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  • Jo FitzGerald

5 Ways To Wellness

We all have mental health, and we are all on the mental health continuum. Our mental wellbeing is dynamic and can change from moment to moment, day to day, month to month, or year to year. Because of these unexpected and unprecedented events around coronavirus, people with no mental health diagnosis might now be experiencing poor mental health because of the uncertainty, the perceived danger, the multitude of changes, an increase in worry and anxiety…

For those of us with a mental health diagnosis, even if we have been experiencing good mental health for some time, these new events can take a considerable toll. Living with a severe mental illness can be challenging, and the current coronavirus pandemic could create additional problems.


As an instructor for MHFA England, and as someone who has lived experience of a mental health disorder, I've put together some information and suggestions to help you ease or overcome some of these problems. Here are some of the things that I use to support my own mental health, to keep me on an even keel, and prevent overwhelm.

1. Mood chart I have a mood chart on my bathroom mirror, and I check in with myself each morning. Most of the time, I'm feeling good – and if I am, I don't always write it down. Sometimes I may be feeling a bit low, and that's when it's important to mark it on the chart. I know that if I feel my mood is slipping, that's the time when I need to put in some self-support. I use some of the things I mention below to keep my mood steady – or elevate it and stop it from slipping. A mood chart is also a great way of letting your partner know about your mood, of them just being aware of how you are – and helping you if necessary. This works really well for me because it takes the pressure off me to have to communicate about how I'm feeling. If I'm really low, it's often hard for me to talk about it to my husband. By filling in the mood chart, I don't have to – he can see it on the mirror. There are lots of mood charts available online – find one that works for you – or design your own. Have a look at some apps to help you too: moodpanda.com,moodscope.com, mappiness.org.uk.



2. Stress bucket Most of us have some stress in our lives – and we all have stress buckets. Some of us have big buckets – and can cope with a lot of stress. Others have smaller buckets – and we have to be careful that our bucket doesn't get too full or overflow. We can do things to help empty the bucket – like having a tap that we turn on to let some of the stress out. To do this, we can write down those things that are making us feel stressed; then we need to look at our list and ask ourselves these questions: · What CAN I change or manage differently? · What CAN'T I change and need to accept? · What needs my urgent attention? · Can anyone help me? · What are some of the unhelpful ways that I try to cope? · What are some of the useful ways that I use to try to cope? What else could I do? These questions are important in helping us manage and minimise any potentially harmful stresses – before we reach a dangerous point of overwhelm.


3. Self-help Self-help techniques and general lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms of many mental health problems. They may also help prevent some problems from developing or getting worse – they act like the tap on our stress bucket. We all have different ways of self-supporting. I self-support by doing several things that I enjoy and find restorative – I get creative, writing, and doing crafts. I have a bath with some nice smelling bubbles. I listen to a podcast or audiobook; I listen to music … Unfortunately, lots of my usual support activities are impossible at the moment – I can't go swimming, I can't go to an exercise class, I can't take long country walks, I can't meet up with friends. Instead, I'm learning to meditate by using a recommended app, I'm keeping active by following exercise videos, and I'm video-calling friends and family. You just need to find what works for you – what makes you happy, whatever adds to your wellbeing. 4. Keep it positive This is something that changed my life and has added so much to my wellbeing and robust mental health. I adopted a positive mindset. It took a lot of practice, but now I look for the good, I practice gratitude, hope, and optimism every day. It doesn't mean I ignore or block out problems or difficulties – that would be foolhardy. Instead, I try to problem-solve and be constructive when I'm faced with an obstacle, a worry, a setback, or a crisis. It's really helped me deal with anxiety and keeps me grounded. In this time of crisis, I focus on what I CAN do – not what I can't. Here are a few things you CAN and SHOULD do: · Be kind to yourself. Why is it that we sometimes speak to ourselves with language we would never think to use to anyone else? Negative self-talk can have a really damaging impact – and it gets us nowhere; it serves no real function. Be your own best friend, LIKE yourself, APPRECIATE yourself. If you do have to have a bit of a word with yourself about something, do it with kindness, do it out of concern and love – as you would a friend · Focus on the good. In times like this, it's easy to get caught up in the tidal wave of everything that's wrong, dangerous, unknown, scary… Try to limit your intake of news. Also, focus on the great and good that is going on at the moment – there's a lot of it out there, our NHS, keyworkers, volunteers, community… · Keep near the radiators and stay away from drains. Why don't we teach this as part of the school curriculum? It would have saved me a lot of heartache over the years. 'Drains' are people who suck out your energy, the glass half empty people, the negative talkers, the nay-sayers, that person you come away from feeling low, sad, angry, anxious… But do keep near the 'radiators', the people who spread warmth, happiness, kindness, people who make you feel good 5. Asking for help – what do you need from those around you? Coronavirus is impacting all our lives, and the usual advice for getting help might not quite apply. Some treatment and support options will be harder to access, or might be unavailable for a while – but we still have options: · Don't isolate yourself, even if (especially if!) you are in self-isolation. Try to keep in regular contact with people – have a trusted friend, family member, partner, colleague… Someone you can talk to if you're having a wobble, feel one coming on, need to process some thoughts… · Don't pressure yourself to carry on as normal. Take small steps, and if you're finding it difficult to cope on your own, don't be afraid to ask for help. For example, if you have work commitments, explain to your employer that you need to take a wellbeing break and will start work once more when you're ready. If you're having to home-school – take a break for however long you need to. Your children will be absolutely fine! These are exceptional circumstances, and we need to bear that in mind. We do not have superpowers – if something has to give, make sure it's not your wellbeing · Access professional help. If you're finding things really difficult, you might want to talk to your GP. Also, ask about any support services that are still available. You might want to try counselling – to talk through the things you're finding challenging, with a trained professional. Many professionals are now offering video consultations, and talking therapies can be really helpful · Have a crisis plan. Making a crisis plan while you're well can be so reassuring. If you do get very unwell, it can be very hard to ask for the support you need, or even figure out what support you want. Having a plan, and sharing that with others, helps you to stay in control of your treatment and means other people know how best to help you if necessary · Stay safe. If things do become overwhelming, and you have harmful and dangerous thoughts, if you feel you can't go on – then please DO tell someone how you are feeling! Remember that you can pick up the phone at any time of night or day and talk to the Samaritans. They save lives…

