#20 Looking after your mental health in difficult times
I’m back! I hope you all had a lovely, restful bank holiday weekend and enjoyed reading last week’s blog. I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who reached out to me saying how much you enjoyed reading it. It was so touching to hear that it resonated with many of you. So thank you!
This week I’m here to talk about another topic that’s really close to my heart, and something I also think is really relevant during these uncertain times – and that’s mental health.
I have struggled with my mental health throughout my life and it was always something I had trouble talking about. I was worried people wouldn’t understand or would judge me – and I’m not going to lie those are definitely experiences I’ve had. However that now empowers me to make sure I continue to talk about it as openly as possible! There’s such a stigma surrounding all things mental health and I think the more of us who talk openly and honestly about how we’re feeling, the more we’ll get that bit closer to wiping that out altogether.
So yes, I have anxiety and depression, but I want to start by stressing a blog like this is for everyone! Regardless of whether or not you have a diagnosed mental health condition, in the same way we all work on improving and looking after our physical fitness and wellbeing we should be mindful of caring for our mental wellbeing too. It’s especially timely during isolation and lockdown to make sure we’re all supporting our mental health and being aware of self-care.
During the COVID-19 crisis I’ve definitely relied on my mental health ‘toolkit’ to help keep myself well and healthy. So this week I wanted to share some practical, simple ideas to help you look after yourself too.
Enjoying the sunshine with a walk in the countryside
- Establish a daily routine
Have a little checklist of simple things you do every day, then make sure you give yourself some credit for ticking them off! When everything feels overwhelming, it’s so beneficial to have a simple one step at a time approach. Establishing your daily routine means you already have that plan in place when you’re not having your best day.
A really important one for me is getting up and making the bed (which as I type this I know has slipped during lockdown and I need to get back on it) – it signifies that I’m awake, present and transitioning to work, or whatever that day holds for me.
When we’re feeling down it’s all too easy to beat ourselves up for everything we didn’t get done. Working through my routine helps remind me that I am achieving something, step by step, throughout my day.
Dealing with lockdown: Sit down and write out that list of ‘non-negotiables’, what does it mean for you? Getting up, dressed, showered, taking the dog for the morning walk, whatever steps you need to get through each day.
A word of caution here: please make sure you’re not putting too much on your plate at once. I think there’s been a lot of pandemic pressure that we should all be Great British Bake Off winners, who speak 10 different languages fluently and exercise constantly! Be realistic, I’m talking about simple guidelines to help keep structure in your day.
Adorable pad and pen optional
- Write stuff down!
There’s nothing worse than having all your thoughts flurrying around your head faster than you know how to deal with them! For me, getting everything out of my head and onto paper really eases that mental load.
I touched on this in my working from home blog, but planning out my week plays a big part in keeping myself calm. Alongside my working diary I also like to plan out the life part of my week. I take the time to break down everything I have to do in that week into manageable chunks. This covers everything from chores to exercise, and includes reserving time for socialising or unwinding by myself too!
That way, if I need to know what I’m doing this week, I consult my plan. It takes the pressure off feeling like I have to remember all my life admin 24/7.
Tidying in lockdown: I don’t know about you, but I’ve found myself really piling the pressure on to sort out a lot more stuff around the house than I normally would. And whilst it does give a great sense of achievement ticking something off the list, I’ve also found those ‘we’ll sort that one day’ bonus chores and responsibilities now really piling up and stressing me out.
To combat this we’ve (you guessed it) made a list of all those bigger tasks. Now, when we have a spare Saturday, we start doing them. However, I’m being very conscious of keeping it separate and not allowing those extra jobs to cloud or stress my working weeks. It’s really helped me not feel overwhelmed by everything I want to achieve around the house during lockdown.
There was really only one image choice here
- Check in with yourself
Do you ever find yourself in an argument over the way your socks are folded and wonder how on earth you got so worked up? (I really hope that’s not just me) That’s a hint it’s prime time to help your mental state in some way.
In fact, it’s actually a sign you should have checked in with yourself a lot earlier! Once you get into a habit of keeping tabs on your mood more regularly it’s easier to avoid letting things get that far.
What do I mean by ‘checking in’? The way of doing this differs for many, for me it’s almost meditation. I’ll sit, close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. The aim is to enable yourself to stop and pay attention to how your mood and mind is doing – are you feeling calm, or are thoughts racing around your head left, right and centre?
This practice will then help you look after yourself as and when needed. For example if I sense I’m having a day prone to anxiety and worry then I know to do some proper cardio exercise, as for me that really lifts my mood and helps put things back in perspective.
