Written by Annie, who works in our Family Services Team
Mental health and mental illness are used by some interchangeably, but I am going to talk about mental health, the health we all have and can look after rather than mental illness that is when something is wrong.
We all know that if we want to look after our bones we need to make sure we have enough calcium in our diet, if we want to look after our heart we need to take exercise and if we want to look after our teeth we need to brush them twice a day. But how do we look after our mental health, particularly after someone important to us dies?
1. Get a good night’s sleep
A night of restful sleep makes a huge difference to our mental health but it is often sleep that is the first thing that goes off balance when someone important dies. Maybe there is a loss of routine, a change of mood in the house. Maybe when you get into bed you can’t fall asleep but all day all you want to do is fall asleep.
Sleep is a fine balance and falling asleep, staying asleep and have a restful night’s sleep will make you feel like your mental health is ok. Check out the NHS website on how to fall asleep. It has some great, straight forward tips to try if sleep is not easy for you. Also there is no shame in seeing your GP if sleep is a problem. Sort sleep and often everything else is 10 times easier.
2. Be kind to yourself
Being compassionate towards yourself is vital in having good mental health. Being compassionate is kindness to yourself and others, it’s warmth towards yourself, it’s not making judgements about yourself or how you think and feel, it is strength and moral courage.
Good mental health isn’t something that we get like a prize and then that’s it. We are all working at having good mental health. There is no failure in aiming for good mental health. Every step is an achievement. Being kind to yourself is wiping the slate clean of all the things you think you haven’t done ‘right’ each evening and starting afresh each day.
3. Reward yourself with treats
For good mental health we need to know that we can have fun. Treats and things to look forward to are important too. It could be something as small as a glass of Diet Coke at the end of the day or as big as a holiday next summer. Try and build into your life things that reward you.
Often when someone important dies we forget that having fun is perfectly fine. We don’t have to smile (although this is ok) but having something nice like a soak in the bath or watching a clip on YouTube can really help to keep and build good mental health.
4. Eat well
Food is really important for good mental health. Food is not just for enjoyment but also is fuel for our bodies and our brain. Eating a balanced diet that has lots of fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, seeds and nuts gives your brain all the fuel it needs to stay healthy. It is amazing the difference this can make.
Struggling with doing this? Maybe write a menu out, join a recipe club like Hello Fresh or Gusto or you could create a Pinterest board with food ideas. Often when our mental health is struggling we resort to simple comfort foods or our appetite reduces. Keep working at it.
5. Have a routine
When we talk about having a routine, I don’t mean having every single part of your day planned to the last minute. What I mean is try and get up and go to bed at the same time. Try and eat three meals a day a similar times. Try to have something that at the end of the day you’ll feel you’ve achieved something. Humans are creatures of habit and our brains like to know what’s happening (even if it’s nothing). Getting into a routine can feel overwhelming so try and introduce it slowly.
At Winston’s Wish, we know it’s good to talk. Talk about what’s been going on, talk about what is going really well, talk about what is really annoying you. Tell someone about how much you miss your mum or sister. Tell each other funny stories of your loved ones. Just keep talking. If you feel you can’t talk to anyone you know, call a helpline like Samaritans (116 123) or use our online chat and talk to them. Just keep talking.
7. Spend time with others
We are social beings. We are made to be in community with others. Try and find like-minded people and spend time with them. Maybe it’s a group of people where someone important has died or a Facebook group, or it could be doing an activity you enjoy like a youth club or a choir. Spending time with others who ‘get’ you or doing something you enjoy releases chemicals in our brains that help us feel good and feel connected to each other.
8. Stay in the moment
We hear the phrases ‘be present’, ‘stay in the moment’ or ‘be mindful’ but what does this really mean? I think it means thinking about just what is in front of you. The job that needs doing now, enjoying the sunshine on your face now, noticing how your body feels now. There is no right or wrong in the moment, it just is. I try to think of it like “I have the resources for this task and I’m can enjoy just this, right now”.