18th May is the start of Mental Health Awareness week. Mental wellbeing is something close to my heart for a number of reasons, so I'd like to share with you a few tools I've been using to keep my mind (and body, but mainly my mind) healthy, not just during lockdown, but in everyday life.
So here we go, my top tips for everyday mental wellness:
1. Moving Meditation
I've linked meditation and movement together as personally I find it very hard to sit still and meditate, despite the proven benefits to your mind in doing so daily. Instead I get my meditation while moving - either during yoga or on my daily walk. During lockdown I've been enjoying Love Yoga by Gillie Sutherland each morning in the time I would usually have been on the school run. Gillie also does longer workshops and retreats (online and in real life). While walking I might listen to one of Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey's 21 day mediation series. If I've not managed to do either of those in the day I listen to the daily meditation from my Calm app either in the bath or just before bed. Meditation creates space for your brain to switch off and be quiet for a bit - it need not be while you are sedentary - it's all about balance. If you sit at your desk a lot during the day while working then maybe you need a moving meditation practice like running, walking, cycling or yoga rather than a static practice. If, on the other hand, you've had a busy day on your feet rushing around a lot for your work or looking after young children, you might prefer to sit and be still while meditating or soak in a candlelit bath. (I read the other night that a warm bath before bed has been proven to reduce blood pressure, possibly why I love them so much as I have hypertension!)
2. Notice Nature
I've been more aware of nature around me this Spring than ever before. I think that's because I'm rushing less. This gorgeous article from Saturday's Guardian highlights the benefits to be found from noticing wildlife. Walking along listening to birdsong and noticing wildflowers is a form of meditation in itself. Even if you have zero outside space, you can still appreciate nature - on your doorstep, in a park, along a canal, or if you aren't able to go outside there are now numerous ways of getting wild indoors. I firmly believe watching nature programmes on TV gives you that sense of awe and wonder and escape to somewhere different in your mind. The new series of Springwatch will be on our screens from next Tuesday 26th of May. I will be taking part in The Wildlife Trusts' 30 Days Wild challenge during June and posting about it on our social media. You can sign up for a resource pack to encourage you and your family or business do at least one wild thing a day.
3. Get Gardening
We are fortunate in having a large garden, but prior to lockdown we had been small on time to do anything with it. I've so enjoyed sowing seeds, planting seedlings out, tending to shrubs, seeing things grow and bloom and starting to pick the fruits of my labours. Even if you have no outside space, perhaps cultivate some plants indoors. Hutch Houseplants in Exeter has a fantastic selection of luscious houseplants and they can deliver. You could choose something quirky to give you pleasure like carnivorous plants, airplants or cacti. Alternatively you can enjoy the wonders of gardening from the comfort of your home by taking part in this week's virtual Chelsea Flower Show.
4. Creative Cooking
I derive a huge amount of pleasure from creating and eating good food for both myself and for my family. My mantra (thanks to Gillie mentioned above) is "nourishment not punishment". A nourishing healthy diet with a little something naughty now and again is good for the body and soul. We have an organic veg box delivered by Riverford and frequently use the enclosed recipe suggestions for new ideas. When we first started cooking with less meat I struggled for vegetarian inspiration so I ordered a recipe box scheme for a few weeks (have a look, they often have introductory offers). I did Hello Fresh but I also like the ethos of Mindful Chef. You can choose to have vegetarian or vegan menus to increase your repertoire. I have loved following online cooking tutorials with Alasdair Nunn of RachAl's Kitchen with the children during lockdown. That is where we have got most of our recipes for sweet treats from.
5. Stay Sober
(Or if not totally tee-total then at least limit what you drink.) This won't apply to everyone as I don't think everyone falls into the same category when it comes to alcohol. There are people, like my husband, who can take it or leave it; who can have just one and not be bothered about having another. Then there are people who find it hard to moderate (that was me) or who use alcohol as a crutch to escape from the stresses and strains of modern life (that was me too). I am so grateful I chose to become alcohol free 600 days ago this week - I wasn't enjoying the way it was making me feel so I decided to try another way. Every aspect of my life is better without alcohol dragging me down. It increased my anxiety and propensity to depression, it stopped me sleeping well, made me crabby and affected my relationships. Without it I feel brighter, lighter and more able to cope with the challenges life throws at me. If this resonates with you check out Sober Mummy Clare Pooley's blog and fantastic book The Sober Diaries and The Sober School a great resource to help you if you are sober curious.
