Four steps for creating your mental health first aid kit
Every winter I knew that my mental health was going to suffer. I would almost dread November arriving, knowing that the next few months would be the worst of the year. Having to drag myself through, not feeling good about myself or anything else was a daunting thought and not having a solution for it was even worse.
Sometimes it would extend even once the winter months had passed, and I just couldn’t pull myself up. It affected my thoughts, feelings and behaviours and whilst I didn’t really understand what caused it, I didn’t want to admit to anyone how I was feeling, and even though I hated it, I still didn’t do anything to prevent it or manage it.
It had such a huge effect on me and those around me, and it was only when the concept of having a mental health first aid kit was introduced to me that I discovered an approach to help me manage it.
In this blog I share my ideas about how we can recognise when our mental health is suffering, what we can do about it, and how we can build our resilience to navigate the challenges life throws at us.
Positive mental health, or well-being, enables us to feel good about ourselves, be resilient to the ups and downs of life, and effectively navigate new or different experiences. Having your own mental health first aid kit can be helpful for maintaining positive mental health.
1. What good mental health looks like for me
Everyone is different; good mental health doesn’t look the same for everyone, and individually we move in and out of different states all the time, so our mental health is constantly changing. Working out what good mental health feels and looks like for you is a good starting point, as it enables you to check in on yourself and recognise when your mental health is beginning to suffer.
So, what does good mental health look like for you? What are the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that are present? Define them in as much detail as you can.
2. Signs that my mental health is suffering
Being able to tune into low level changes in your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours will enable you to recognise when your mental health might be suffering, and the more you can recognise them, the earlier you can begin to take action to prevent it from becoming all consuming.
Life is constantly throwing up obstacles and challenges and whilst we can manage these to a certain extent, our capacity cup is only so big. Think of it like your tea, or coffee cup. You can fill it to a certain level, and it will be fine. Fill it too much and it will spill when you pick it up. Fill it even more and it will overflow onto the surface. Once you can spot the early signs, keep an eye on how full your cup is. If it starts to get too full, it’s a sign that you need to empty some of the contents.
For some of us a change in our mental health might be less about volume and more about specific triggers. Identifying these can help you to avoid, or minimise your exposure to these, or ensure you take action to support yourself in these circumstances. What are your triggers? Are there specific things that cause your mental health to suffer?
Sometimes we don’t really know what has caused a change in our mental health and we just know we aren’t feeling great. In these situations, taking time to untangle the ball of wool in your head can be helpful.
Quite often, stress, anxiety, or overwhelm can make it difficult to think straight as there are too many tangled thoughts, so spending time working out what is causing the thoughts, feelings, or behaviours is incredibly beneficial. Journaling is a great way to do this; simply writing down thoughts as they come to you. I am always amazed at how much comes out!
3. Things that help me when my mental health is suffering
This will be different for everyone, so defining what works for you is important. Here are a few ideas; getting outside and going for a walk or a run; connecting with others either for a chat or getting involved in an activity; practicing mindfulness; creating a daily gratitude list or daily positive affirmations; spending time reading, cooking, doing a hobby, or a jigsaw puzzle.
Once we know what these are, we can also use them to build our resilience and help us maintain good mental health on a regular basis. Often they will be things that meet our core emotional needs for love, certainty, and significance, and keeping these emotional needs buckets topped up can be really beneficial.
This is because receptor sites get filled in our body when we experience these emotions and if we don’t experience them enough our bodies give off a signal that our survival is at stake and we go into a state of despair. Our subconscious will do anything to ensure these needs are met, even if that is through unhelpful rather than positive behaviour.
So, how do we ensure that our emotional needs buckets are kept topped up? Ask yourself the following questions:
~ What makes me feel loved, or like I belong?
~ What makes me feel safe and secure?
~ What makes me feel good about myself?
~ What threatens these needs?
Once you have a list, you can look at ways to build the good things into your daily routine and avoid or minimise the things that threaten your needs. Try to avoid quick fixes with things like food, as they quickly pass, and the good feelings don’t sustain.
4. Signs I may need extra help
Sometimes it is not possible to manage our mental health on our own and this is when we need to reach out for extra support. For some people this can be hard, and admitting that you are not okay can be difficult.
What we show on the outside is often not a reflection of how we are feeling on the inside and, whilst we might hope that others recognise the signs, that isn’t always the case, so letting others know is essential for them to be able to help. Defining what this point looks like for you and how you will seek support will mean you feel less uncomfortable taking this step when you need to.
So why not take time this week to create your own mental health first aid kit? That way it will be there when you next need it.
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