A handy, two-part guide helping you explore different aspects of your mental health and wellbeing, from Anger through to Zen. Part one takes you from A to M.
A is for Anger – Anger can be a reaction to an event; a response to a substance; or a symptom of anxiety, depression or other mental illness. It may be directed at others or inwardly at yourself. Using anger management techniques can help you control your anger while you work out what triggers it and why.
B is for Brain – Brains are complex and can sometimes go a bit wrong, whether it’s faulty communication between neurons or an imbalance in chemicals. For example, your brain can unnecessarily put you into ‘fight or flight’ mode by misinterpreting the degree of threat you’re facing, leading to feelings of anxiety and panic. Therapies such as CBT can help you retrain your cognitive processes, while chemical imbalances are usually treated using medication.
C is for Confidence – Low self-confidence can be both a symptom and trigger of mental illness. A therapist can help you recognise and take control of your critical inner voice, and make changes to build your self-esteem.
D is for Diagnosis – A mental health diagnosis is given by a doctor and will be based on what you tell them and/or your answers to questionnaires or forms. Getting a diagnosis can be a relief but may also feel negative and scary. Showing information about your mental health condition to those around you can help them understand your diagnosis, while talking to others with a similar experience or diagnosis can help you feel less alone.
E is for Exercise – Exercising releases chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, that help to regulate and boost your mood. You could go for a walk, join a dance class or do some gardening. Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s something you enjoy – that way you’re more likely to keep doing it regularly.
F is for Food – Diet plays an important part in mental wellbeing. Sugary food and drinks create energy highs that leave you feeling tired and low when they’ve worn off, while slow-release energy foods, such as pasta and oats, can prevent drops in energy levels and mood. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine and drinking plenty of fluids is also beneficial. Importantly, some foods shouldn’t be eaten with certain medications – your GP can advise you about this.
G is for Goals – Setting goals can help you plan and move forward. But it’s important they’re realistic so you don’t set yourself up to fail. Consider having a different set of goals for difficult days, such as having a shower or getting dressed - achievements come in all sizes. And remember, when you achieve your goal take time to be proud of what you’ve done.
H is for Happiness – Looking after your mental health has a bigger impact on how happy you feel than money or material possessions.[i] But when you’re mentally unwell, it can feel like you’ll never be happy again. Keeping a gratitude journal and writing down three things you’re grateful for each day can provide small rays of sunshine as you go through your journey of recovery.
I is for IAPT – Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) is the NHS therapy programme for adults with anxiety and depression. To receive it, your GP has to refer you for an IAPT assessment. Counselling is free, but sessions are limited and you have no choice over the type of therapy you receive (only cognitive behavioural therapy is used). Waiting times to start therapy can also vary. As well as individual therapy, IAPT also runs group therapy and online courses.
J is for Journal – Journaling provides a practical and creative way to help you manage your mental health. You can use a journal to write down your thoughts and feelings, or to help track your mood, diet, exercise and sleep. You can also use it to identify triggers and plan self-care, as well as to organise, plan and set goals.
K is for Knowledge – As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Spend time finding about your mental health condition to see whether there are common triggers, symptoms or helpful treatments. And find out what sources of support are available. Knowledge of yourself is important too, learning about your own personal triggers and symptoms.
L is for Low – Life events, illness and changes in season can all cause you to experience low mood. But if that feeling persists and doesn’t improve, you should make an appointment to speak to your GP. They’ll chat to you about how you’ve been feeling and make suggestions for appropriate treatment options. If you’re having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you should seek immediate help from your GP, NHS 111 or the Samaritans.
M is for Medication – Medication is a treatment option for many mental health conditions, and may be used in combination with counselling, hypnotherapy or alternative therapies. Your GP, psychiatrist or other mental health professional will prescribe and adjust your medication as required. Self-medication - using drugs and/or alcohol to cope with the symptoms of mental illness – can make your mental health worse. If this sounds familiar, your GP or therapist can provide support.
Part two, taking you from N to Z, is coming soon. In the meantime, if you’d like some confidential support, get in touch to make an appointment.
[i] BBC News (2016), Mental health and relationships 'key to happiness’, Available: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38285223