Posted in compassion, depression management, lifestyle, mental health, self care, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 7 ways to be kind to yourself when you’re struggling

In today’s Monday Matters post, I’m going to be talking about something which I believe many of us struggle with and that is self-kindness. At school, we’re taught to be kind, respectful, patient, forgiving and gentle with others but do we apply this same compassionate attitude to ourselves? I know I certainly don’t, and I also notice that I’m particularly harsh and critical when I’m struggling. So, here are some ways in which being kind to ourselves can help our mental health and 7 ways you can show yourself some kindness right now.

Benefits of self-kindness which are particularly relevant during periods of difficulty

  • better self-esteem
  • increased resilience
  • less self-criticism
  • increased self-acceptance
  • helps us cope better with stress
  • improved self-confidence
  • decreases anxiety and depression
  • helps us feel more optimistic

7 ways you can be kinder to yourself

Practise self-compassion

During times of difficulty, many of us tend to be really unkind to ourselves. We place unrealistic expectations upon ourselves, say engage in negative self talk, criticise ourselves when things don’t go right, place blame unfairly, find fault in what we do and fail to celebrate our achievements. Sounds pretty harsh right? And it makes us feel ten times worse than we already do. Instead, what we would really benefit from is practising self-compassion, where we offer ourselves warmth, gentleness, understanding, acceptance and empathy. A good way to do this is to imagine what you would say to a friend who was going through a period of difficulty and was dealing with the same issues that you are. Then apply that compassion to yourself. You can even take this a step further and write yourself a compassionate letter where you offer support and encouraging words and then read it back. You can find out more about the therapeutic benefits of writing here.

Focus on the good

When we’re struggling, we tend to get into a negative frame of mind. Try to break this by thinking about your positives. Here are some ideas for you to try:

Congratulate yourself on your achievements no matter how small – maybe you got dressed and went out for a walk, maybe you completed something from your to-do list or maybe you dealt with a difficult situation assertively. Just getting out of bed can be a huge achievement if you’re struggling with depression.

Use positive self-talk – I’ve written before about the impact that negative self talk can have on us and how we can reframe it. As part of being encouraging and supportive towards yourself, you can counteract negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Some examples are: I am kind to myself during difficult times, I am doing the best I can, I can get through this, I have the ability to cope, I am brave and strong.

Make an all about you list – things you’re good at, your best qualities, a ‘done list’ of all of the things you’ve achieved today/this week. Try writing a different list each day to really improve your relationship with yourself.

Nourish your body and your brain

When you’re struggling, it can be really tempting to reach for high calorie snacks full of sugar or fat and eat processed foods for your meals. The reason we crave these items is because they temporarily increase our mood boosting endorphins leaving us feeling happy, blissful, calm or soothed or provide you with a chemical sugar high. Unfortunately, these feelings don’t last and can lead to overeating and poor diet overall. And of course, an unhealthy diet can create all sorts of problems including reduced energy levels, weight gain, obesity, depression, weakened immune system and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Be kind to yourself by focusing on eating a balanced diet which includes a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Something that I find really helpful is to plan my meals in advance. This means that I’m more likely to eat healthily but also that I can ensure I’m eating a balance of different foods and a range of fruit and vegetables. And don’t forget, you are allowed a treat every now and again but it’s best if you really take your time eating it so you can savour the flavour and really appreciate it (search ‘mindful eating’ online for more info).

Get moving

When life is hard you might feel tired and lacking in energy and this might mean that even the though of exercise too much. But, something gentle, like a walk in your local park, ten minutes of basic stretching exercises or a short yoga session could make you feel so much better. Exercise releases feel good endorphins which help to boost your mood and if you engage in a mindful activity you will also be focusing on the present moment and forgetting about other concerns in your life which can lead to feelings of calm and relaxation.

Do something that brings you joy

Try to make it a habit to do something you love each day. Try to carve out at least half an hour for your own enjoyment. Here’s some ideas:

  • Hobbies – sewing, watercolour painting, papercrafting, drawing, playing a musical instrument, baking.
  • Outdoors – time in the garden, nature walk, sculpture trail, sit in the sunshine.
  • Retail therapy – a new houseplant, a scented candle, a pretty scarf, some sweets you haven’t had since childhood, some stationery.
  • Brain stimulation – crossword, word search, sudoku, jigsaw puzzle, board game.
  • Movement – yoga, stroll along the beach, mindful walking, dancing to some upbeat music, ten pin bowling, try out a team sport.
  • Socialise – coffee with a friend, take a class e.g. flower arranging, phone a relative.

If you’re struggling with depression right now, you might be thinking that nothing brings you joy at the moment so there’s little point in doing anything. However, research has found that if you do some of the things that you normally enjoy, you will still reap the benefits of the activity so try scheduling something in and then congratulate yourself for finding the motivation to do it.

