Time to Talk | About self care and mental illness

When I said I wanted to be more vocal and open about matters close to my heart, I meant it. Speaking up is never easy but nevertheless so important – by openly talking about mental health, we can raise awareness and reduce the stigma. Step by step, day by day. As a person with lived experience, mental health is a matter very close to my heart. In fact so close that I originally started this blog so that I could one day share my experiences and hopefully make others feel less alone. 3 years down the line and I have still not dedicated an entire blog post to mental health although I have shared snippets of my experience in a few posts. As I said, opening up can be hard and it took me a lot of time before I got to a place where I realised that it is okay to imperfect and most of all, vulnerable. Vulnerability is daunting but is the building block of open conversation and the gate to a more tolerant society. This year I have decided to embrace my vulnerability and do what initially drove me to start a blog – talk about (my) mental health. 2017 has been a good year for mental health awareness, 2018 can be an even better one, especially if we all come together and support each other. And what better day to start than today? In case you didn’t know, the first of February 2018 is Time To talk Day, a day created by the initiative Time to Change. Time To Change is led by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and is all about coming together to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. If you haven’t heard about Time to Change, definitely check out their work! For Time To Talk Day, I decided to write a post about self-care and little things that are helping me on m journey towards recovery. Whether you deal with mental illness or not, self-care is incredibly important and I hope that this post will give you some inspiration. xx

Positive affirmations

Thoughts are powerful and what we tell ourselves makes a huge difference in the way we feel (about ourselves). Being compassionate towards ourselves is an important step towards self-acceptance and makes it easier to get through difficult days. My favourite way of integrating positive affirmations into my life is through an app called Thinkladder – it is a CBT based app aimed at reducing feelings of depression and anxiety. It helps you identify unhelpful thoughts, underlying reasons and challenge these by replacing them by more compassionate ones. I have been using this app fist thing in morning for a while and I find that it is a great way of starting the day – it reminds you to be tolerant towards yourself and that it is okay to be imperfect, or in other words, human. Thinkladder isn’t a free app but in my opinion it’s worth every penny.

Mindfulness

Meditation has helped me through many tough days and I find that I’m generally more relaxed when I take 10 minutes out of each day to meditate. If you want to follow guided meditation, there are many resources you can use – from free YouTube videos to articles and apps. I personally use the Headspace app to practice mindfulness and I find it very helpful. You can choose from different ‘courses’ such as ‘anxiety’, ‘depression’, ‘stress’, ‘workout’, ‘productive’, ‘homesickness’ etc – even though the underlying techniques are the same, having a meditation tailored to your situation can be very helpful and definitely makes you feel less alone, too. As with the Thinkladder app, I’m aiming to meditate every morning although not as successfully I have to admit – I’m not a morning person and a lot of mornings just end up being very rushed. Maybe I should start meditating in the evening or after coming home, any suggestions are welcome.

Exercise

This one may sound a bit like a cliché and no, I’m definitely not here to say that exercise can cure mental illness but I do find it very helpful. Not only does it give my mind some other form of occupation, it also boosts my self-esteem as I can feel myself getting stronger and I know that I’m taking care of myself and my body. My relationship with exercise has gone through many different stages – there were times when I would hardly exercise and times when I would exercise for an hour everyday – but I feel like I’ve finally found my ‘happy place’ in terms of fitness. I usually exercise about 3 times a week but I’ve stopped putting pressure on myself and labelling it a compulsory activity. I think my biggest advice would be to find a form of exercise that you enjoy, otherwise you will find it hard to stick with it and life really is just too short to force yourself to do workouts you don’t enjoy. I’m happy to say that I’ll probably never do pilates at home again. The forms of exercise I love are running, Krav Maga and lifting weights. And horse riding, but yeah, not sure my landlord would agree to me keeping a horse in my flat. Or do you think I could hide it?

A day to yourself

Taking breaks is incredibly important for a healthy mind. It can be tempting to rush from one task to another and to spend your nights and weekends working but in the long-run it will drain you. As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup. I set myself the rule to have one day off each week (usually Saturday) and not to do any uni work after 7. Unless there is a deadline the next day and I’m still trying to cut down on words (story of my life!). Saturday is usually the one day where I just do whatever I feel like, whether that’s watching a movie at home or going out with my friends. A self-care day you might call it. I have spent many Saturdays exploring London and I’m sure there will be many more Saturdays to come that are full of wandering around and trying artsy cafés in Shoreditch.

.A wind-down routine

This relates to my last point. Having a wind-down routine has really improved my sleep and my general well-being. It also gives me something to look forward to in the evenings. My wind-down routine usually lasts for two hours and I fill the first hour with watching videos, reading, being on Twitter (let’s be real) or watching Netflix. An hour before I go to bed, I make sure to turn off my laptop and phone and just read for a bit. Fun fact – I’m currently reading a book that encompasses the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes. It has about 1100 pages and tiny writing so I won’t have to worry about finding a new book in the foreseeable future. My wind-down routine is the one time of the day where I just do whatever I feel like without worrying about being productive. Although I love uni and blogging work, letting your mind rest and recharge is important and like I said, will help you fall asleep more easily.

A new perspective

When you’re in a difficult place, small things can feel like major problems and dominate the way you feel about yourself. I tend to focus a lot on university grades and achievements which of course is important but you can’t let a single grade determine your self-worth. University is important but there is more to life. Yes, I am a student but I am also a volunteer, blogger, vegan, avid reader, mental health warrior (and advocate) etc – you name it. Having more than one role is beneficial for our self-esteem and well-being (look it up in the scientific literature if you’re interested). So make sure to keep a balance and don’t let your work achievements define you. Try to take up a hobby or join a charity and volunteer – all of these things will give you a new perspective and can alleviate pressure.

Talking

Undoubtedly one of the most helpful things and yet one of the hardest to do. I wasn’t very good at talking to people in the past but last year was the year that things changed and I started opening up to people. And even though it certainly wasn’t easy, it has been life-changing because I feel like I no longer have to fight alone. I know the feeling of being a ‘burden’ all too well but ask yourself this question: Would you rather that your friend told you when he/she is feeling down or not? I’d much rather know because only then I can help. Also, it does give me the feeling that my friends trust me and if anything, it strengthens the friendship and let’s the other one know that it’s okay to talk about these things. Not a single one of my friendships has ever been weakened by honesty and vulnerability. So whether you are struggling yourself or whether you think your friend is struggling – reach out, a simple text message or a suggestion to meet for coffee can sometimes make a huge difference.

Let me end this post with an important message, no actually two: 1. Remember that it’s okay not to be okay and that there is help out there. Your mental health matters and you deserve all the support in this world. 2. You are never ever alone.

What are your self-care tips? xx