Three mental health must-haves
Fall is, if nothing else, a time to pause, regroup, and reassess. As lush green leaves turn russet and crisp up, and as daylight hours truncate, getting clear on what’s going to nurture our wellbeing is vital.
You can play a little fast-and-loose with self-care in summer when rooftop bars and cook-outs beckon and just being woken up by sunbeams streaming through your window in enough to assuage a low mood. But as we edge our way into winter? Feeling good requires a little more diligence.
Before you can graft at something enough to really ace it, you need a structure, a framework. The advice from seasoned mental health professionals? It doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, the simpler, the better.
‘Think of it as having your own mental health toolkit,’ says London-based psychiatrist Dr Chiedu Obuaya. But rather than an emergency first aid kit, filled with band aids and antiseptic wipes, or the flat bike tyre repair kit you keep in your backpack, the purpose of your mental health toolkit is to keep your wellbeing ticking over, to limit your chances of things getting so bad that you’ll need to patch it up.
‘When we’re in challenging situations it’s harder to make good decisions, so, the function of a mental health toolkit is to help develop strategies that work for us, so that we reach for them, instinctively, even in hard scenarios,’ he explains.
As for what goes in that toolkit? Dr Obuaya suggests bearing in mind the acronym SASS (brilliant, right?), which he breaks down, below.
1/ Structured Activities
‘Humans are creatures of habit and structure is one of the things that often helps us to maintain a good level of functioning,’ explains Dr. Obuaya. ‘Conversely, a loss of daily or weekly structure can push us from a situation in which we are thriving to one of instability.’
Why exactly? ‘Having meaningful activities gives us a sense of purpose and, in many cases, the sense of belonging, as it may involve social interaction,’ he adds.
What if you’re the type to push against consistency and structure? ‘Tools such as behavioural activation, an element of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, can help us develop and maintain healthy habits that underpin this principle.’ As always, if you think you need a professional’s input on this, seek out a CBT specialist.
2/ Stress busters
‘We all need to recognise situations in which we become, or are likely to become stressed and to have some practical tools to deal with this in a healthy manner,’ explains Dr Obuaya.
One person’s de-stressing self-care is another’s tedious chore, so make sure that you’re true to yourself when choosing your strategies - but walking, some form or art or a workout are all strong shouts.
Again, it’s best to identify and get familiar with these mood lifters in steadier times; that way, you’ll hopefully reach for them automatically when stressful conditions hit.
3/ Support systems
Good mental health is most certainly not a one-person job - so who’s in your corner who you might be able to call on?
‘Map out what your personal support system might look like, so you have a clear idea of how we can turn to in times of difficulty,’ suggests Dr Obuaya.
Be mindful to spread the load between different people, too. ‘It’s best not to be over-reliant on one person - can friends help as well as a partner and family members?’
Here’s to facing fall robust, resilient and ready to enjoy.
by Claudia Canavan & Roisín Dervish-O’Kane, @allupinyourfeelings