“How the f*ck does one take care of their mental health?” This is what I asked a coworker earlier this week when I was starting to write this story.
In truth, I get easily overwhelmed by the plethora of advice on the internet. It’s hard to know who to trust, what to believe, and whether any of the tips will lead to real change.
And “mental health” now seems to be a catch-all for everything from conditions such as clinical depression and anxiety, to taking care of yourself via gemstones and meditation.
From “Blue Monday” and seasonal affective disorder, to short, dark days, and bitterly cold temperatures, the winter months can make it tough for us to feel good, and it can exacerbate our current mental health load.
It’s important to note that the following suggestions aren’t one-size-fits-all. It can take a lot of time and resources, as well as trying out different methods to figure out what makes you feel good mentally, but these tips are a good place to start.
Easy tips to help lift your mood throughout the year. Story continues below slideshow.
1. Notice how you’re feeling
If you’re going about your days feeling “off” or generally crummy, take some time by yourself, in a place where you feel comfortable, and sit with those feelings. Let yourself feel whatever emotions come out.
“I believe that it is far healthier to ‘lean into’ your experiences of pain, rather than trying to numb your emotions,” says clinical social worker Jennifer Rollin in Psychology Today.
“Rather than trying to suppress your feelings, work to be a mindful observer of them. Notice the emotions that you experience and where you feel them in your body. Then, try to cultivate a curious and nonjudgmental stance. Our emotions are often messengers which signal something important that we need to pay attention to,” Rollin says.
2. Identify your feelings
Once you’ve sat with your feelings, it’s time to identify the source of them. Did you recently have a baby and are crying a lot? Are you having panic attacks during your commute to work? Do you hardly ever see the sun?
Sometimes anxiety can present itself in more subtle ways, such as difficulty managing daily tasks and avoidance, or it can be more obvious like catastrophic thoughts (ie. “This plane is going to malfunction and I’m going to die”) and irrational fears ( ie. “My baby is breathing too slowly, he must be sick”).
Write down things that have happened in your life recently: maybe it’s a new baby, a layoff, a move to a new city, a death in the family, dark and cold days, or a stressful work environment. If you can pinpoint what might be making you feel lousy, that’s a good jumping point to figuring out what kind of help you need and where you can get it.
WATCH: How to create habit habits. Story continues below.
3. Reach out to someone you trust
Going through a period of mental unwellness is tough, but going through it alone makes it all the more difficult. If you’re struggling, reach out to someone you trust, whether it be a friend, family member, pastor, mentor, doctor, social worker, or therapist.
If you feel like you can’t talk to a loved one, reach out to your company’s Employee Assistance Program, a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, 365-days-a-year free program that offers crisis counselling, including suicide prevention and intervention and can refer you to mental health services. Calls are answered by mental health professionals.
You can also find mental health resources and counsellors through your local hospital, community centre, and place of worship.
4. Be specific when asking for help
Asking for help doesn’t come naturally to most of us. What exactly should you do or say? The thought alone can be overwhelming, which is why some people don’t do it — it’s a skill that must be practiced.
HealthLine suggests being specific in your approach. If you know you’re feeling crappy, but you don’t know what you need, let someone know how you’re feeling, for example, “I’m feeling (depressed, anxious, suicidal), and I don’t know what to do but I don’t want to be alone right now.” This lets the person know how you’re feeling, and hopefully they can help you figure out your next steps.
Here are some other phrases you can use when asking for help:
- “I’m going through a rough time with my mental health right now. Can I talk to you about it?”
- “I’m having a hard time taking care of myself and I don’t know what to do or who to ask for help. Can you help me?”
- “I don’t have anyone else to talk to about my mental health. Can I talk to you?”
- “I’m feeling really low right now. Can you distract me?”
5. Build your support system
Having just one person in your life who can support you can make all the difference in your healing.
MentalHealth.gov suggests this person (or persons) should respect and trust you, give good advice when you want it, assist you in taking action, listen to you, be confidential, has you in their best interest, and doesn’t judge or criticize you.
Sometimes it can take many supports to help you get through a mental health crisis, such as a partner, a parent, a doctor, therapy, and/or medication.
6. Get more sleep
Sleep is critical to your mood — research says that when we don’t get enough sleep (if you’re between the ages of 26 to 64, the National Sleep Foundation says you should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep a day), we’re more irritable and stressed out. People who are sleep deprived are also more likely to be depressed and have poor physical health.
Even an extra hour of sleep can lift your mood. “You’re going to feel better, you’ll have more energy, you’ll have better ideas ... your mood’s going to be better,” Rachel Salas, an associate professor of neurology who specializes in sleep medicine and sleep disorders at Johns Hopkins University, told BBC News.
If you think a lack of sleep is affecting your mood, the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School suggests you “look at your sleep habits and see if there are steps that you can take on your own to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep.” Changes you can make right now to get a better sleep include: sticking to a sleep schedule (ie. I’m going to bed at 10 p.m. and turning off the lights at 10:30 p.m.), making bedtime a relaxing ritual (ie. meditate, read, etc.), exercise daily, turn off screens, and adjust the temperature.
7. Get moving
The link between exercise and mood is well documented, but if you need more proof that physical activity affects your mental health, a 2019 study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found a “26 per cent decrease in odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measured physical activity,” noted study author Karmel Choi.
“What our study would say is that any kind of movement can add up to keep depression at bay ... It didn’t say you have to run a marathon, do hours of aerobics, or be a CrossFit master just to see benefits on depression,” Choi said.
Harvard Medical School recommends doing at least 15 minutes a day of higher-intensity exercise (ie. running, jumping jacks,) or an hour of lower-intensity exercise, such as walking, stretching, beginner’s yoga, and swimming, to prevent depression.
20 Ideas For 2020 is our series that explores easy ways to take action on the ideas and changes you may have already been thinking about.
Are you in a crisis? If you need help, contact Crisis Services Canada at their website or by calling 1-833-456-4566. If you know someone who may be having thoughts of suicide, read this guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to learn how to talk about suicide with the person you’re worried about.
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