If you do need some help figuring out where to start Viola Sampson has a free 15 minute self-massage practice that guides you through physically checking in with yourself. Or you could always try an app such as Headspace, anything that forces you to take some time out your day and connect with yourself is a great place to start.
Recent self-love has included: nights off with beer, Pringles and New Girl
- Acts of self-love
When you’re having a down-day, I’d ask you this: if someone else was feeling low, how would you treat them? Would you tell them off for leaving the dishes on the side overnight or having a chilled out day in front of the TV? Of course not!
An act of self-love takes this one step further than that though, if a friend or family member were in that position, how would you treat them?
When I was asked that in a therapy session, the first thing that came to mind is I’d probably pop over with some flowers for them. Since then, whenever I suffer with my mental health, not only do I make sure to cut myself some slack but we also always have fresh flowers in the house.
During turbulent times, once a day show yourself some love. This doesn’t have to mean spending money! It could be smiling at yourself in the mirror, paying yourself a compliment, going for a walk, watching your favourite movie, whatever you’d do for a friend having a hard time. I think it’s a lot easier to come up with those kind gestures when you think about how you’d help someone else. Now remember you deserve that same level of care and attention too!
My lockdown-self-love: There’ve been a few ways I’ve shown myself love during these times. I’ve definitely been re-visiting old favourites from TV and film to comfort myself during the evenings. I’ve also been baking and enjoying good food more than I usually would. Oddly, one of the few things we haven’t done is get flowers in! Maybe I’ll order myself some after I finish writing this… Whatever it is for you, really do remember to be kind to yourself during this season.
Here are some of my favourite podcasts if you need some inspiration!
- PODCASTS! That is all.
Oh boy, have I relied on these little friends during lockdown. When it comes to my brain overthinking everything I’ve found that TV, film and music never quite distract from the noise – podcasts on the other hand genuinely make me stop and listen. They’re magic.
Having those human voices speaking into your ear instead of all those nagging thoughts is something I find really liberating when I’m feeling at my worst. I often play podcasts quietly as I go to sleep now, when my mind starts wandering I can just tune in and focus on the funny, clever things being said on the most recent episode of No Such Thing as a Fish (which I highly recommend, as it goes).
There are podcasts on anything and everything you can think of, so whatever you’re interested in I can assure you there will definitely be something out there you love! Just try one and thank me later.
Recent podcast loves: If you’re reading this you’re quite likely to be an Aesthetic Laundry fan, so if you’re looking for something to listen to I really enjoyed AL founder Heidi’s feature on the wonderful She Can, She Did podcast. So give that a listen if you haven’t yet!
On Thursdays, we do yoga! (Yoga with Olive’s live class on Lucy and Yak’s Instagram @ 1pm)
- Get moving
You will know this before I even type it, there are countless studies linking exercise to mental health benefits, and I am here to report it’s most definitely true.
My therapist has actually gone so far as to say that exercise resets your mind and body’s system – so you could say it’s like turning yourself on and off again when your brain has crashed.
For example, we had a really stressful day earlier this week where one of our pets was really poorly and I had to rush her for an emergency vets appointment – it was super scary! It was on a day that was one of my designated exercise days for the week and it would have been all too easy to not do it, it’s been a stressful day, maybe tomorrow. But for me it was honestly the opposite, I knew I would feel 10 times better for getting moving, so while keeping a watchful eye over the buns playing in our living room I did my workout for the day and the mental lift afterwards was huge. (Thankfully, our little bunny is doing much better now too.)
I am a firm believer there’s some sort of physical activity out there for everyone, so if you hate running – don’t run! Find something that works for you. There’s so many great fitness apps that are allowing free access during lockdown, so now is a great time to try lots of different things until you find your jam. I’ve personally been really enjoying Yoga with Olive’s live sessions on Lucy and Yak’s Instagram each week. Another lockdown discovery for me has been the FitOn app – which is completely free and even has fun real time workout classes with different celebrities! (Yoga with Jonathan Van Ness? Yas Queen!)
Or keep it old school – with the recent sunny weather there’s never been a better time to go for a nice, long (socially distanced) walk in your local area.
Top tip: cuddles with fur babies really help too
- Sharing is caring
It’s an oldie but goodie: a burden shared is a burden halved. If you’re struggling, I really can’t stress this enough – please talk about how you’re feeling. It will be a huge weight off your shoulders and you’ll find most people you talk to can relate. It’s such a relief to know you’re not the only one feeling down or anxious – and it’s always helpful to talk to someone who’s been through a similar situation and come out the other side.
