listen or doesn’t understand, there are many others who will.
I struggled to talk about how I felt for a long time because I thought that no one would understand. But since talking about it more openly, I’ve come to realise that everyone has their own challenges. Everyone has their own experiences. And equally, everyone has mental health.
Social media gets a lot of negative attention about its impact on mental health, but one thing it has highlighted is the fact that you’re not alone. It’s a tool to find someone who understands what you’re going through.
2. You’re not weak
Struggles with mental health are still wrongly seen as signs of weakness. But in fact, people with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are far from weak.
They deal with these challenges on a daily basis, manage them as best they can, and do it time and time again. Their strength and resilience is far from weakness. By calling them weak, we automatically add to the stigma, shame and fear causing people to continue to suffer in silence.
Talking about how we feel isn’t weakness.
3. You're unique
We like to find shortcuts, quick fixes or a one-size fits all approach to address issues. But with mental health, this isn’t a good idea.
Everyone’s mind is unique to them, and even if two people have the same symptoms that could be linked to anxiety, they will have different triggers, past experiences and coping mechanisms.
So how do we take an individual approach?
It’s all about finding out what works for you personally. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to improve your mental health, from exercising, to journalling, to meditation, but without trying them, you’ll never know what helps you the most.
For me, holistic therapy, journalling, running, nutrition and having a support network around me have really helped me. But for others, it might be cooking, hypnotherapy, reading fiction and mountain climbing. Your toolkit isn't the same as someone else's.
4. Prioritise self-care
Self-care is often considered something to do when we’re struggling. But actually, why don’t we proactively seek time to nurture ourselves to manage our mental health?
How many times has someone said, “lucky you?” when you’ve done something for yourself? How often have you felt guilty for spending 1 hour on self-care? Actually, it's important. Once you find out what works for you, integrating that into your daily routine can help you manage and improve your mental health.
Start setting some time aside each day for self-care. Spending 1 hour in the morning exercising, journalling and meditating can have a big impact on how I feel that day.
5. Start small
My final tip is to start small: focus on making small changes rather than dramatic lifestyle changes. When we’re struggling with our mental health, sometimes even getting out of bed in the mornings can be a challenge. Take away the pressure to transform your life, and just take small steps towards feeling better.
I often use Lego in analogies to describe mental health: if you smash the Lego tower, the bricks will come tumbling down. You will have to rebuild it brick by brick. Step by step. At times we may feel as though everything is tumbling down around us, but the only way we can build ourselves back up is step by step.
These 5 tips have really helped me over the past 11 years, and now hopefully they will help you. I’m hoping my honesty in this article has shown you that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
If you’re struggling right now, please don’t hesitate to contact a professional.