I need to be clear before we begin – this is not a ‘do this then that and you’ll be fine’, step-by-step sort of guide. No one can give you that, not even a trained mental health professional, which I’m not – this is purely based on my own experiences. I’m also not going to tell you to get therapy/get medication/talk to anyone. These things may help greatly, especially if you’re suffering due to a specific condition or traumatic incident, but to be honest most people know that by now. Instead I’ve put together some general suggestions of ways to look after yourself, by yourself and improve your mood, self-esteem and ultimately overall mental health in time.
So firstly, back to my initial point of ‘no one can fix you’ – don’t expect everything to work. The internet has endless articles of ‘do this and you’ll feel better’. It might help, and it might not; there can be no one-size-fits-all solution to mental health care because you are an individual, so some things won’t work for you that will for others. Using myself as an example – one of the main pieces of advice often given is to exercise. I say screw that. I’m lazy, and my job involves working on my feet most of the time which is usually more than enough activity for me. Exercise means getting tired, sweaty, and probably being in pain afterwards, none of which are going to make me feel better no matter how many endorphins it stimulates or whatever. If I feel like I need to get out of the house, a gentle stroll to the nearest park and sit there listening to music for a bit, preferably by some sort of flowing water (I find the movement of it incredibly calming) is much better for me. Another point often made, particularly if you suffer with anxiety, insomnia or anything that involves over-thinking, is to write a journal regularly. I have a diary, I’ve not been without one since at least my early teens. What I do not have are the organisational skills to make time every day to fill it in, so I write in it when I want to, which is very rarely. My point it to try everything suggested to you by all means, as you never know what might work unexpectedly; but don’t be disappointed if it isn’t for you, just try something else.
An odd point to put second but that I feel I should get out of the way early on – don’t be (too) afraid of self-medicating. Obviously, this in moderation and know the limits of your control. I have a lot of will power and can give things up easily, so everything from drinking to crash dieting and even self-harm have helped me cope at various stages in my life. Sometimes there is nothing to do but find a release from the way you’re feeling for a while, the key is keeping a tight reign on your escapism, making sure that it does improve things in the long run rather than compounding existing problems. I’ve never used drugs, but alcohol softens my social anxiety; it allows me to go out, speak to people, enjoy myself and make friends because I’m not feeling too awkward doing so. Overall that increases my self esteem, and so long as I’m conscious of how much I drink, it’s a benefit to my life. Again though, do be very, very careful of keeping tabs on these sorts of things to make sure they don’t become issues of their own.
On a sort-of-related note, take care of yourself and your surroundings. The latter first – while pushing to try new things can often be very rewarding, there’s no benefit to making yourself overly uncomfortable. Make the most of places you’re familiar with, and look after these. Tidy, clean and occasionally redecorate your house, it’s a pain in the arse thing that very few people enjoy but you’ll feel better 1) for doing something useful and 2) because your home looks nice. You may think you don’t care, but trust me, on some level you do. A big part of your surroundings as well are the people you share it with – don’t be reluctant to let go of toxic relationships. And this can mean anyone who isn’t actively useful to you at the time, if they really care but can’t help right now then they’ll understand your need to surround yourself with people who can, and you can always renew that friendship later. On to yourself – now I know I said I don’t do exercise, but your physical health is still important. If you’re ill, you’re going to feel rubbish, simple as. Personal hygiene is the same as looking after your house – I monitor how bad I am by noting the days when brushing my teeth feels like too much trouble to bother with, but you’ll only feel worse if you’re constantly dirty. Make the effort, for your own sake and that of those around you! Be healthy on the inside too. This doesn’t have to mean eating things you don’t like, I’m still a really fussy eater, and 100% anti-cabbage. But there are lots of veg that I do enjoy, and a few that I’m happy to eat if they’re smothered in the right sauce. I started making a conscious effort the year before last to ensure I didn’t 1) live on junk food and ready meals or 2) stop eating regularly at all, both of which I deemed fairly likely outcomes. Since then, cooking has become probably my favourite self-care habit, I try to make at least one meal a day from scratch (it doesn’t always work out, freezing leftovers is a lifesaver for quick meals and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the odd takeaway or pizza, so long as it’s not too regular).
My final, very general suggestion is to keep busy. This ties in to the last point too – cooking can be time consuming and creative; so not only do I get tasty, healthy food but I enjoy the time spent making it, especially trying new things like figuring out my own recipes for sauces that I previously bought ready-made. Oh, and pizza. I make my own dough and everything now, with whatever toppings I fancy (or whatever happens to be in the fridge). It’s much nicer, fresher and a brilliant use for a spare afternoon. Again though, I’m not trying to tell you what will help – slaving over the hob may well not inspire you. But something does, I know. Anything creative or productive in any way is amazing, as you have something to show for it at the end that you don’t get from reading a book or watching a film – not that there’s anything wrong with these, if it makes you feel better for a while then that’s always great. One idea is to have a list of things that you’d like to do. Whether it’s projects that you haven’t finished or maybe not even started yet, skills you’d like to learn, or just a TV show that someone recommended you a while back – put them together. There’s no rush to do the things on this list, in fact if you’re anything like me you’ll add tasks faster than you can complete them. But next time you’re bored, feeling uninspired, or just really don’t have the energy for the things you ought to be doing with that day – get out your list. Pick something off there and work on it – don’t worry about how long you have, if it doesn’t get finished now then that’s fine. But when it is complete, you can tick it off, which no matter how small the task will give your self esteem a boost.
Well, that turned out to be a whole lot longer than I expected it to. I could probably add a lot more as well, but since the idea is to keep this as open and general as possible, I think I’ve got the gist of what I wanted to share covered. Feel free to message me with any feedback, whether you think I’ve missed something super important or put too much emphasis on something that doesn’t matter, just please be nice about it! Oh, and if you do happen to be an actual mental health professional reading this, I would love to hear from you. Anyway my laundry needs sorting and while that’s my most hated chore, I won’t have dry towels if I leave them in the machine, so I’ll go suck it up and be glad when it’s done. Good luck on your journey