10 steps to inner calm
While we are happy to take care of our physical wellness, we must learn to protect our emotional well-being, too. Caroline McGuigan has 10 simple steps to help you get through those mental health dips
One of the most important things to understand and accept is that we all have mental health. In today's society, we still fear those words because it stirs up a discomfort within us, mainly because it shines a torch on our vulnerability and the reality that mental health can be tough and unpleasant.
The truth is that yes, it will be all this and more at times: this is what being human means.
We all feel comfortable noting our physical wellness (ie, wake up in the morning not feeling tired, feeling good heading off into our day), and we will think to ourselves "the food I am eating is working well and the walks each day are paying off".
We accept physical wellness and unwellness very comfortably as it carries no stigma, but mental health carries a history of shame, embarrassment and a feeling of failure, and we don't take the same approach, yet this is exactly what we need to do.
Everyone has times when their mental health and emotional well-being take a dip. In fact, for many, it can be a daily struggle, but if you can understand the triggers, and know the ways which you can help to protect your emotional well-being, you won't be as scared when it does happen and you'll know how best to help yourself get through it.
1. Practice mindfulness minutes
There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Imagine allowing yourself to take 560 seconds to gather yourself and bring yourself back into the moment. The essence of meditation is to make the present moment your friend and not an obstacle. It's not about being passive, it's about becoming grounded.
Like anything, you need to be committed to taking the minutes out of your day.
Taking mindfulness minutes can be done anywhere. You focus on your senses - What do I see? What do I hear? What do I taste? What do I feel? What do I smell? - and then focus on your breath. Notice your breath as it enters and leaves your body. Allow the moment to be.
Thoughts are seductive and bring us into the future, which has not yet happened, or back into the past, which is gone. Thoughts can be powerful and bring us into rumination or catastrophising, which only accelerates stress and anxiety.
By allowing yourself to just breathe in the here and now for one minute, five times a day, you will be much better equipped to face whatever the day throws your way.
There are times when exercise is the last thing you will feel like doing, but it's rare that you will ever regret doing it.
Physical exercise can clear your head, and take you out of your thoughts and into the moment to give yourself and your mind a break. Research has shown that exercise releases feel-good chemicals in your brain - helping to boost your self-esteem, and allowing you to concentrate and also sleep better.
It may start with sitting out in the fresh air for 10-15 minutes a day.
You don't need to be running marathons to be getting exercise. Going for a walk and some light exercise can have a profound effect on your overall mental well-being. Take things slow at first, and increase the amount of exercise you do every week.
3. Break down your day
I get asked all the time, "How can I get through a stressful day?", "How do I live in the here and now when my day is packed full of problems and things I might never get to?"
Over the years, I've developed a strategy that has helped when I find myself dreading the day ahead and feeling overwhelmed.
I try, to the best of my ability, to break down my day into segments and plan it as best as I can. If I even find this too overwhelming, I ask a trusted friend to help me with it.
A recent study at Standford University found that being in nature and enjoying natural surroundings is extremely good for your mental well-being. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our daily lives that we forget about how wonderful the natural world is around us.
Going for a walk in a garden, woods or the beach can bring you as much peace as a good night's sleep.
Even buying a small bunch of flowers or a plant can also be hugely beneficial.
Nature reminds us that we're part of something bigger, and getting away from our laptops, TVs and phones allows us to switch off and appreciate the world that we live in.
5. Accept vulnerability
When we feel low and negative we can feel extremely vulnerable.
Remember, being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness or failure and not something to be ashamed of.
We all experience vulnerability at times in our lives but it does not take away from the strength that is in all of us.
6. Choose carefully the people you spend time around
When I am struggling, I've learned I find it really difficult to be around people who can be "emotional vampires" and I give myself permission to choose the amount of time I can be with them, or not.
For me, it is necessary to be with people who support, understand and love me.
While this isn't always possible every second of every day, remembering who they are in your life and being with them when you're at your lowest will always help.
7. Get good quality sleep
Sleep deprivation is so important to acknowledge and understand.
If you are tired, life is very challenging, problems get amplified, motivation decreases and the small things become huge.
Firstly, tiredness is not negative, it's not a sign of weakness and you haven't done anything wrong. Take the time to explore ways that will help you work through this tiredness and be kind to yourself. Therapies work for some, or regular routines such as bed early, rise early.
For many who find it difficult to sleep, exercise can be a great help.
When I am really exhausted, it is so important for me to make a decision to make no decision until my energy returns, as then I can come from a clearer place.
Finding something to be grateful for everyday can have such a positive effect on your mood.
When you are struggling, this can be challenging and may be starting with "I took a breath today".
Creating a gratitude diary will remind you every day of even the small things that have brought you happiness.
Keep this by your bed and let writing in it be the last thing you do every night.
9. Identify triggers
Identifying triggers in our lives can help us to plan how we might handle them when they reoccur. We can start to notice possible repetitive negative thoughts and look at challenging them (ie, "I am not good enough", "They are better than me"). Sound familiar?
10. Giving back to others
Acts of kindness are good for our hearts and soul.
Reaching out to a friend or family member, saying "hello" to a stranger, wishing someone well in your thoughts, volunteering in your local community. All of these experiences can give us a sense of belonging and a purpose.
Sometimes we can think of well-being in terms of what we have and what we own - our possessions and our job.
But evidence shows that it's actually what we do and the way we think that has the biggest impact on our mental well-being.
For help call Lifeline, tel 0808 808 8000. Visit http://mindingyourhead.info/topics/suicide or http://www.niamhwellbeing.org/