February 9th, 2021

The same old tips aren’t working. What else can I do for my mental health?

By Dan Whale

  • Stress
  • Self-esteem
  • Mindfulness and Stress
  • Perfectionism
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Since lockdown first began in 2020, there has been lots said about the best ways to maintain your mental health during a challenging period. We’re big fans of this, and it’s something we’ve done plenty of ourselves, but as we’re now in a third lockdown, some people are starting to question the value of this advice.

In this blog, we look at some of the main tips you might have heard and let you know which ones you should stick with and which ones you might want to switch out for something different.

Sleep

Starting with a big one. Sleep has a huge impact on your mental health and your health in general, we’d never suggest otherwise. However, some tips surrounding good sleep practices deserve being looked at a little closer.

You don’t necessarily need 8 hours a night: 8 hours is always given as the benchmark for optimal sleep, but in truth, all of us are different. Make sure you get 6, but the best way to judge how much you need is how well rested you feel the next day.

Try not to worry too much if there are changes in your sleep as this will almost certainly make your sleep worse. In the vast majority of cases, disturbed sleep will correct itself if you follow basic rules of sleep hygiene. Short term lack of sleep won’t cause any significant issues.

You can nap, if you’re smart about it: Many people will tell you to avoid napping as it alters your natural sleep cycle and makes it harder to get good quality sleep at night. However, as long as you keep your nap to 20 minutes max you can receive the energy of 2 cups of coffee with longer lasting effects, and you shouldn’t wake up feeling groggy.

Avoid ‘blue light’ before sleeping: Blue light is a type of light emitted by some lamps and all screens. It’s been proven to make it harder for you to get to sleep, and this is a tip we do recommend sticking to if sleep is something you struggle with.

Try and not look at your phone/laptop/tv for the hour before you go to sleep. If you have to, there are apps you can install to make the light emitted easier on your eyes.

Spend time with others yourself

Staying in contact with others is definitely important at times like these. However, don’t make yourself have endless Zoom calls because you think it’s the right thing to do. Studies have shown too much time on video call can leave us feeling exhausted as we can’t read social cues as instinctively, so they’re more hard work.

Instead, try taking a virtual holiday. Pick an area and use Google to explore. Whilst it’s of course not the same, you can still get some of the psychological benefits that you would from a physical trip.

Replacing a hug

If it’s physical contact you’re missing, try using the ‘compassionate hand’ technique. Hugging releases the hormones oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin - all of which make us feel good.

Replacing it isn’t easy, but an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy technique can give you very similar feelings. Follow these 6 simple steps:

  1. Place your hand on your chest quite firmly.
  2. Think of an experience of compassion (either from you or towards you).
  3. Take note of how you feel in your body.
  4. Imagine compassion is filling your hand and spreading to your chest.
  5. Feel it spreading to the other parts of your body.
  6. Note how you feel in your body once more.

Stretching is a good alternative to exercise

Exercise will always be beneficial when trying to improve mental health, but it was probably a lot easier to motivate yourself to go for a run last summer.

If you’re struggling to find the time or space for home workouts, stretching could be an alternative that works for you. There is a proven link between mood and body movement/position, and stretches like the ‘yoga inversion’ can be particularly effective.

Sit on the floor facing the wall/door with your bottom as close to it as possible, then put your legs straight up and lie on your back. Lie that way for a few minutes. This is sort of the opposite of being hunched over in a chair all day and your body and brain will both know that.

Radical acceptance

When we see what’s going on in the world around us it can lead to feeling angry, frustrated, depressed or hopeless. The psychological practice of ‘radical acceptance’ is used in Dialectical Behavioural Therapy and teaches you how to accept realities without engaging in the mental toil of injustices.

If you find your mood continually worsening, take some time to think carefully about these 10 points:

  1. Observe that you questioning or fighting reality (“it shouldn’t be this way/why is it like this?”)
  2. Remind yourself that the unpleasant reality is just as it is and cannot be changed (“this is what happened”)
  3. Remind yourself that there are causes for the reality (“this is how things happened”)
  4. Practice accepting with you whole self (mind, body, spirit). Use accepting self-talk, relaxation techniques, mindfulness and/or misery
  5. List all of the behaviours you would engage in if you did accept the facts and then engage in those behaviours as if you have already accepted the facts
  6. Imagine, in your mind’s eye, believe what you do not want to accept and rehearse in your mind what you would do if you accepted what seems unacceptable
  7. Attend to body sensations as you think about what you need to accept
  8. Allow disappointment, sadness of grief to arise within you
  9. Acknowledge that life can be worth living even when there is pain
  10. Make a pros and cons list of things in your life if you find yourself resisting practicing acceptance

Doing something kind

It’s been scientifically shown that kind acts help us feel good. It’s not just that we benefit from the other person’s reaction or perhaps think, deep down, they now owe us a favour. When we’re kind to others, it can cause real psychological changes in us - some really interesting studies can be found here.

As we’re all locked down what we can do for others is a bit limited, but something as small as a letter or postcard to a loved one can really brighten their day and, in turn, give you a boost.

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If you’re finding the start to the year a bit tough, give some of these things a go. It’s important to remember that we are all different and we need to find things that work for us as individuals. As long as we’re trying to improve our mental health, we’re making the most important step.

smiling woman in front of a blue wall

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