Mental health advice and tips

When life feels too much, when we feel overwhelmed, stressed, worried and depressed, we need to remember that there are always things that we can do to help us cope better. Even when we feel that we cannot change our environment, our situation, the people around us that affect us, we need to remember that we always have a choice on how we respond to all these. We might not be able to control our environment, but we can control our response to it. Believing that from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep we have a choice of response can be very empowering and can change the way we think, feel and behave.  And of course this is easier said than done, but here are a few things we could do to help us along the way and can give us the emotional resilience to cope with what life is sending our way.

Mindful walk

Make a habit of going frequently for a mindful walk, regardless the weather. If you feel pressed for time, even a short walk can make a difference.  Make an effort to not get lost in your thoughts throughout the walk, but try to notice the nature around you. If possible, sit somewhere and close your eyes. Feel the breeze in your face, listen to the sounds around you without analysing them, and take some deep breaths. Give a rest to your eyes and your mind by focusing on sensory input from your other senses.

Practice mindfulness

The main benefit of mindfulness is that it teaches you to give yourself a break from your own mind. A break from the continuous dialogue, the planning, the remembering, the comparing, the judging (mainly yourself), the contrasting, the worries, the anxieties.  The list could go on. You can practice mindfulness by using apps and/or joining a local or online mindfulness group or course. Some of the most popular apps are Headspace, Calm, and Mindfulness: Being Human. I particularly like the 2011 meditations of the last one. Mindfulness practice works much better if practiced regularly. The more you practice, the better you become in not engaging with your thoughts and feelings. You learn to acknowledge their existence and then continue with whatever it is you are doing in the present.

5-4-3-2-1 technique

For the moments that you feel that anxiety, worry, frustration or anger are threatening to take over your mind, you can use the 5-4-3-2-1 technique to regain control. The technique helps you to focus on your senses, distances you from the feelings and interrupts the spiralling negative thoughts. You can use this technique as many times as you need to.

Identify five things you can see around you.

Identify four things you can hear.

Identify three things you can feel such as a button, your hair, an object close to you.

Identify two things you can smell.

Identify one thing you can taste in your mouth.

If you find yourself being sceptical about the benefits of practising these interventions, make a deal with yourself that you will try them daily for at least two weeks (and in the case of the “5-4-3-2-1” technique as often as needed) and then assess their impact on you. Frequent practice results in teaching your mind and body a new way of responding to events and triggers, improves your emotional regulation and reinforces your resilience.