Mental Health Awareness Week ran from 10th-16th May 2021 in the UK. In my quest to improve overall wellbeing, I’ve tried a lot of different ideas and outlets, some have been more successful than others. Here is my personal A-Z in full, an alphabet of actions to help you discover different ways to feel happier, healthier and boost positivity.
A is for Art. When was the last time you admired a work of art? My Google TV always defaults to random works of art during ‘standby’ mode. I began to enjoy the range of paintings, photos and street art so much that I made a note of the images I liked and spent five minutes researching the artist or place. Alternatively, you could just Google ‘random art’ and search for any images that take your fancy. One of the best ways to explore art during lockdown was to hop online for a tour of some of the world’s most famous galleries. My favourites include, Tate Modern | Tate and the Home – The Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org) and V&A · The World’s Leading Museum Of Art And Design (vam.ac.uk)
B is for Books. I am a committed bibliophile, hooked on turning pages and absorbing words. I realise that not everyone enjoys reading, but as a teacher I use this trick to encourage my students. Think of a film you enjoy, and it will very often be an adaptation of a book you can try. If this doesn’t work, choose a genre of films that you like, horror or romance or fantasy and explore some titles. I love childrens books or Young Adult fiction because they are shorter, easier to read and generally a lot more entertaining because they need to keep young minds engaged. It’s pure escapism and sometimes that is exactly what you need. If the idea of reading a book doesn’t appeal to you, try listening to one instead. 50+ Sites for Free Audio Books Online Listen without Downloading (epubor.com)
C is for Cooking. You don’t have to be a Nigella in the kitchen to whip up something good to eat. Start simple, there are a lot of websites that can help and YouTube videos with instructions. My favourite young chef at the moment is Buddy Oliver (son of Jamie) who can show you how to make fabulous pancakes and he’s only ten years old! #cookingbuddies – YouTube Just create something that you would enjoy eating or sharing with someone special.
D is for Donate. Whether it’s your time, your expertise or your kidneys, the best thing you can do is share yourself with the wider world. You can donate things you no longer need to charity or you could spend time helping others in some way. Giving makes you happier and if you find a way to help others, it will ultimately be beneficial to you too. How to donate your time to charity | Volunteering advice from CAF (cafonline.org)
E is for exercise. I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle to motivate myself. None of us have had access to public gyms or swimming pools for over a year now but all that will change soon enough. Take some time to think of an activity that you would enjoy. It needn’t be strenuous or extreme, start small. Sign up to a class, meet friends for a weekly walk or dust off the yoga mat. Whatever you do, stick to it, make a goal to do this every day or once a week and keep doing it. Regular physical activity boosts your energy and will release the brain’s feel-good endorphins, exactly what we need to feel happier. Gym-free exercises – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
F is for Films. There are some films that just lift your spirits and make you feel good. This is a very personal choice; only you know what will cheer you up. If you’re feeling down then avoid anything that will trigger any deeper, darker feelings. Go for optimism and light-hearted comedies, old classics or a romantic film (only if you’re not suffering from a broken heart). Old favourites from childhood will usually elevate your mood and give you a sense of security. 34 Happy Films That Will Lift Your Mood – What Films To Watch (elle.com)
G is for Goals. It’s important to set a target and provide yourself with some direction. This gives you something to look forward to, if you set your intention then you can begin to feel good about the future. Goals need to be challenging but also achievable, make sure that you are realistic enough to accomplish this, but also push yourself a little to keep motivated. By planning your achievement, you’ll begin to turn your dream into a reality. The sense of satisfaction gained by achieving a goal will spur you on to challenge yourself in new ways. Use small steps, break a large task into smaller, achievable milestones that will give you momentum and keep you on your path to success. Personal Goal Setting – How to Set SMART Goals – from MindTools.com
H is for Habit. There are many ways to incorporate good habits into your lifestyle and promote a sense of wellbeing. Habits reduce the need to make decisions, you don’t decide to brush your teeth but it’s a habit because you have done this for most of your life. If you need to develop a new habit, try attaching the action to something you already do, for example, take your vitamins before brushing your teeth or do ten squats before you wash the dishes. My favourite book on this subject is, “Better than Before” by Gretchen Rubin, a writer who delves into the science behind habit formation and gives a lot of advice on leading a happier and more productive life. Gretchen Rubin
I is for Ideas. You probably have hundreds of these a day, but how often do you act on them? By the time you process an idea, your brain has usually talked yourself out of doing something and the moment Is lost. “The Five second Rule” by Mel Robbins is a fascinating read, the author uses a simple strategy 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 to ‘launch’ into action, whether it’s getting out of bed or making a phone call or cleaning your fridge. It’s such a simple idea but it worked for me, I found myself taking action and getting things done before my inner voice had a chance to talk me out of it. Mel Robbins | Speaker, CNN Contributor, Creator: 5 Second Rule
J is for Journal. There is something very therapeutic about keeping a journal. It could be a diary of personal thoughts, a scrapbook of ideas or a record of things you enjoy. They can be as artistic as you like and act as a great record of your journey. There are a lot of sights dedicated to journaling, but I like Nature Journaling Week which happens at the beginning of June. This wonderful site can really encourage you to get outdoors and take note of your natural surroundings, something which is very beneficial when you are feeling down.