It's important to remember that, though difficult at the moment, this coronavirus crisis is temporary, and things will eventually return to a version of normal. Keep safe and strong. Jo FitzGerald lives happily and successfully with bipolar Type 2, has lived experience of PTSD, and has lost close family members to suicide. She is an instructor for Mental Health First Aid England. Her company, Aiding Mental Health, is based on the South Coast and provides courses throughout England on adult and youth mental health first aid for businesses, families, and schools. Jo can be contacted at jo@aidingmentalhealth.com.


HELPFUL CONTACTS

I've included a list of organisations that can help…

Local coronavirus support groups

Local coronavirus support groups are organised through things like social media and WhatsApp. They aren't face-to-face support groups where people meet. But people chat to each other and help each other through difficult times. They may be able to help with things like shopping, collecting prescriptions, and providing phone calls to stop you feeling isolated.

You can go online and search for support groups in your local area. For example, this is my local COVID-19 Facebook support group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/WorthingC19SupportNetwork/

How can I get emotional support?

Talking about how you feel can have big benefits. And people who care about you, like friends and family, are usually happy to listen and support you. But you can also call the following phone lines to talk about how you are feeling.

Samaritans: Can be contacted by telephone, email, and mini-com. They are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Telephone: 116 123

Email: jo@samaritans.org

Website: www.samaritans.org

Sane Line: They work with anyone affected by mental illness, including families, friends, and carers. They also provide a free text-based support service called Textcare and an online supportive forum community where anyone can share their experiences of mental health.

Telephone: 0300 304 7000 (4:30 pm – 10:30 pm every evening)

Textcare: www.sane.org.uk/what_we_do/support/textcare

Support Forum: www.sane.org.uk/what_we_do/support/supportforum

Website: www.sane.org.uk

Support Line: They offer confidential emotional support to children, young adults, and adults by telephone and email.

Telephone: 01708 765200

Email: info@supportline.org.uk

Website: www.supportline.org.uk

Papyrus UK: They support people under 35 who are having suicidal feelings. And they also help people who are worried about someone under 35. Their helpline is open 9:00 am – 10:00 pm during the week, and between 2:00 pm and 10:00 pm at weekends and bank holidays.

Telephone: 0800 068 41 41

Email: pat@papyrus-uk.org

Text: 07786 209697

Website: www.papyrus-uk.org

C.A.L.M. (Campaign Against Living Miserably): aimed specifically at men. Their helpline is open between 5:00 pm and midnight every day of the year.

Telephone (outside London): 0800 58 58 58

Telephone (London): 0808 802 58 58

Webchat: through the website

Website: www.thecalmzone.net

Silverline: Aimed at people over 55. The Silver Line operates the only confidential, free helpline for older people across the UK that's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year.

Telephone: 0800 4 70 80 90

Website: www.thesilverline.org.uk

The Mix: Aimed at people under 25. Their helpline is open between 4:00 pm and 11:00 pm, seven days a week. They also run a crisis text service, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Telephone: 0808 808 4994

Email: through the website

Crisis text message service: Text THEMIX to 85258

Webchat: through the website. (4:00 pm to 11:00 pm, seven days a week. Chats may not be connected after 10:15 pm)

Website: www.themix.org.uk

Mood Swings: This is aimed at anyone affected by a mood disorder, including friends, families, and carers.

Telephone:01618323736

Email:info@moodswings.org.uk

Website: www.moodswings.org.uk

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