The following are steps that we can all take to promote our mental health and wellbeing. It is not just those that have a recognised mental illness that should practice steps to protect and improve our well-being. Many today complain of non-descript “stress” and “overwork” that can be early warning signs of future problems. These steps will help many with a mental illness, but should not be seen as replacements for going to see a health professional. The strength of evidence lying behind each of these recommendations differs. In some cases research support behind these suggestions is very high indeed, in others these are offered simply as ideas that some have found helpful.
What other ideas have you found that help you and would fit under one or other of these headings?
Take regular exercise. Resolve to increase this, even if it is just taking a walk, physical and mental health benefits are strong. There are lots of innovative and cost effective ways to exercise these days, including the ‘Seven Minute‘ intensive brief exercise regime, and Nordic Walking.
- Get out into the countryside and surround yourself with lots of green and other natural landscapes. The presence of green spaces in a city is believed to be associated with improved mental health of the population.
- Eat healthily and take regular meals. Avoid in particular intakes of high glycemic index meals that boost your sugar levels too high and then lead to a crash which can be associated with bad moods. Be careful of the sugar content of your drinks (e.g. lattes can include 25 teaspoons of sugar!). Switch from white bread to wholemeal or better yet a low GI / multiseed loaf (our family loves this one from Percy Ingle).
- Take regular sleep. Go to bed early enough that it is easy to rouse yourself when your alarm goes off. Get up at the same time every day, and allow your body to tell you when it is tired in the evenings and listen to it….dont burn the candle at both ends! Sleep is vital for health.Some critical tips to improve sleep quality include having a routine before bed. This can involve stopping using electronic gadgets, winding down, ensuring you sleep in the dark, and if necessary having a notebook to jot intrusive thoughts down that pop up as you are trying to sleep. Some phones and other gadgets have a night shift mode to make the light they emit less white, enabling this for several hours before bed may help you sleep due to the effects of reducing exposure to white light on melatonin. Similarly ensure your bedroom lights are ‘warm’ (2700K) rather than bright white. On the flip side, consider changing to a white light (around 6500k) in areas of your home or office where you need to feel awake.
- Stop drinking caffeinated drinks altogether or at least stop drinking them after lunchtime to improve sleep quality.
- Resolve NEVER to drink alcohol to “make you feel better” it won’t, and this is the pathway to alcoholism.
- Consider adding a small amount of dark chocolate to your diet every day.
- Eat fresh fruit and vegetables to ensure you get enough vitamins.
- Resolve that you will go to the doctor and not be afraid to take psychiatric medications if you ever need them.
- Take good care of your physical health and ensure things like your thyroid function are normal. Any physical problem can lead to mental health issues.
- Learn to think about your emotional state, and to analyze your day. A great tool for this is an app called Moodkit which is well worth the time it takes to understand how to best use it.
- If it helps you write a private journal and/or a public blog. Make sure you understand the difference between the two!
- Identify any negative thought patterns you see in your regular thinking and challenge them. This is what CBT is all about.
- Learn to have a virtual “sentry” in your mind that challenges any thought that flits through your mind and says “halt who goes there?” Don’t allow yourself to be driven along by random thoughts.
- Fill your mind with as many positive upbuilding thoughts as you can (Philippians 4:8)
- Make sure you “budget” your mental energy and don’t allow it to be wasted, nor over burdened.
- Beware of thoughts that run away with themselves (i.e. beware of crazy plans and impulsive thinking)
- Don’t allow your mind to get stuck in a rut, think about ways to stretch and exercise it.
- Read a self-help book based on CBT ideas. Even if you are not sick, this could help build your resilience.
- Resolve that you will be willing to attend a therapist if that seems necessary.
- Learn how to meditate. Mindfulness is a great secular tool for all of us, teaching us to be present with what is happening around and within us without seeking to deny our feelings, but also without being ruled by them, It, can also be adapted specifically for Christian use. See for example this meditation on Psalm 46
- Build healthy supportive relationships with your family, and a couple of close friends. Take time to see these people FACE TO FACE.
- Make wise use of Social Networking. It can either help you feel more connected, or entrench your sense of loneliness.
- Learn to take time for yourself, and develop the ability to enjoy your own company. Your social life is not just about your relationships with others but also yourself.
- Join a healthy grace-filled church community and get fully stuck in.
- Forge a pastoral relationship with an older wiser Christian who you can turn to for advice
- Make sure your job is challenging enough not to bore you, but is not so stressful it leaves you empty at the end of each day for a prolonged period. Remember that everybody has busy periods at work, but this must have an end!
- Don’t allow your work to take over your life: take your vacations, and don’t work ridiculous hours.
- Ensure you allow yourself true recreation and relaxation. Do not fill every waking hour with “productive activity”
- Find a hobby, ideally something that allows you to feel you have created something. Even cooking a nice meal can be very therapeutic.
- Watch a movie once in a while, or dare I say it turn on the TV! But make sure that you also do “fun” things with those that you love rather than just stare at a screen all day.
- Listen to music that calms and/or stimulates you. Learn how music can affect your mood and use it to your advantage.
- Reduce access to any way you or your family could potentially self harm. If you must own a gun, lock it up. Do not allow a build-up of dangerous medications (including pain killers) to form in your drug cabinet.
- Think about ways you can help others in your social circle. For example, volunteering as a baby sitter could give you a sense of purpose and a struggling mum (and/or Dad!) a much needed day off.
- Resolve to be more alert to the possibility of mental illness in those around you, learn to ask the right questions to identify potential cases, and be ready to speak about suicidal ideas without freaking out.
- Develop a habit of gratitude rather than discontentment. Seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty is more potent than we realize. See for example Ann Voskamp’s work
- Take some time to really pray. Make God your counselor and tell him honestly how you are feeling, and ask for his help.
- Put your relationship with God right. Ask him for forgiveness if you know you have sinned.
- Deal with any unforgiveness in your heart and as much as it lies within you fix broken relationships. Don’t beat up on yourself if despite your efforts someone won’t reconcile with you. Don’t allow yourself to think that forgiveness means that you mustn’t discuss significant sin with the pastor, or if it is a crime that puts others at risk, the police.
- Worship God. Listen to Christian music to help in that.
- Read the Bible. Just sit and read it. Let it wash over you. Don’t worry about whether it is doing you any good…it IS!
- But also make a list of specific verses that either jump out at you or that speak to problems you know you have. Meditate on those verses, repeat them again and again to yourself. Memorize them. Internalize them. When a negative thought comes into your mind, replace it with one of those verses.
- Listen to good sermons. Especially ones that address issues you are dealing with. If you find one that helps you, listen to it again and again.
- Resolve to learn from wiser older Christians and listen to their advice.
- Make some new steps in fasting if your health allows.
- Consider going on a retreat.
Over to you, what other helpful ideas can you suggest?