6 Questions For Your Mental Health
6 Questions For Your Mental Health
Nov 23, 2020 • 6 min read
Image credit: Hutomo Abrianto on Unsplash
2020 has been a challenging year. Many of us have been on a rollercoaster ride of circumstances and emotions.
As we enter the dark winter months, I’m concerned that life may appear more challenging before life flows again.
This needn’t be a pessimistic viewpoint. When you understand the terrain, you can navigate it more skilfully.
Taking the time now to think about your mental health will pay massive dividends over the coming weeks and months.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I am going to ensure my own mental wellness over the coming months, and I would gently encourage you to do the same.
This article walks through 6 mental health questions I have been reflecting on recently.
If you answer these questions, you’ll develop a thorough approach for staying mental healthy during winter lockdown.
1 – What 1-3 activities have the biggest positive impact on your mental health?
Often self-care strategies become prescriptive. “Do this” or “do that”.
There’s a large degree of individuality in what may, or may not, work for you.
At the same time, I encourage you to expirement with new practices and ideas
Many times we can resign that “this isn’t for me”, without honest practice, patience and time.
Remain open to possibility.
Unless you practice a self-care strategy consistently for at least a couple of weeks, it’s impossible to say if it does, or does not, work for you.
For me, right now, the biggest contributors to my mental health are
1 – Sleep hygiene
2 – Yoga Nidra ( A form of laying relaxation practice )
3 – Journaling
Whenever I have let one of these habits slip, I can feel the impact in my mood, energy levels and how I show up to life.
Your self-care list won’t stay static. A year ago, I would have written meditation, exercise and walking outdoors.
Experiment with new self-care approaches, and find what works for you at this present moment.
Common practices which studies show help mental health include (but are not limited to):
Spending time with family/friends ( virtual time can help too! )
Journalling ( aka expressive writing )
Time outdoors & ‘Forest Bathing’
Cleaning/organising your environment
Keeping a regular sleep schedule
Structuring your day
Avoiding negative media and consuming positive media
Hobbies ( reading, music, movies, yoga, games, handiwork etc…)
Don’t create ‘a wish list’. It won’t serve you to think of everything that you ‘could’ or ‘should’ do.
Pick 1-3 simple strategies that you can commit to practicing every day. Strategies which will create a disproportionate impact on your mood.
Test the impact they have on you for 2-3 weeks, and if you find they aren’t working, change your approach.
2 – How Can You Ensure You Do These Activities Regularly?
You won’t always feel like showing up.
The human mind is a confusing thing. Often we don’t feel like practicing self-care, exactly when we need it the most.
Thinking about how to integrate self-care into your life is essential.
Personally, I’ve carved out time in my schedule as a non-negotiable
Every morning at 5pm, before the day begins, I journal and practice yoga Nidra.
Every night at 8pm, I switch everything off, read, and unwind before bed.
At first this was clunky and difficult. Now it’s habitual and natural. I don’t think about it. It’s part of who I am.
(And don’t mistake this as me writing you have to be an old man like me).
Your schedule and way of showing up may look very different than mine.
Spend time thinking about how to integrate the self-care strategies that are going to best serve you.
Schedule self-care into your diary
Become accountability buddies with a friend
Buy a calendar and cross off an X each day that you show up
Give yourself incentives for staying on track
Willpower alone won’t work.
Stay proactive and don’t leave anything to chance.
At the same time, stay kind to yourself when things fall off course. You won’t be ‘perfect’ and that’s perfectly ok.
As long as you stay relatively consistent, and show up more than you were before, you’re on course.
When really struggling to find motivation, aim for the BAM (Bare arse minimum).
What is the absolute least amount you could do that will still have a positive effect?
Take 10 breaths instead of your planned 30 minute meditation
Go outside and walk for 5 minutes, instead of your hour long workout
Write 1 thing you’re grateful for instead of journalling for 3 pages
It’s not ‘all or nothing’. Practice ‘always something’ instead.
3 – How Can You Stay Connected
Isolation is disastrous for mental health.
You may have already already experienced the ill effects of isolation in the past months.
Unfortunately, connection is likely to stay more challenging to find for the foreseeable future.
But it is still in your power to proactively foster connection.
I’ve seen countless creative ways to create feelings of connection given our current constraints.
Here are some of my favourites:
Have regular video calls with loved ones, family and friends
Send video messages
Play boardgames remotely ( this can be done apparently )
Watch movies remotely with friends and family using Netflix party
Write letters of appreciation to old friends
Give gifts to friends/family
Find a way to give back to those in need. This doesn’t have to be monetary. It could mean volunteering skills or time.
