I’m a bit late writing this, I know. World Mental Health Day was over a week ago, on 10th October.
This is a busy month, so you could be forgiven for forgetting all about mental health by now. Not only have we got World Reptile Awareness Day coming up on the 21st, but since World Mental Health Day we’ve also had International Babywearing Week, National Chocolate Week, World Smile Day, and Go Sober for October.
But I’m persisting, because I’ve noticed a weird mental ‘slump’ in just about everybody I’ve encountered recently (and it can’t just be down to spending time with me. I’ve always had this personality).
During World Mental Health Day, lots of advice sprang up on my social media feeds. The kindly-meant posts mentioned things like “run a bath”, “get plenty of sleep”, “get out into nature”, “meditate”, and “connect with friends”.
I don’t know about you, but I find this kind of advice a bit… bland. A tad hazy. A smidge ‘been there, tried that, doesn’t really work like it’s supposed to’.
I always think of Kramer’s immortal line from Seinfeld when I think about baths (“It’s disgusting! I’m sitting there, in a tepid pool of my own filth”), and I can’t do meditation. I fidget, I hum, I replay classic scenes from my life in my head, then I feel bad for not having done it properly (but not bad enough to give it another go).
I don’t feel like connecting with friends when I’m low, while getting out into nature means potentially encountering other people who may or may not be idiots, and why take the chance?
Meanwhile, there’s something about actively trying to get plenty of sleep, that means all hope of actually getting any is dashed.
So, in the interests of detail and difference, here are some ‘mental health tips’ that genuinely work for me.
Doing the washing up
By this I mean the actual washing up, not loading the dishwasher.
There’s something comforting – even slightly meditative – about plunging your hands into warm water and bubbles. It’s the cosiness of a bath, without the ‘sitting in a tepid pool of your own filth’ aspect.
Washing-up is quality daydreaming-time (I’ve come up with some of my best creative ideas while scrubbing plates) yet you’re also doing something useful. For me, that’s a winning combination.
Writing nice things about other people
If you’re as annoyingly introverted as me, connecting with friends when you’re feeling down can be draining.
One reason is because it’s generally courteous to explain why you’re feeling down, which is something I’m royally bad at doing, because sometimes I don’t know.
Writing nice things about people I like and/or admire is a better solution, because it’s like sharing a connection with someone; letting them know they’re noticed and appreciated, but without having to talk to them.
The online world often feels like a terribly lonely place in which everybody shouts and nobody listens. So when you unexpectedly write something nice, in a formal review or even just a short, simple compliment, you’ll treat that person to a lovely, life-affirming boost that also serves as a wonderful pick-me-up for you.
(You could go a step further, and handwrite a card for the really special ones).
The cool kids would probably call this ‘journaling’, but I’m basically talking about filling blank pages with whatever happens to be on your mind.
When you let go of expectations about what form your writing ‘should’ take (because you aren’t going to show your journal to anyone), you can use it to help you through creative blocks, free your mind of clutter, and make clearer decisions.
It’s a bit like magic.
Getting lost in someone else’s world… on your terms
Or ‘reading’, as it’s more commonly known.
A friend once said that reading great prose helped her to “escape the rubbish in my head”, and for me that’s still the best description of the power of reading.
Books don’t just help me to escape the world for a while; often they’ll also provide unexpected nuggets of advice.
One of my favourite pieces of ‘mental health advice’ came from a book I read to conquer my chronic fear of flying.
Written by a former BA pilot, the book advised that in order to deal with turbulence, the protocol was to “strap yourself in, and then you’ll move with the aircraft instead of a moment after – which always makes (turbulence) feel worse.”
To me, that feels like an excellent metaphor for dealing with life’s challenges, too.
*I’ve written ‘mental health tips/advice’ in inverted commas because I’m not a mental health professional; just a normal person with a mind that occasionally needs soothing.