5 things that genuinely help my mental health (and might help you too)

Over the years, I’ve tried tons of things for my mental health. Some worked, some didn’t. Here’s a list of the things that DID work, in the hope that you also find them helpful.

[Background: I have been proper mental, a bit mental and not at all mental at different times in my life, and am now recovered.]

1. Therapy

I’m really sorry if you thought this was going to be a post about essential oils and Netflix.

Actually getting mentally healthy when you’re mentally ill involves medical intervention.

That means therapy.

“Therapy” covers a huge area and can mean something like fairly non-intense counselling, to heavy-duty psychotherapy, to specialist therapy, like trauma therapy.

Therapy helps you to recognise, as well as manage your feelings. It help you understand who you are and what you want. These things might be obvious to a lot of people, but if you’re mental, you don’t always know what you need or how you feel. You don’t have the experience of tuning into your feelings.

It’s hard work. Sometimes really hard work. Lots of people drop out early on because it’s not the right time for them, or because they just can’t face the pain. Lots of people never even get started, because it feels like too much or because they just feel like they don’t deserve to get better. Or it won’t help.

It is true that it can take time and effort to find the right therapist and therapy for you. It won’t always work. You might need to try something else. And when you’re depressed, it is really hard to keep going when you get knocked back, or feel like you’ve “failed”.

If you need therapy, please go and get some. Go to your GP (or phone them) and get a referral. It will take ages. Something will probably get messed up. You won’t want to go. But when you get there, and you meet someone whose entire job is getting you better, and who genuinely cares about you, it’ll be worth it.

It worked for me, and I was proper mental.

2. Mindfulness

I thought mindfulness was going to be kind of flakey and not work for me. I also thought I couldn’t do it because of my ADHD.

I was wrong about all those things.

I’d tried Headspace and meditation apps and books but I didn’t really get it until I did a course.

Oh wait, why did I do a mindfulness course when I didn’t have any faith in it?

Because I met a very nice lady who taught mindfulness courses and wanted to do her compassion course (I did compassion-based therapy so I thought it would be a nice top up of what I’d learnt there). But I had to do the mindfulness course before the compassion course, which is how I ended up spending every Wednesday evening learning about mindfulness. What it’s for and how it works, as well as how to do it.

Yes, it was much harder for me than for everyone else, but I got massive benefits. The biggest thing was learning to sit with my feelings. Learning to feel them, instead of pushing them away. I’ve found that the bad feelings actually go away much quicker.

BTW, mindfulness CBT is proven to help prevent a depression relapse. So not flakey at all.

3. Journaling

This is another one I thought was for other people.

I tried it a few times but never really got into it.

I kind of didn’t like the fact that my writing is messy and I can’t draw very well, so my journal was never going to look like the beautiful bullet journals on Pinterest.

Also, a daily activity, which journaling is “supposed” to be, is very hard to keep up with if you’ve got ADHD.

What changed is that I was given both a nice journal to write in, and two suggestions from two different people as to what to write in it.

The first was 3 positive things about myself. I try not to make this all stuff that I do, especially stuff that I do for other people, because I think one’s value shouldn’t come from what you can do for others (or not entirely). So some things are intrinsic, like I have great taste in interior design, or my hair looks nice today. I have found that it does help me value myself more, and a side-effect has been greater focus at work – because I’m able to prioritise a bit better.

The second was 3 things I’m grateful for. I was kind of sceptical about this but it does give me a bit of perspective.

One mistake I made at the beginning was that I didn’t write in any kind of detail. So my gratitude list would be something like “Trees, being able to work, orange Clubs” without any depth. So it didn’t have any real effect – it was like putting on moisturiser. Feels nice but doesn’t actually penetrate very deeply, nor change anything.

Now I write a couple of sentences for each positive thing and each thing I’m grateful for, and it makes me think about each one in a bit more detail. It helps the information and the feelings sink in better. And that makes it more effective.

4. Vitamin B6

This was recommended by my gynaecologist. So as you’ve probably guessed, it’s one for the ladies.

Vitamin B6 has a positive effect on both balancing hormones (progesterone and oestrogen) and on neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine, that affect your mood). I read somewhere that it actually blunts the effect of your lady hormones on your brain chemistry, with the result that it improves your mood.

As you’ve probably guessed from the above, I’m not a doctor, so I can only speak from experience. Taking vitamin B6 supplements has really taken the edge off my mood swings, which has made everything a lot easier. I think we women really underestimate the effect of hormone shifts on our moods but they really can be quite dramatic.

Please go and see your GP if your PMT or your (peri)menopause or your pregnancy is having a negative effect on your moods. You’re conditioned to just suck it up and accept it as part of being a woman, but there are tons of treatments out there and you deserve to access them.

5. Talking

Weirdly, I thought this one wasn’t effective either.

I suppose because I’d spent so long squashing my feelings and hiding everything, I didn’t really think talking about my feelings would ever help anything.

It was my therapist who told me to do it, and I’ve found that talking helps me connect with people. Which is vital for good mental health.

It goes beyond me saying “I am annoyed or upset about this thing,” and someone listening. Although that actually does help more than you imagine – just someone listening and believing and accepting you.

I’ve had friends, counsellors and a coach offer really useful advice when I’ve talked about my problems. They’ve helped me find a way forward when I couldn’t see it for myself. They’ve given me solutions to actually deal with problems so I can move forward.

There’s another reason that talking helps.

If you trust someone with your thoughts and feelings, they’re going to trust you with theirs. They’ll start coming to you with their problems. They’ll need you to listen. They might even ask you for advice.

That will make you feel more confident. And valuable. Which will help your mental health even more. It’s a virtuous circle!

I hope you’ve found this helpful. If you’d like to share what helps your mental health, tell me on Twitter or Facebook.

If you need help with your mental health, start with your GP or call the Samaritans on 116 123.

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