Also, if your struggles are anything to do with lockdown I think it’s a pretty safe bet whoever you talk to will know what you’re going through. It’s a tough time for us all and talking together is definitely a crucial part of maintaining good mental health right now.
I’d also like to encourage you to keep your work in the loop about how you’re feeling. You can’t get the support you need if they don’t know you need it! Anything to do with mental health is always the invisible illness, and it’s so important to voice it and make sure it’s taken into consideration if needed.
The same goes for your friends and family – believe me they want to know how you’re doing and support you as best they can. I am so grateful for the support network I have of friends and family.
My struggles in lockdown: there’s been plenty of times in lockdown where I’ve needed to talk about how I’m doing. I’ve had consultations over zoom with my therapist, spoken openly to my husband and asked him to help where he can, and also had a lot of video chats with close friends to keep me going.
One example is on days where I’ve been feeling a bit down and struggling to feel motivated to get going with my working day. I’ve started having zoom calls with friends who also work from home and we all act as remote office mates. Having another face there to keep me company during the days in the office has had a massive benefit and really lifted my spirits!
“The best day of the year!”
- Treat yo self!
(Did I mention I like Parks and Rec yet?)
A quick disclaimer – be sensible with this one. If you end up in debt, that is definitely going to outweigh any short term benefits in the long run.
PSA out the way – TREAT YO SELF! From now on, this is your motto whenever you’re having a particularly pants day. Be that taking the night off cooking and treating yourself to a takeaway, baking that new chocolate muffin recipe you’ve wanted to try for ages, buying that Aesthetic Laundry top that’s been sat in your cart forever… whatever it is that’s right for you, treat yo self!
At the end of the day, your happiness matters. And if there’s a little something you can do to help get you through each week, then I say do it. Just don’t be frivolous with it, OK guys?
Why yes I am a Friends fan!
- Know when to ask for help
Asking for help is always the hardest part when you are struggling with your mental health – believe me I know that first hand. I am very guilty of telling concerned friends and family that ‘I’M FINE!’ when I’m very clearly not. And actually if I’d listened on a few occasions and got some help sooner I could have avoided a few cloudy periods in my life.
I remember when I started with my therapist and he said ‘First off, well done for coming here today’. I told him I thought that was a strange well done and he reminded me acknowledging when you need help is probably one of the hardest parts of any recovery.
Now, you may not need to see a therapist like I have, but don’t be scared to ask for whatever help you do need. It could be asking your family or friends to be on the phone in the night if you need them – my father is extremely kind and regularly reminds me he’s leaving his phone on loud overnight in case I need him. It could be talking to your GP, or a mental health charity or advisor.
Whatever you’re struggling with at the moment, there is definitely someone out there who is happy to help you!
So please, don’t feel like you can’t ask. You can and should!
Where to look
It’s also important to look for help in the right place.
I know I shared this last week, but just a reminder that there’s loads of support out there if you need it. If you need someone to talk to, there are two obvious choices (aside from friends, family, GPs, or therapists):
Freephone: 116 123 – the Samaritans phone line is available 24/7, and they are at hand to offer free, confidential advice for whatever issues you’re having.
Freephone: 0300 123 3393 – open 9am-6pm Monday-Friday – Mind offer mental health advice and information. From more information on different types of mental illness, to advice on different options for help – they’re a good place to start.
There are loads of places you can go for help, for more information see:
So thank you for coming back and reading again. It’s really important to me that we all have a more open and honest dialogue about our mental health, and I know it’s something that’s really close to Aesthetic Laundry’s heart too – it’s been so encouraging to see people with influence like Heidi speaking openly and honestly about how she’s doing.
I hope that these small, practical tips can help make someone’s day better. If this blog has helped just one person then I would honestly be over the moon.
So look after yourselves!
Until next week, with a lot of love and well wishes,
To find out more about working with Rachel click here.
Rachel is a Marketing Consultant and Producer of Theatre and Film based in the West Midlands. She is currently working alongside Joss at Aesthetic Laundry to provide support, where she can, in a voluntary capacity. When she isn't working, she enjoys eating any gluten free cake, drinking good gin or wine and lifting weights at the gym. Rachel is really passionate about supporting small, independent businesses - especially female led creatives. Drop her a follow @racheltimeblog for a daily dose of colour, silliness, and to see her two adorable pet rabbits Eevee and Parnsnip!