Everyday living tips
Living with a mental health condition can impact on daily living. Some changes or alterations to your daily routine can help improve your quality of life. Your particular circumstances are likely to differ from the next person but here we discuss a good starting point to develop strategies to improve your everyday life.
Relaxation is a good exercise to improve your mental wellbeing. When people hear relaxation they do tend to think of extended breaks to spas or wilderness retreats, however even taking a few minutes away from a task that you are completing can itself be relaxation. Whilst a few minutes away from a task may not sound like a lot, it can be of great use in maintaining a positive mental state. For example, if you are working on a stressful report for work or school then taking a few minutes to read a magazine or book can be very powerful. Longer tasks such as taking a bath can also be useful when they can be fitted into your schedule. Other ways of relaxing include learning breathing exercises, these can be especially useful when you are unable to step away from your desk. Choosing to do nothing is also a good way of relaxing for a period of time - it is not actually doing nothing when you actively choose not to do anything.
Mindfulness is an exercise that can sometimes be associated with relaxation and is now more commonly being practised in therapeutic environments. If you have started therapy then this may be a familiar concept for you, if not then you may wish to discuss mindfulness with your therapist to establish if they think it might benefit you. Essentially mindfulness involves paying more attention to the present, including your current thoughts and feelings. More formal examples of mindfulness are yoga and meditations. Mindfulness has been found to improve mental health and to reduce stress.
Loneliness is another factor that would fall under the umbrella of general wellbeing. Loneliness is a factor that can impact the onset of a mental health condition and be the result of a mental health condition. Generally, when we think of loneliness we tend to think of being physically alone with no social contact. Whilst this can be the case we have to remember not to down play the loneliness felt by people that are interacting with others. Whilst those that are isolated can be lonely, those with lots of social contact can be lonely if their social needs are not being met, or if there are underlying psychological causes of this loneliness. There are a number of ways loneliness can be improved. If you suspect an underlying cause is the root of the loneliness then it may be good to explore these causes, in a therapeutic session if that feels most appropriate. For other people, social contact will be sufficient to reduce loneliness. This may be through peer and family support and through attending clubs or religious groups or it may be through having a conversation with a shopkeeper that you see every day. Every person needs to find their own personal way to reduce their loneliness but increasing social contact is often a good place to start. If you do not feel confident enough to join a group then it could be good to start with small conversations with family members or shopkeepers. Pets have also been shown to help people who are suffering with loneliness.
Diet and Exercise
Regular, well balanced meals are beneficial to mental health. This does not necessarily mean three set meals a day, but instead may mean five regular smaller meals a day. This will depend on your own personal preferences and finding what works for you. If you have medication that need to be taken at certain times of day and with food then it would be useful to plan ahead for this. The meals you eat should try to incorporate your five fruit and vegetables a day, as well as naturally occurring fats and proteins. Artificial products can impact on concentration so it is best to avoid eating these in excess. Also linked to concentration is the need to stay hydrated and to drink your required water intake per day. Many medications and conditions can impact concentration, so eating right and maintaining a good level of hydration can help to reduce these impacts. Caffeine should not be consumed in excessive amounts, especially towards the end of the day. Caffeine is a stimulant and so can impact your ability to sleep. As we have mentioned in other areas of this website, sleep is an important component in mental health and disrupted sleep can be detrimental so avoiding caffeine later in the day ensures a better chance of a good night’s rest. This in turn gives you a better chance of an improved mental wellbeing.
Food can also greatly reduce mood, with foods heavy in saturated fats often leaving us lethargic and with low energy. You may also find certain foods make you feel lower and others make you feel more positive. A good idea would be to keep a food diary or journal to record which foods hinder or help your mood. You can then be mindful of foods to avoid or reduce in your diet. In some cases foods can also interact with psychiatric medications; such as Lithium or an antidepressant drug group known as MAOI’s. If you are taking any of these medications then it would be a good idea to discuss with your doctor if there are any foods they would advise you to avoid.
Much like eating healthily, exercising has its obvious physical benefits that we have all heard about. Exercising does, however, have benefits for our mental wellbeing. Some of these benefits may be linked to physical benefits, for instance improved self-esteem due to seeing improved fitness results but other benefits can be less overtly obvious. For instance, exercising has also been proven to benefit those suffering with stress as it assists in building up our body’s tolerance to stress. Such benefits, in turn, improve a person’s reaction to stressful situations because they are less effected by them. Exercise can also directly affect our brains chemistry. When you exercise there are a vast number of physical reactions, including chemical releases of endorphins to the brain. Endorphins are known to help improve mood and calm anxiety. They can improve self-esteem and reduce depressive symptoms. That is also why exercise may be built into your treatment plan if you are seeking treatment for depression.