K is for Kindness. Not only to others but to yourself. Sometimes you need to gag that inner voice, full of fear and self-doubt, with some serious, heavy-duty gaffer tape. Imagine that you are your own best friend, what advice would you offer? It’s very easy to overlook our own needs when we care for others, but never forget the advice of air stewards everywhere, “Place the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others”. It’s a cliché but it’s true, you cannot take care of others if you don’t take good care of yourself first. Take some time to do what you need; replenish your energy and recharge your batteries. Be Kind to Yourself | Psychology Today United Kingdom
L is for Love. Loving someone or something is generally good for us. It can lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety and improve general health. All love comes with responsibility and sometimes it carries the pain of loss. Love can give us both tremendous joy and heartache, but most people wouldn’t trade any moment of the experience, it is the ultimate joy of connection and acceptance. 10 Surprising Health Benefits of Love (webmd.com)
M is for Meaning. This is such an essential part of our well-being and it’s so often overlooked. We all need to find some meaning in our lives, to be part of something bigger. Having a purpose in life can also reduce anxiety and improve physical health as well as the innumerable psychological benefits. Acting in accordance with your own beliefs and being part of something bigger, helps us find our place in the world. It answers the biggest of all questions… Why am I here? Viktor Frankl endured his time at Auschwitz by using his skills as a psychiatrist to help other prisoners in the Nazi death camp. I’m paraphrasing Nietzsche but essentially, finding a reason why he was alive helped him endure how he was living. Frankl’s book, “Man’s search for Meaning” is a testament to his bravery during the darkest of days. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl | Goodreads The Paradoxical Secret to Finding Meaning in Life | Psychology Today United Kingdom
N is for Nature. Many writers extoll the benefits and healing powers of nature. Whether it’s a walk in the fresh air or enjoying Japanese art of forest bathing, seaside strolls or a picnic in a meadow, surrounding yourself with nature brings a greater appreciation of life. If you stop and take the time to notice birdsong and smell wildflowers, it helps instil a feeling that you are part of something living on this Earth, a great tonic when you’re feeling down. How nature benefits mental health | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems
O is for Optimism. It’s very hard when you are feeling depressed, but I have learnt one thing about this… Fake it until you feel it. If you’re not particularly optimistic, try talking yourself around, listing the positives, generally trying to ‘see the bright side’ of any situation. You’ll be surprised at how a concerted effort will gradually convince you that there are reasons to be hopeful for a better outcome, a brighter future and a happier time. Optimism and Its Impact on Mental and Physical Well-Being (nih.gov)
P is for Photography. It’s easy to forget how far we have travelled on any journey and one way of seeing the change is to take a daily photo. It could be a place or yourself, a child or a pet but seeing something grow and change over time gives you a sense of perspective and allows you to appreciate how much something has evolved over time. This can be a form of journal, a record of daily highlights or random snapshots in time but it can also lead to unlocking more creativity, fun and frivolity. This site has lots of suggestions to get you started. 10 inspiring ‘Project 365’ ideas: Take a photo a day to keep the creative block away (canva.com)
Q is for Quiet. Quiet is not easy for some people, they prefer a constant stream of noise, radio or TV or they live in a place full of life, traffic and people. Meditation has long been considered an important tool for mental health. Taking some time to find a quiet place can be very therapeutic, aim for stillness and tranquillity rather than a complete lack of noise. If you can’t get five minutes peace naturally, put some earphones on and listen to the sounds of nature, waves or rain. Quiet Mind Meditation – YouTube
R is for Routines. An extraordinary amount of research has been completed about the mental health benefits of daily routines. People were reminded of the importance of adhering to daily routines during the last year of lockdown. These rituals and regimens help give us a sense of security and shape our day. By developing a routine, we take away the element of decision making and therefore reduce stress and anxiety. The Mental Health Benefits of Having a Daily Routine | Therapy Group of NYC (nyctherapy.com) Mental health benefits of sticking to a routine (generalandmedical.com)
