22nd Sep, 2020

Good days and bad days - how we can all look after our mental health

Evesham Editorial 5th Jul, 2020

LOCKDOWN has been ‘devastating’ for mental health and the worst could be yet to come, leading mental health charity Mind has said.

The Observer has teamed up with county writer Mike Stafford to shine a light on the issue.

WHEN it comes to our perception of mental health, times are changing.

Most of us are at least now starting to understand that, much like physical health, mental health can cover a range of states, from ‘perfectly healthy’, down to ‘having an acute crisis.’

In our physical health, we don’t exist in a state of being either Olympic athletes or completely immobile – there is a spectrum of wellbeing which sits between those two extremes. Mental health is exactly the same; it’s perfectly possible to have good days and bad days, or indeed good years and bad years.

Let’s be fair, then – thus far 2020 has been a bad year for our mental health. Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic is a perfect storm of increased mental health risk. Our mental well-being suffers when our safety and security are threatened; COVID is an unseen killer that’s also caused the biggest economic crash on record.

Our mental well-being suffers when we can’t engage in our regular leisure pursuits; most of our pastimes are either closed altogether due to lockdown, or carry increased risk due to COVID. Our mental well-being suffers when we can’t connect with our nearest and dearest; COVID means we have to keep them at a distance.

Cancelled holidays frustrate us, and rob us of things to look forward to. Furloughed workers might lack the stimulation and sense of self-worth that work can bring; home workers are forced to juggle commitments to their families with commitments to their employers; people living alone experience an extreme form of isolation akin to solitary confinement.

The backdrop to all of this is the endless beeping and humming of our online lives, where our phones ping continually with good people keeping in touch. We can find ourselves distracted from distraction by distraction.

Against this backdrop, it’s more important than ever that we take meaningful steps to preserve, protect and improve our mental health – but what are these steps? Well, this isn’t a complete list, but these five are a good start –

* Recognise and accept the pressure COVID is putting on us all. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings; are you filled with anger, anxiety or despair? These are understandable responses, but they aren’t desirable. Acknowledge them, and don’t just hope they’ll go away.

* Exercise. Physical and mental health are linked; exercise releases hormones like dopamine and serotonin that make us feel mentally better.

* Do something you love. Reading,writing, handicrafts, home improvement; anything you do purely for the love of it will improve your mental health, building self-esteem and giving focus beyond the day-to-day grind.

* Sleep. A good night’s sleep is the mind and body’s best opportunity to recharge itself. Treat yourself like you would your phone, and ensure you’ve got all the charge you need.

* Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Friends and family are far more likely to be understanding, sympathetic and supportive than they are to be judgemental. Remember – they also have a mind which needs to be kept healthy; we all suffer from time to time, and we can all help each other get through it.

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