6. Give Gratitude
I thank my lucky stars a lot that we live in a beautiful place where isolation is easy, but sometimes it's still hard to remember to be grateful for the little things, especially when life is busy. My sister who is a fabulous life coach, suggested that at the end of each day, as you go to bed (perhaps in a journal or just to yourself in your head) list the things you are grateful for that day. Even if the day appeared on the face of it to be a total trainwreck there must be something you can cling on to - the sun shone? you had a nice coffee? someone called to check on you? What small win did you have? A positive frame of mind is a massive mood booster, but you do sometimes have to work at it, it doesn't just happen. It also helps to list your tasks for the next day before bed to get them out of your head (I need to do this way more!)
7. Positive Podcasts
There are so many podcasts out there, you are sure to find something that resonates with you. My go-to when I'm feeling a bit low, or just to get a fix of some engaging, stimulating conversation is Fearne Cotton's Happy Place. So many of her guests have been there - suffered from anxiety for example, or OCD or addiction - or are just plain fascinating due to their life experience. She is carrying on chatting to inspirational people during lockdown, for example yesterday I listened to her interviewing George Ezra. Check it out if you need a positive pod to listen to.
I feel I should give a little disclaimer before I finish: I'm no expert. However, I do have personal experience of poor mental health and have built up this toolbox of things that help me over the last few years through a process of trial and error. What is right for me may not be right for you, some of the tips may help, some may not, it's about finding what works for you. Hopefully they will provide you with some inspiration and motivation to try a few things if you feel you might benefit from them.
These resources and techniques are those I use to keep myself in balance on a day to day basis - if you are experiencing severe mental distress I urge you to reach out to someone as these techniques may not be enough on their own to help you. The most important thing you can do is share how you are feeling with someone whether that be a friend, family member, GP, or whoever. You may not feel comfortable talking to anyone but it's important that you do. There are organisations and charities such as Mind that can help too.
There should be no shame in going to the doctor about our mental health just as we would do for our physical health. We are taught so much when growing up about looking after our physical selves, our bodies, but (certainly this was true for me and maybe it was for you too) we are taught so little about looking after our minds and our emotional selves. It is something I've only just got to grips with in my forties, because I had to, and I'm still learning. I don't want my children to leave it so late to learn about maintaining good mental health.
I should say also, there's no way I do all of these every day, but I do try to do something to keep in balance. I've been fortunate to have more time for wellness since lockdown, but I know that isn't the case for everyone. It's important to do at least something for you each day. I used to think that self-care was selfish - now I know that it's healthy-selfish not selfish-selfish (I have to credit my friend Rosie Dalling for the phrase "healthy selfish" as it's the name of her fabulous life coaching business). One of the most important things I was told when I was experiencing poor mental health and that really resonated with me was that "you have to fit your own oxygen mask before you can help others". So true, you are no use to anyone around you if you are not looking after yourself. Now I know I have to work at my mental healthy everyday even when it is good, in fact, especially when it is good, to try to keep it that way.
PS I should also note that I've not been paid to recommend any of the resources listed here, they are all just things I've discovered on my travels that I've found useful and I hope you will too. If you want any other information about any of the things I've mentioned do get in touch.
Mental Health Foundation and Mental Health Awareness Week
Be Happyfit yoga and wellness with Gillie Sutherland
Deepak Chopra for meditation
Calm app for meditation
Guardian article on noticing nature
BBC Springwatch 2020
The Wildlife Trusts' 30 Days Wild
Chelsea Flower Show 2020
Riverford organic veg boxes
Hello Fresh recipe boxes
Mindful Chef recipe boxes
Alasdair Nunn at RachAl's Kitchen live cooking tutorials
Sober Mummy on Facebook and her blog Mummy was a secret drinker
The Sober School by Kate Bee
Coach Your Life life coaching by Caroline Richardson
Happy Place podcast with Fearne Cotton
Mind, the mental health charity
Healthy Selfish life coaching with Rosie Dalling
Katie is one of the owners of Blackdown Yurts and likes to write about things going on at and around her beautiful glamping site