Take sensible precautions and meet with others in whatever context the guidelines will allow at that present moment in time.
Get a pet, or if you can’t afford one, look into volunteering at a shelter
Alongside creating connection, it’s important to remove sources of disconnection.
Certain activities can make us get caught up ‘in our heads’.
Often these activities stem from trying to fill a gap, an emotional need which we’re trying to fulfil.
Common sources of disconnection include:
The hangovers and comedowns of alcohol and drugs
Mindlessly scrolling through the internet and social media
Engulfing yourself in disastrous news stories
Avoiding the outdoors
Staring at screens for too long
Having an argument
Your list may differ from the above. Look for activities and times in your day when you feel low, drained, or apathetic.
How could you replace some of these causes of disconnection with more uplifting activities?
4 – What Are Signs That You Need Help?
Many of us have already moved through some level of unease in the past months.
We’re resilient and resourceful, and have all approached this as best as we can.
At the same time, I’m concerned that some of us may struggle in the coming months. The days are getting colder, darker and the winter blues may settle in.
Planning ahead for the worst-case is always a good idea.
Begin with identifying signs that you may need outside help. What would show you that you need to reach out?
There are clear signs that you need help:
Feeling depressed for multiple weeks
Coping on numbing agents to get by
Having suicidal thoughts
If you experience any of these signs, I strongly encourage you to seek professional help immediately.
Then there are more subtle signs you need help:
Recurring negative thoughts
Feelings of burnout
Arguments and relationship strain
Feeling apathetic and unmotivated
I can tell from the language I use in my morning journalling if my mental health is sliding.
I have pre-planned strategies to boost my mental/emotional state when this happens.
The idea is to pick up on any signs that you’re sliding off course, and proactively preventing your mental health from deteriorating.
If your preventive strategies don’t help, in the worst case scenario, reach out for help from someone else.
If no signs immediately come to mind, perhaps having a regular check-in with yourself could work for you.
Asking yourself “ If I were my best friend checking in on me, would I encourage myself to reach out for help right now?”
If the answer is even a maybe, it’s probably time to consider getting help.
5 – Who Will You Reach Out For If Things Get Bad?
Even if you don’t think you will reach this point, it is worth thinking about.
At your emotional low, you’re less likely to think proactively and clearly.
Having a well thought out strategy ahead of time will allow you to act more rationally.
You may consider reaching out to:
A close friend or family member
A therapist ( I recommend planning exactly who in advance if you don’t already have one )
A religious/spiritual figure in your life
A call line or support group
Personally, I would begin with some of my closer friends/family. And if this doesn’t help, I’ll reach out to a therapist.
6 – What Is The Kindset Thing You Can Do For Yourself Right Now?
Dealing with discomfort and emotional pain is like walking on a tight rope. It requires a balanced effort.
Pushing too hard tends to become destructive.
But avoidance, distraction and denial are also destructive.
One some days being kind to yourself will mean pushing through discomfort:
Overcoming laziness to get in a workout
Avoiding distraction to get to bed at a reasonable time
Sitting with uncomfortable feelings in meditation
On other days, you may really need to stay in bed, eat some pizza and veg out for a few hours.
The skill is in knowing when your mind is playing games with you and when you truly need to let your inhibitions go.
Some discomfort can be productive.
While it may feel unpleasant in the moment, it ultimately serves to add joy, health, and meaning to our lives:
Having difficult conversations feel unpleasant in the moment, but helpful in the long-term
Working out feels challenging in the moment, but keeps us healthy and vibrant in the long term
Other discomfort is a perpetuating loop. It only serves to create more discomfort in the future.
We often use numbing agents to make us feel better while avoiding the root causes of our issues.
Using alcohol to numb our emotions when we feel angry, instead of having a difficult conversation
Binge watching TV instead of reaching out to friends/family to stay connected
When feeling conflicted, ask yourself “Will this really make my life more content? Will this really aid me in experiencing more joy?”
The kindest thing you can do for yourself will vary with each moment.
Answer with honesty and it will guide your decisions in a more skilful direction.
We’re living in some strange times, but we are all resilient and adaptable.
Prioritising your emotional and mental health is vital in our current environment.
I don’t wish for you to experience the emotional lows that require professional help. At the same time, I highly recommend pre-planning how you may navigate any eventuality.
Thinking ahead will allow you to overcome any obstalces that arise over the coming weeks and months.
I hope this article was helpful and prompted you, in some way, to look after your mental health.