S is for Self-Awareness. ‘Know thyself’ was the motto inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, this sage advice was given in the hope that one could aim to better understand strengths and weaknesses, both physical and psychological as well as influences and limitations. However, this isn’t an easy task; people change, and their personality and outlook will evolve with life experience. This results in a very complicated shift and periodic transformation, but we can at least try to understand what works for us, what makes us tick and what we need in order to thrive. Personality Type Indicator (my-personality-test.com) OSPP Four Temperaments Test (openpsychometrics.org) The Four Tendencies Quiz – The Four Tendencies Quiz (gretchenrubin.com)
T is for Talk. If you are feeling stress or anxiety, talk to someone, anyone. In times of trouble, we need to air our grievances and make our feelings known, if only to one other person. Hopefully you will have a good friend or family member that you trust enough to hear you without interruption, listen without judgement and only offer advice if needed. There are qualified counsellors available at a cost or you can call My Black Dog, the only ‘peer to peer’ advice line About My Black Dog Mental Health / Depression Charity also Give Us A Shout is a text advice line, free in the UK confidential and anonymous. Get help – free, 24/7, confidential mental health text support service | Shout 85258 (giveusashout.org)
U is for Umbrella. The phrase ‘Mental Health’ is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of states from clinical diagnosis of mental illness or disorders, through to wellbeing or flourishing at the other end of the spectrum. Everyone has a state of mental health just as everyone has a state of physical health and therefore the term itself doesn’t indicate psychological distress or mental ill-health. Your mental state will fluctuate over time and throughout your life, depending on events and environmental factors that can increase protective or risk factors. Mental wellbeing is dependent upon optimal development and a meaningful life, resilience and satisfaction of basic human needs. Mental Health Research | Everymind
V is for Visualization. This is a very powerful technique that can be used to help reduce stress and anxiety, panic attacks and phobias. Using the power of your imagination to calm itself, visualizing scenes of tranquillity and calm, can help you compose your emotions and thoughts in difficult situations. How to Use Visualization to Reduce Anxiety Symptoms (verywellmind.com)
W is for Walking. A simple task for able bodied folk, and just ten minutes a day can increase your positivity and boost your mood. It also helps your physical wellbeing, just moving more can decrease risk of ailments and illness. There are many websites to promote walking, you can try 1000 miles a year Walk 1000 Miles or just go for a stroll in the countryside. Why we walk – CPRE
X is for XXX kisses. I’m not suggesting you grab a stranger and give them a slobbery kiss on the lips, especially since coronavirus has curbed our physical proximity. We all benefit from kissing our nearest and dearest, it boosts oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine and improves our mood. It also lowers cortisol levels, the chemical in your brain that induces stress. 16 Benefits of Kissing: How It Affects Your Mental and Physical Health (healthline.com)
Y is for yourself. Value yourself. Treat yourself with kindness and respect. Surround yourself with good people. Get to know what improves your mood, find whatever works for you, try an activity and keep a record of your mood before and after. Do something physical to keep you healthy and something creative to keep your mind active. The Art Room at Home – Place2Be Mental well-being: resources for the public (who.int)
Z is for Zzzz or getting more sleep. This is essential, we need a regular amount of sleep to thrive in our busy lives. Lack of sleep can affect how you feel and how you feel can affect your sleep. Create an evening routine to wind down your mind before bed. By physically getting ready for sleep, we are telling our bodies to wind down and relax, encouraging your mind to mentally finish the day. Avoid any electronic device after a certain hour and create an atmosphere of calm. These elements all help to get your body into sleep mode. There are so many sites to help improve your sleep… Mental Health – The Sleep Charity Sleep (rethink.org) Sleep and mental health | Mental Health Foundation
I’m not any kind of medical expert, I have just tried all these activities and some have helped me cope with stress, balance my life and gain a better sense of wellbeing. I have referred to various links and sites that I’ve used in my own research and I fully acknowledge that I have borrowed and pinched ideas from all of them. This era of communication is about sharing information and insights in the hope that it helps others. Thank you for taking the time to read these suggestions and please drop me a line if you found any of them useful.