Safeguarding your mental health

Mental health isn’t just about the mentally ill. If more people thought of it that way then perhaps mental illness wouldn’t be so much of a taboo. One in four of us will suffer some sort of mental health problem each year. But what if we could learn to take steps to help us prevent ourselves suffering an episode of mental illness?

I’m not a doctor or even a healthcare professional but since losing both of my parents in the space of a weekend (some year and a half ago) the importance of avoiding things that bring you down has been brought home to me.

Many of us don’t actively notice our moods or rather we do not monitor them to see if there is a pattern. For many women there is of course the monthly scourge of PMS, but how often do you find yourself getting grumpy in an average day? Do you feel irritable if you’ve gone too long between meals? Or if it’s past your bedtime? Do you make the connection between the circumstances and your low mood?

In English (or if you prefer, British) culture there is still too much bullshit spoken about how we should soldier on, keep a stiff upper lip etc and that to ‘make a fuss’ isn’t the done thing, but if that means denying that we are feeling in such a bad mood that we can’t work effectively, or mix with people without losing our temper then I’m all for not just making a fuss, but stirring up a bit of a hoo-ha too.

I don’t mean that we should let rip indiscriminately with our bad moods, but we should recognise that people have them and when they do it can be difficult for them to cope or they may even be incapacitated by it. If, however, we allowed people – especially in the workplace – to take time out to do something to restore or lift their mood then we might find that they were more productive the rest of the time, or that there were less arguments at home and that things got done, in both places, in a more effective way.

People spend (waste?) a lot of time worrying about other’s reactions to them, or something that they’ve done or might do, so imagine all the time that could be saved if we didn’t have to worry!

If we could just calmly say to our boss, or partner or house mates: “I’m feeling a bit (or a lot) down/irritable/stressed/weird/crazy/lethargic/miserable at the moment – so I need some time to myself. I’ll be back tomorrow/after lunch; I need a bit of privacy/peace and quiet so I can deal with it,” and know that the response would be one of understanding and cooperation then the world might be quite a different place!

Until we reach those enlightened times though, keep an eye on your mood. If you’re feeling a bit emotionally fragile avoid things that you think are likely to tip you over the edge. Whenever possible, if you are feeling low, sidestep confrontation and complicated tasks. Avoid jobs that play on your weak points and things that remind you of stuff that you’d rather not think about. Dodge people who get on your tits and ignore the phone in case it’s your mum/auntie/neighbour/local MP phoning to ask you to do something for them.

Instead, if you feel strong enough, do something you enjoy. Remind yourself that life can be fun. If you don’t feel strong enough, make a cup of herbal tea (Women’s Tea or Dr Stuart’s Tranquillity tea are my favourites), run yourself a bath, turn off the phone and try to find a way of switching off from your anxieties or whatever it is that is bothering you.

If you find yourself having to do this on a regular basis and your efforts to manage your mood aren’t bearing much fruit, then it might be worth a trip to the doctor – just don’t let them palm you off with a load of pills without trying to get to the bottom of what’s causing it though!

In conclusion, we all have our moments. No one is immune to mood swings, but some people are just not brave enough to talk about them. Cut yourself some slack. It’s not a weakness, it’s called being human – and the sooner we start facing up to that the better things will get.

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