Time to Talk: How to boost your mental health
Time To Talk is a UK day dedicated to inspiring conversations about mental health among friends, families, colleagues and within the communities.
With Blue Monday just gone and the whole year ahead, it’s easy to see how your mental health might take a dive. So, here are some tips to help you talk about it and work out the best ways to support those around you.
Ready to talk about mental health, maintain your own and support those around you? Keep reading as we’ll show you how…
Five ways you can boost your mental health
Time To Talk day is hosted by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and is all about starting conversations about mental health, creating supportive communities and changing lives. The campaign was launched in 2014 by Time To Change and takes place each year in February.
Time To Talk believes that conversations have the power to change lives whilst reducing the stigma around mental health issues. So let’s talk now about the five ways you can boost your mental heath.
1) Be aware of the symptoms
Whether you’re supporting yourself or those around you, one of the most useful things you can do is to get familiar with the signs and symptoms of declining mental health. Common symptoms include:
- Feelings of hopelessness or despair
- Becoming withdrawn from work or other activities
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Appetite changes, weight gain or weight loss
- Increased or sudden use of drugs and alcohol
- Sleep disturbances such as insomnia
- Feeling like you are a burden to others
- Thoughts or making plans related to suicide
- Feeling anxious, scared or afraid
Sometimes, someone suffering from depression may mask the symptoms making it more difficult to intervene, or they may only experience one or two symptoms, such as insomnia or lack of energy. So pay attention to those around you and look out for sudden changes in behaviour or appearance, as they might need some support.
If you or someone you know is experiencing one or more of the above symptoms, it’s best to get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible to help rule out any underlying health disorders and discuss treatment.
2) Start a conversation
When someone is depressed, it’s common that they fear becoming a burden to others and feel the need to hide their symptoms from friends and colleagues.
That’s why starting a conversation about mental health can be so beneficial – it helps to remove the stigma surrounding it by normalising the subject and opening up a two-way conversation. The more honest and open we can be about the topic in daily life, the more those suffering from mental health issues will feel able to open up, get support and, most importantly, get treatment.
This Time To Talk day, why not do your part to make mental health less scary? You could:
- Put up posters
- Host an event
- Send an email
- Post on social media
- Just talk about it.
There are loads of ways to get involved, and you can download free packs and resources from the Time To Talk website.
3) Exercise more often
If you’re feeling depressed, exercise can feel like a massive chore – and that’s normal. Your energy levels are likely low, and you may feel burnt out or find yourself struggling to sleep.
If so, a routine can be a massive help. Set aside some time each day to exercise, even if it’s just a short walk around the block. You’ll soon see how it can offer numerous benefits to mental well-being, such as:
- Releasing feel-good hormones
- Helping to shift your focus from your thoughts
- Encouraging & supporting mindfulness
- Exposing your skin to sunlight, boosting vitamin D
- Helping to maintain a daily routine
If the idea of a walk is too much for you, take it step-by-step, set realistic goals and go slowly. For instance, try doing a bit of gardening. Maybe do a bit of tidying up in the house. Or combine your walk with a trip to the shop.
Equally, if you are concerned about someone else, invite them to go on a walk with you or join you for a run or gym session. Letting them know they are welcome, and you’d enjoy having them with you will go a long way to helping them overcome any guilt or apprehension.
4) Get enough sleep
Ensuring you get enough sleep is an important step in improving your mental health. It can feel like a vicious cycle as poor mental health can cause sleep disturbances which can worsen how you feel in the daytime and prevent you from reaching your goals. However, there are a few things you can do to maximise your chance of success:
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day
- Sleep in a cool and dark room, free from distraction
- Avoid using your phone or laptop for a few hours before bed
- Cut down or stop using caffeine, stimulants and alcohol
- Ensure your mattress is comfy and supportive as different sleepers need different beds
- Wear loose, breathable clothing
- Journal your thoughts and feelings before bed
- Spend 1-2 hours relaxing before bed, whether reading a book or having a warm bath
- Avoid eating 2-4 hours before bed
Your brain needs to go through the stages of REM sleep to ensure optimal function, and maintaining a good sleep routine gives your mind a chance to wind down.
5) Consider therapy
Sometimes, depression and anxiety can have a deeper cause, such as a lack of self-esteem, holding false beliefs or unaddressed trauma. Talking with a therapist or counsellor creates a safe space to openly discuss your thoughts and feelings without fear of being judged.
If you are interested in therapy, there are many interesting options online today. For example, both Talkspace and Brightside offer therapy and medication for anxiety and depression with over 50 million Americans having access to these services for reduced costs through insurance.
When you speak to a mental health professional or your doctor, they may recommend specific types of therapy, such as talking therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or more holistic forms – such as art-based or mindfulness practices.
Some workplaces, schools and communities have mental health support programmes in place already. So, if your doctor recommends it, consider finding out more about the help available – especially if you are concerned about the financial implications.
6) Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a common technique often taught in therapy to aid those suffering from depression or anxiety. This practice has a simple goal – to shift your focus from the internal to the external.
When experiencing worrying thoughts or feelings, it is a common and conditioned response to pay attention to those thoughts, which creates more of them and can lead to a negative cycle. Mindfulness can interrupt this loop and reduce the momentum of the negative mental chatter.
All you need to do is shift your focus from your thoughts to the information flooding in through your senses. Think about what can you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste in this moment. If you find yourself lost in thought – don’t fight it – instead, gently bring your attention back to the present moment.
Mindfulness may or may not give you immediate relief, but it’s more of a practice to be honed over time and can be a useful tool in your overall mental health journey.
So, now you know how to improve your mental health this February whilst boosting your knowledge, enabling you to help others, too. Whether you start a conversation this Time To Talk day or take a moment to practice mindfulness, remember to be kind to your mind – and those around you.
Photo by Matthew Ball