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Inspiration

Mental Health Awareness Week: Caring for Your Mental Health

Every single one of us has mental health, and the majority of us will have times when we struggle to maintain good mental health. Mental illness is not the only expression of poor mental health, and we shouldn’t have to reach a point of crisis before taking care for ourselves into consideration. From May 10th to the 15th in the UK we are celebrating Mental Health Awareness Week. Over the last year, many of us have faced a huge shift in the pattern of our lives both socially and in our workplaces, so awareness about mental wellbeing has never been more important. So in a break from our normal Web, Marketing and Design advice we wanted to take the opportunity to suggest some good ways to care for your mental health.

Get out into nature

The theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is Nature. Getting out and active in nature is so important to our health physically and emotionally. Our lives have become increasingly sedentary and screen base, even before the acceleration of this over the past year! 

Exercise is of course one of the best ways to break through intrusive or repetitive negative thoughts. Shown to release endorphins into the brain, exercise helps us to focus on the physical task in hand. Additionally if we train towards a goal such as completing a 5k - or increasing our time, each completed stage of training helps us to feel a sense of achievement giving us a tasty dopamine hit to our brain's reward centre.

An amazing example of a mental health initiative based in nature and focused on getting active is parkrun. A free, timed, 5k run, jog or walk in a huge number of parks across the world. Hundreds of thousands of people meet at these events and the organisers have conducted research which shows how positively participating and even just volunteering at parkrun has impacted them. It has had such a positive impact that parkruns have even started in prisons and have set up partnerships with GP practices across the UK. Sadly during the pandemic parkruns had to be cancelled but they are working to return in the next few months.

The back of a female parkrun volunteer in hi-vis stoo in a park with two runners running towards her

Talking with others about your feelings

This suggestion may feel obvious, however it's often a classic case of easier said than done. Many individuals find verbalising their emotions difficult. This is sometimes due to stigma, but also simply because we can struggle to understand them ourselves.

Talking about your feelings and areas in which you are struggling can happen in a number of ways. It can look like chatting with a trusted friend or family member over a coffee, or it can be through a professional arrangement with a trained counsellor or therapist. For some the latter can feel more secure and easier whilst to others a trusted shoulder to cry on is the ideal. It doesn’t remotely matter how you open up to someone, as long as you have some way of honestly expressing your fears, worries and stresses. 

For information on where you can find helpful information or someone to listen check out this helpful list of contacts:

two women in their twenties talking over coffee and a pastry

Mindfulness and Meditation

A great way of reducing your stress and combating intrusive thoughts is practising mindfulness or meditation. Mindfulness is a state of being, it is the act of being fully present in a moment, and noticing what you are doing and experiencing. This helps you to concentrate on the present rather than getting snowed under by distracting thoughts or concerns. Meditation is a wider practice which may use mindfulness or other methods to declutter your mind of unwanted thoughts and emotions in order to achieve calmness and clarity.

Mindfulness can look like a whole range of activities, including gentle exercise. This could be a slow walk to work in which you unplug and use your senses to notice the world around you and the feel of your feet on the floor or breeze in your hair. It is also noted as being a draw to certain creative practices such as painting, knitting or sewing. For the more active among us this may look like a short, low impact yoga or pilates practice each morning.

There are some great apps available to guide you through learning how to meditate and practice mindfulness:

A young woman doing yoga in cobra pose

Validate your negative feelings

The past year has been difficult for lots of people, and if we are honest, most people will go through periods where for one reason or another, life feels hard. This can affect our mood through no fault of our own and it’s important to recognise that that is ok. 

Sometimes we can feel pressure to ‘make lemonade’ or put a positive spin on hard situations in order to ignore or repress negative feelings and make others more comfortable. However, expressing and feeling negative emotions for a short time, with trusted confidants or through healthy channels can often be far better for our overall mental health. 

It’s valid to feel your negative feelings! It’s important to experience the entire spectrum of emotions as it helps you to be more self aware, find healthy ways of channeling negative emotions and stress and worry from building up.

A stressed man with his head in his hand sat cross legged on a chesterfield

Get a pet!

Our final tip to help improve your mental health is to get yourself an animal companion. Pets have been proven to have a huge range of health benefits, both physically and mentally. Including decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and feelings of loneliness. They also help you to get out in nature and stay active, providing you with those additional benefits mentioned above. What’s more if you have a social companion animal such as a dog, it’s likely that you will be stopped for conversation and increase your opportunities for socialising.

Just stroking a fluffy animal has been found to lower stress levels in owners. With a huge range of pets available, it’s important to find a pet that will work to your lifestyle, a smaller pet can often be more manageable then a pet which takes a greater time commitment such as a dog. 

It may be that your office allows you to bring your new stress reliever to work with you! At CWS we have office dog Willow, Health & Wellness Officer and very willing to tolerate belly rubs in order to lower any stress levels. 

An English SPringer Spaniel asleep on a cushion on a brown leather sofa
Office Dog Willow, working tirelessly to promote good mental health.

We hope that our tips prove useful for you and you have found some interesting suggestions you may be interested in giving a go. Mental health is often hidden and so it’s important to bear it in mind with all your interactions. Raising awareness of mental health is essential in helping to increase open conversations and end the stigma attached to those who are struggling.

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