Mind over matter

Boost your wellbeing by taking care of your mental health every day

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By Amy Wall

When it comes to mental health, many of us are guilty of not paying it much mind until we find ourselves feeling down, upset or angry over something. In recent years taking care of our mental health is a topic that is being brought up again and again in social discourse by experts. Mental health is something that isn’t fixed, it’s constantly changing. We can have good days and bad days, but something that the experts agree on is the need to mind our mental health. Minding our mental health is important because it not only encourages wellbeing, it makes us more resilient, so when the bad days do arise (and they will) we’re better able to cope with them. So how can you mind your mental health throughout your day? The good news is that all it requires are some small changes.

“You’ll be surprised that a lot of your day-to-day behaviour and actions, with little changes, can make the difference whether you have a good day or a bad day,” says Owen Connolly, consultant psychologist with the Connolly Counselling Centre.

The most important time of the day when it comes to mental health care is the morning as our first thoughts can tell whether we’ll have a good day or a bad one.

“How do you respond when your alarm goes off in the morning? What might your first response be? Is it ‘Oh my god, I have so much to do!’? This statement will be putting yourself into a state of panic. If you start the day with dread or ‘I hate my job!’ you can set yourself up for a miserable day,” says Owen.

Owen says that the solution is to create a relaxing atmosphere and to calm and centre yourself before you start your day.

“Give yourself an extra five minutes lying comfortably in your bed and use that five minutes to do some belly breathing. What’s that? Well it’s going to set the tone for the rest of the day. To be able to do this exercise with children, we ask them to put a teddy on their tummy and have them breathe in through their nose and push up their tummy. We call it ‘teddy surfing’. As the child watches the teddy go up and down, they will be more relaxed. For the adult we suggest the book you have at your bedside. This will help you to calm down as you’ll be giving a signal to your brain that all is right with you.”

The next big thing to look at is your self-talk.

“Watch your language for as we speak, so we hear. Self-talk can also put a dampner on your day. For example [saying] ‘I am always late. I burnt the toast again. I am so stupid,’ You’re not stupid, you’re not always late and you don’t burn the toast every time,” says Owen.

“It’s not the end of the world when we do make mistakes because making mistakes is all part of getting things right. For example, ‘I need to set my alarm clock a little earlier’ or ‘I need to get a toaster with a timer.’ It is important that you have the same level of tolerance for yourself as you have for others. No more beating yourself up.”

Another way to mind your mental health throughout your day is to talk yourself through worry.

“Get rid of negative thoughts that start with worrying about what’s going to happen next. When that starts in your head, stop and remind yourself that you’re not a fortune teller. Remember the number of times you worried unnecessarily and had you in a state,” says Owen.

“Take a deep breath and tell yourself, ‘I have got myself this far and from now on I will take myself one day at a time.’ Take time to write down some of the troubling thoughts you have. This is a useful thing to do and when you have finished this exercise, [safely] set fire to them – this symbolism is a good way of renewing the mind.”

And the most important way you can mind your mental health every day is also the most fun – laugh.

“Smile and belly laugh as often as you can. These acts release hormones in you that give you a real boost of good feelings and energy. Give yourself time to watch a good comedy, go to a show or a concert, meet up with friends. Socialising with others that encourage you and remind you that you’re important in their lives,” says Owen.

“Have you noticed that when people smile at you, you’re inclined to smile back? Surround yourself with positive people. They produce an energy that is contagious. Life is already tough and we need to give ourselves a bit of slack.”

Owen Connolly is a consultant psychologist and marriage and family therapist. His private practice, The Connolly Counselling Centre, is in Stillorgan, county Dublin. For more information log on to www.counsellor.ie

Catherine Devane