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How can I begin to help myself?

Having a mental health problem can be overwhelming. Understandably it may bring about a lot of questions regarding what to do next. Below you'll find a selection of resources with steps you can use on your road to recovery.

Self-help books

There are several useful self-help books on the market, many of which are written by clinicians in the field. As the title would suggest they often provide advice in order to help a person alleviate the symptoms they are experiencing. Self-help books will also help you learn more about the condition you may think you have, will teach you about the process of treatment and will sometimes provide you with information for charities and support groups. Another useful feature in a number of self-help books is they provide screening tools and questionnaires which you can complete yourself to help you gauge the severity of your condition. This can then help you decide whether to attempt treatment yourself or whether to seek professional help. These measures can also be used to track your progress throughout the treatment you choose.

Diet and Exercise

It has been found that people with a mental health problem tend to either over eat or under eat and so it is important to be aware of this. It can be difficult to feel motivated to make a healthy meal or exercise when you feel distressed, or down, but eating regular healthy meals can be an important step on the road to recovery. Having more energy will help combat lethargic feelings caused by some mental health conditions; therefore it is advised to reduce the number of saturated fats that are being consumed and to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables being consumed. Linking in with an improved diet is the need for exercise. Exercising has a number of physical benefits but it also releases a chemical called dopamine which can help to increase your mood.

It is important to note that excessive monitoring of food intake and diet as well as excessive exercise can be symptoms of a number of mental health conditions and can be dangerous. If you are unsure of your dietary requirements then it may be useful to discuss this with a nutritionist.

Book an appointment with your medical practitioner

If you feel you are struggling with a mental health problem then it's advisable to arrange a session with your medical practitioner to discuss potential treatment options. Medical practitioners will be able to listen to your concerns and to give their opinion on your condition. If they feel it appropriate they can also refer you on to a psychologist or psychiatrist to discuss your concerns further and, if necessary, to begin a course of treatment.

Keeping a diary of your mental health

A mental health diary can be used to record your mood and potential symptoms on a day to day basis. This can be a useful tool when discussing symptoms with a health professional, or to review yourself. This allows you to accurately describe your recent experiences if you choose to pursue treatment. Another positive use of a mental health diary is to record instances where progress has been made. Having a mental health problem can often be very overwhelming so it can be important to record instances where you have had success in relation to your mental health. It may seem like a small victory at the time, but it can be of great use to you on a day when your mood is depleted to return to your diary and see instances of success.

A positive data log is also important in a number of mental health conditions. This data log is used to record instances were evidence was provided in support of your new healthier beliefs. For instance, if one symptom of your condition is feeling that people will laugh at you when you go shopping then when you go shopping and this does not happen it can be recorded in the positive log. This can then be used to challenge your beliefs on days where you may be suffering.

It is important to note that some mental health conditions may make you want to record everything throughout the day to the point where the recording becomes excessive. It is important to try to be mindful of this and if you feel you may be at risk of this then it may be advisable that you do not use a mental health diary.

Talking to a close friend

Confiding in somebody regarding your mental health concerns can be a very scary and daunting concept. However many people find that a close friend or relative will actually be very compassionate and understanding. Sharing a problem with another person will often help to relieve a great deal of stress and worry that a person is experiencing. This friend may also be able to encourage you in future to seek the treatment that you may require and to support you through this process.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is fast becoming a focal point in a number of conventional treatment approaches for a variety of conditions, primarily anxiety related disorders and depression, and is something that a person can start to practice prior to any medical contact. Mindfulness is a practice that helps a person to focus more on the present moment and what is going on around them at that moment. It can involve setting aside time to focus on your own thoughts and feelings and trying to have a less ‘tunnel-vison’ approach to life. This can then help to reduce stress and improve mood, which in turn will help to reduce mental anguish and will hopefully improve everyday life. Many people will choose to take time on their own for mindfulness but you can also attend classes such as Yoga and Tai-Chi.

Support groups

When a person is suffering from a mental health condition they often feel isolated. Support groups are a great way to try to relieve these feelings of isolation and allow a person to meet other people with similar conditions. Many of these people will have had the same thoughts and feelings towards mental health and treatment and will be able to understand each other’s emotions. Support groups can be a vast resource of knowledge regarding conditions and the treatment for them. Attending a support group is also a powerful way to see the effect treatment can have as many people who attend these groups will have completed courses of treatment and will be showing signs of symptom alleviation.

Online resources

The internet is a great resource for people suffering with mental health conditions. Websites, such as this one, provide detailed information regarding a number of mental health conditions, as well as their recommended treatment programmes. These can be utilised to help determine whether you fit the criteria for certain conditions and whether you may benefit from an assessment with a professional.

Other online resources can take the form of forums and social media. These forums can often act as support groups, especially for people who are not able to attend groups in person. You can also choose to share your story and in return will likely receive positive reinforcement from people in a similar situation and also from those who are successfully experiencing treatment.

It should also be noted that compulsively checking online resources can also be a symptom of some mental health problems so please check with your health professional if you feel this is making your condition worse.

Being compassionate is about being kind and caring towards yourself. We acknowledge that this can be extremely difficult when you are feeling distressed, or when your mood is low but being compassionate to yourself is critical on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, suffering from a mental health condition can intensify people’s tendency to be highly self-critical and increases negative self-judgement. This in turn can impact self-esteem levels and will make you less inclined to try an exercise or activity again if you have not accomplished what you desired on the first attempt. It can be useful to build a list of compassionate activities and responses to use on a daily basis and when you feel yourself becoming self-critical. These compassionate activities can aid in relaxation as well as being a helpful distraction. Some examples of compassionate activities and responses that you may choose to use are: Giving self-praise for showing courage, listening to your favourite music or watching a favourite TV show or meeting a friend for coffee.

Behavioural Activation

The nature of mental health conditions can often cause a person suffering from these conditions to have a decreased mood. With this decreased mood comes an increased isolation which in turn continues to deplete the mood in a vicious cycle. Behavioural activation is one approach to try and break this cycle and improve a person’s mood. The basic principle of activation is encouraging yourself to do something you used to enjoy that brought you pleasure or achievement, that you no longer do. For many people the reason they no longer complete the previously enjoyable activity is because a low mood makes them feel that the expected pleasure is no longer worth the effort of completing the activity. Behavioural activation is about encouraging yourself to make the perceived effort to complete the task to see if you will enjoy it more than you expected. Evidence suggests that this behavioural activation approach is greatly successful at improving mood. Some suggestions of activities to attempt would be to exercise, to go to the cinema or to meet up with friends.

Sleep Monitoring

Going to sleep at a regular time and getting a good night’s sleep can often be challenging for somebody with a mental health problem but establishing an effective sleep pattern is a great step on the road to recovery. Not getting enough sleep can make you feel lethargic and can impact mental functioning which then impacts your ability to complete other tasks on your journey to recovery. It is recommended that the average person gets between six and eight hours of sleep per night and it is important to establish a regular sleeping pattern; for instance going to bed at 11pm and waking up at 7am. This will initially be difficult to establish but some tips for establishing a successful sleeping pattern are to avoid napping during the day, avoid caffeine and high energy foods in the hours leading up to the time you have scheduled to sleep and to avoid mobile phone and laptop screens up to half an hour before this scheduled time. It may be that you are not able to fall asleep immediately and after twenty minutes you find yourself still lying awake, this is likely to happen when trying to establish a new sleeping pattern. If this occurs it is advised to get out of bed and do a low stimulation activity, such as reading a book or taking a bath, until you feel tired. It may take a few weeks to establish a successful sleeping pattern but once this is achieved it will have a positive impact on your mental health.

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