Group sports can be a good way to stay active and exercise whilst enjoying the activity, especially if you are not the sort of person who enjoys the gym. Whilst group sports have the potential mental health benefits of exercise built in, they also carry with them a social aspect that is likely to be beneficial to many suffering from a mental health condition, especially those suffering from loneliness. If you like the idea of group sports but fear you may be subject to stigma due to your condition then it would be good to attend a local support group to ask members if they know of any specialist sports clubs or even broach the idea of hosting your own. Whilst a group activity may be beneficial, due to financial or time constraints this may not always be suitable for you. We encourage you to try to maintain semi-regular attendance at a group session if you can but please remember you can do many exercises at home that do not require big expense or an overwhelming time commitment.
When discussing food and exercise it is important to be mindful of any symptoms that may be best categorised as over-monitoring or over-exercising. This is especially prevalent with eating disorders and some anxiety disorders. If you are suffering with an eating disorder or feel your symptoms are causing excessive exercise or diet monitoring then it is best to discuss this with your therapist and follow their advice.
The cost of treatment can sometimes be a barrier to treatment, depending on the country you are in or whether you can choose to use private health care providers. In these instances it is a good idea to investigate your options with regards to insurance providers prior to starting treatment; provided treatment is not required with immediate effect.
It is likely that if you have a mental health problem that is causing a financial strain on your family or yourself you might also be trying to hide your mental health problem from others. Doing so is likely to increase stress levels and to perpetuate symptoms in a cruel circular effect. It is important to acknowledge your debts as soon as possible and to talk to an advisor. Your local healthcare provider may be able to suggest an advocacy service for you to use. It is important to discuss these debts as they will only worsen over time. The best thing to do will be to talk to an advocate and work with them and your creditors to arrange a suitable financial plan. It may be that due to your symptoms and mental health problems, some debts may be written off. Regardless of an outstanding debt, a financial plan would be advisable. The reason for this is that there may be times where your symptoms worsen or your circumstances change and it will be beneficial to have plans in place to help reduce the financial stress coming at times when you are already suffering.
Please don’t be afraid to ask for financial support. It may be uncomfortable or not viable to ask for support from your family but it would be advisable to look into your entitlements when it comes to government benefits. Many countries will have social care arrangements that entitle you to a certain amount of money to live on if you are unable to work due to your condition. Many people do not like asking for benefits but you may be entitled to a certain degree of help to try to reduce the stress on you during difficult times. Employment can also be a problem when you are suffering from mental health problems as you may not be able to be present consistently and so you will need to be aware of the benefits you are entitled to. However, employment is likely to be possible for the vast majority of those with mental health problems. Importantly, if you are not comfortable disclosing your mental health problems with your employer then you are often not required to, provided it will not impact completing your job in a safe manner However, if you do feel comfortable doing this then your employer may be able to work with you to ensure your job is secure when you are experiencing more difficult episodes. If you are out of work for some time due to your mental health concerns then going into paid employment may be a struggle and a daunting prospect. Volunteering can be a good stepping stone in these situations. Volunteering will allow you to experience a structure similar to paid employment and will help you adjust to having responsibilities in a more relaxed environment, whilst having the social benefits of being in a work place. Many mental health institutions are often on the lookout for volunteers and they are understanding of your situation so they are usually a good place to start when looking for voluntary jobs. It is important to review any government benefits you are receiving prior to starting a new job, be it voluntary or paid, as some benefits may be reduced when work begins. If this is the case then you will need to plan ahead to avoid any unnecessary financial stress.
Coping as a carer or family member
It is also important to remember to make time to live your own life. This is a hard concept to initially agree with as you likely care deeply about the person you are caring for but it is important. It is important for you, as a carer, as it allows you time to maintain your own friendships and to unwind and relax. It may also be that you need to earn a living and so will need to establish that you still need to have a professional working life outside of caring for the person. In some cases you may be required to take on the carer role as a full time position. In this instance you will need to be aware of any government benefits you may be entitled to as a carer. Even if you are acting as a carer full time you will need to make time for yourself and to ensure you are not doing everything for the person you care for. This will have benefits for the person who is ill too as it will enable them to gain more independence and move out of the established ‘sick’ role they now have in your relationship.
When you are caring for somebody you should agree upon your limits and outline when a third party needs to be bought in. You should also outline a crisis plan in case the situation deteriorates. This will include contact details of who to call and potential actions you will need to take. It would be advisable to discuss an action plan with the professional treating the person you care for.