In the second part of this handy A to Z guide exploring different aspects of mental health and wellbeing, we go from NHS to Zen.
If you haven’t read Part one, which takes you from A to M, you can catch up here.
N is for NHS – The NHS provides important mental health support and treatment. From your GP - who can give a diagnosis, prescribe medication, and make referrals to support services such as IAPT (see Part 1 of this A to Z guide) - to crisis teams, psychologists, psychiatrists and addiction services. Accessing these NHS services may involve visiting your GP surgery, health centre, hospital or mental health clinic.
O is for Online – The internet can be a useful tool for finding mental health information and getting support. But it can also have a negative impact on your mental health if you experience trolling, find you’re comparing yourself to others on social media, or you read misinformation about a diagnosis or treatment options. Always use reputable websites (e.g. charities or NHS Direct) when searching for information, and consider taking time away from social media if it’s becoming unhelpful.
P is for Panic – Panic attacks are an anxiety response to stress and fear. They cause symptoms that can mimic physical illness, such as a heart attack, and can be very frightening to experience. Techniques like controlled breathing and grounding can help you manage and control panic attacks when they occur, while therapy can help you to address your triggers and develop coping strategies.
Q is for Quiet – In the rush of daily life it’s important to take time out to look after yourself (see Y a bit further down). Taking 5-10 minutes to yourself a couple of times a day can help you manage anxiety and stress, and improve your mental wellbeing. It could be going for a walk, focusing on your breathing or sitting in silence on your own.
R is for Relationships – Good relationships are vital to your mental health, whether they’re with people around you or they’re virtual relationships with people you’ve never met. Healthy relationships provide support and security, and help you to thrive. While loneliness and isolation have a negative impact on both mental and physical health. Unhealthy relationships can also negatively affect your mental wellbeing, creating low self-confidence and contributing to feelings of isolation.
S is for Stress – Stress can be caused by pressures in your life, unexpected events, change, or by feeling you have no control over a situation. When this happens, hormones are released in your body that trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response, putting your body on high alert. If this happens continually over a long period of time, it’s known as ‘chronic stress’. Positive relationships, changes to lifestyle and practising self-care can all help to reduce the symptoms of stress.
T is for Therapy – Therapy provides a safe, confidential space for you to explore your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, without judgement. It can help you identify the roots and triggers of your mental health problems, and develop healthy coping strategies. There are many different types of therapy available, depending on the issues you’re experiencing and on personal preference. Read more about how to choose the right therapist for you.
U is for Understanding – When you’re struggling with your mental health, having someone take the time to understand your illness and how you’re feeling can make a big difference. It’s important to apply this understanding to yourself too. Be compassionate with yourself, especially if you’re having a difficult day. Treat yourself in the same way you would treat a friend – it’s only you that is expecting perfection from yourself.
V is for (in)Visible - Many symptoms of mental illness can’t be seen. This can make it difficult for others to understand what you’re experiencing. Giving them information about your mental illness can help change this. More widely, high profile campaigns such as those by members of the Royal family are working to make mental health a more visible public issue and to reduce the stigma associated with it.
W is for Work – It can be tricky to manage work when you’re experiencing mental illness. Wherever possible, talk to your boss about whether changes can be made to your workload or working conditions. You may also be able to get occupational health support following a period of absence. Health and Safety legislation and the Equality Act 2010 means employers have a duty of care towards employees if they have mental health problems. Unions and ACAS can provide advice and guidance if your workplace is unsupportive.
X is for (e)Xtraordinary - which is quite simply what you are. You’re amazing for getting through each difficult day, no matter how impossible it feels.
Y is for You – Looking after yourself will have a positive impact on your mental health. This means eating a balanced diet and exercising (see Part 1 of this A to Z guide), as well as having good sleep hygiene. Importantly, spend time each day doing self-care. Giving yourself the time and space to do something that nurtures your mental, emotional or physical wellbeing can improve your mental health and help prevent relapse.
Z is for Zen – Mindfulness and meditation can help you reduce feelings of stress, cope with negative thoughts and improve your sense of wellbeing. Using mindful breathing techniques can also help control feelings of panic. You can learn mindfulness through books, online guides, one-to-one sessions or group courses. Search the UK Mindfulness Network to find a qualified teacher in your local area.
Choosing what to put in this A to Z guide has been tricky. You’ll see it doesn’t include any mental health illnesses, which could easily become an A to Z list all of their own. Instead, it’s a guide of things associated with mental wellbeing.
You might choose to include different things. I’d love to hear what you’d have in your A to Z. Leave a comment below to let me know.