Add some soothing activities to your day

When you’re struggling with your mental health or life is extremely busy and stressful, it’s a really good idea to plan something soothing to help yourself feel calm and relaxed. The activity you choose is very much a personal preference but you could try one or more or the following:

  • a hot bath with scented bath oil or a bath bomb
  • a foot massage with refreshing peppermint oil
  • read a book, under a blanket with optional hot chocolate
  • light a scented candle and watch the flame flicker
  • buy some flowers and spend time arranging them in a vase
  • cuddle something – a pet or a soft toy
  • watercolour painting or colouring in

Make good sleep a priority

A good night’s sleep benefits us in so many ways including better mood, more energy, improved cognition and stronger relationships with others. However, when we’re struggling, we’re likely to find that the quantity or quality of our sleep is affected so it’s important to take steps to fix it. This can include doing relaxing activities before bed (and avoiding known stimulants), spending time journalling about your day so you can process what’s happened and prepare yourself for tomorrow, and making sure your bedroom environment is just right. If sleep is an issue for you right now you might want to check out this blog post. Or, for really in depth look at sleep issues, the NHS has a long self help guide which can be accessed here.

Final words…

I hope that today’s blog post has been useful in providing you with some ideas about how you can be kinder to yourself. However, if the thought of doing all of these things seems a little overwhelming, trying choosing one suggestion which you think might make you feel a little better and start from there. Remember tiny steps can lead to a big impact.

Posted in mental health, Mindfulness, Planning and journaling, wellness

Practical ways to build resilience for better mental health

If you read my first blog post of 2019 you’ll know that my word for this year is Resilience. Resilience can be defined as the ability to cope with and rise from all of the challenges, problems and set-backs that life throws at us and come back stronger. When we develop our skills and personal strength we are able to handle our difficulties more easily and this can improve our mental health. As part of my self development work in my Miracle Morning sessions, I’ve spent time reading online articles and a range of books on developing resilience. I’ve also written lots of tips and ideas in my bullet journal. Today’s blog post is a summary of what I’ve learnt in the first few months.

Try to remain optimistic

It can be difficult to remain optimistic when faced with challenges in life but maintaining a hopeful outlook is an important part of resilience. Try to have a positive mindset and encourage thinking such as ‘it’s not the end of the world’ and ‘things will get better’. Remember that set backs are temporary and remind yourself that you are strong and that you have the skills and abilities to face your difficulties.

When negative thoughts pop into your head, try to replace them with something more positive such as ‘I have lots of friends who will support me through this’, ‘I am good at solving problems’, ‘I never give up’, ‘I am good at my job’ etc. Also, choose to see challenges and bad experiences as an opportunity to learn. Ask yourself ‘What can I learn from this situation?’, ‘What is this trying to teach me?’ ‘What positives can I take from my experience?’.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is all about awareness of the present moment – our thoughts and feelings and the world around us. It involves the use of techniques such as meditation, breathing and stretching exercises and can help you to stay calm and in control of your emotions.

When practising mindfulness you begin to notice how thoughts come and go in your mind. You learn to accept these thoughts without judgement and develop your ability to let them go. In addition, you are able to tune in to what your body is telling you and notice signs of stress and anxiety so that you can release tension as you meditate.

Support Network

It’s really important to have people who you can turn to at times of need. Building and nurturing constructive relationships with positive and supportive friends, family and colleagues is an essential part of wellbeing and staying resilient. They can provide a listening ear, positive encouragement, advice or help you celebrate your achievements. Having a good support system in place has also been shown to boost self esteem, confidence and better self image.

If you feel you need to widen your support network, there are many opportunities to do so either in your local community or through online groups. Try your local library, community centre or college for clubs and classes or try to find out about volunteering opportunities in your fields of interest.

A resilient body

We’ve all heard the expression ‘healthy body, heathy mind’ and keeping yourself well is another key part of resilience. Try to eat regularly and make sure you get plenty of good for you fruit and veggies in your diet. Find a type of exercise that you enjoy (personally, I love countryside walks and dancing), and schedule in a time for this each day. Also, remember to take time out to relax and recharge. It’s not self indulgent to schedule in some me time each day, it’s a key part of coping with our busy and stressful lives.

Good sleep is also vital for a healthy lifestyle and better mental health. Try to develop a good relaxation routine each evening – listen to some calming music, dim the lights, meditate or have a warm bath. Many people recommend writing in a journal as a way of putting the day to rest so that you don’t have lot of thoughts buzzing around in your head when you climb into bed. If you want to learn more about this technique click here.

Ideas to try in your bullet journal

  • Create a positive affirmations page and read them every morning. Examples of affirmations include ‘I am strong’, ‘I see the bright side in all situations’, ‘I radiate positive energy’.
  • Add some of your favourite positive quotes to your weekly plan.
  • Write a list of ways to reward yourself for your achievements such as ‘have a relaxing bubble bath’, ‘paint your nails’, ‘buy yourself some planner stickers’, ‘treat yourself to your favourite bar of chocolate’ etc.
  • Practise gratitude by keeping a one line a day log where you write in something you are grateful for on that day. You can include anything you want such as ‘
  • Make a ‘Things That Make Me Happy’ page and use it to remind you of all the good things in your life.
  • Produce a list of creative activities that you enjoy and find the time to schedule at least one of them into your busy week. Getting involved in art and creative tasks has been proven to reduce stress.
  • Keep a daily journal in which you evaluate your day. It will help you to focus on the positives and any challenges that you met. You can also use your journaling as a space to assess your issues and any ideas you may have for solving them.

I hope you find these tips useful. If you have any further ideas for staying resilient, please share them in the comments below.