Feeling in control of our destiny, being competent to deal with life challenges, and able to enjoy meaningful connections with others are essential human needs. Now, more than ever, these needs are being challenged and this can affect mental health. This is Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) which provides an opportunity to shine a light on the things we can do to support our wellbeing.
Here are six tips to help you boost self-determination and look after your mental health whatever life throws at you. Having good mental health helps us relax more, achieve more and enjoy life more.
1. Get into a routine and maintain a regular timetable for work and family commitments.
Working from home can bring a whole new set of challenges, and the need to provide structure to your days is even more critical. Plan out your days to restore a sense of purpose and normality to your daily life. Schedule tasks such as cooking and laundry, as well as activities you enjoy helping you stick to your routine. Structuring activities around mealtimes and bedtime can also help you keep to your schedule while ensuring you eat regularly and get enough sleep.
2. Avoid multitasking which is an insidious form of self-interruption.
You might think that you are saving time and achieving more by jumping between activities. Switching focus between different tasks drains energy from your working memory which is the information held in your mind while deciding what to do. So, what we think of as multitasking is just toggling between one thing and another. It ruins your focus and quickly depletes your energy. A smarter way to work is to purposely focus on one task at a time with regular planned breaks. It is vital to remember this when tackling any task and allow your rational mind to work at an optimum level – one job at a time.
3. Tame your workload with time-chunking.
Schedule blocks of uninterrupted time so that you can think, plan or work on important tasks. Try using time chunking methods such as the Pomodoro Technique which focus your attention on a job for a sustained period, for example, 25-minutes, followed by a short 5-minute break to clear your mind by doing something else. You can stretch, take a short walk, have a healthy snack or a drink of water. Just don’t be tempted to check email or social media. Repeat maximum of 4 times then a more extended break before starting on another task. Key to the success of this is to let others know when you’re focused, so you’re not interrupted.
4. Stay connected with others.
We are all dealing with the new realities of social distancing, which is a sensible strategy. However, this can result in the sense of isolation which can breed loneliness and fear. Fortunately, there are ways of maintaining good social connections and staying in touch with neighbours, family, friends and colleagues. Build the habit of having conversations with friends and loved ones every day, be it over the phone or via a video call. Remember that showing appreciation to others isn’t cancelled and can lift their mood as much as yours.
Try this: Bring to mind the face of someone you appreciate. What are some of the things that person has given to you? Take a sheet of paper or a card. Spend five minutes writing some words of appreciation to the person you have in mind. Give specifics about how that person helped you and why you value them. Decide how you wish to share it with the person you had in mind when you wrote it. For example, you might post it. Or give it to them in person, if you are able. Or you might phone them and talk it out. It is up to you. This exercise works because it helps you shift focus from the obstacles and the negatives in your life to the positives. Additionally, when you write things down, it gives them more emotional impact.
Regularly communicate with co-workers where mutually you get the best outcomes for each other and set up a weekly routine to reflect on the last week, and to plan for the next week. Interacting regularly with others is good for our social wellbeing and positively impacts our mental health, too.
5. Create time for reflection.
Take moments of pause and recognise what has gone well and what you have achieved to inspire yourself for the next day. Make a note of them for future reference. Manage specific concerns by focussing on what you can control and what you can do about it. Think about who you can turn to that understands you the best, your strengths, and to help you frame your support needs? How might this be reciprocated? After all, we are all in this together.
Try this: Set aside a specific time each day for reflection. How are you feeling? What is on your mind? Write down anything that’s causing you to worry. Don’t set expectations about solving your worries or generating solutions. If you catch yourself worrying outside of this time, try deep breathing, reframing, or jotting down your thoughts for your next reflection session.
If you are finding it hard to get things done, replenish your energy and find things to do that lift your mood. Notice what times of the day you are most energised where you can be most creative, focussed and productive.
6. Foster your positive emotions through simple actions.
Do something nice for a friend or a stranger. Thank someone for the value they add to your life. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Go for a walk in the fresh air. Take time to notice the things that you see. Count three good things that are in your life and take a moment to savour them. The key is to look out, as well as inward. In addition to making others happier, this enhances your positive feelings. These practices can help generate positive emotions which boost our ability to cope at the moment and enable us to bounce back from challenging times.