Your Staying Afloat Toolkit for a bad day

How to manage poor mental health

May 01, 2019

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Laura Williams, the trainer at Tower Hamlets, has a NCFE Level 2 certificate in Mental Health Awareness and cares deeply about helping people improve their mental health. Here, she describes four daily habits that will help you keep afloat on a bad day.

You know that scenario when you open your eyes and momentarily feel okay, and then the mist descends. The mist of either obsessive thinking, gloom, fear, an absence of hope… Or, if you’re really lucky, a combination of all four. Yeah. That. Not your fault, often taking you by surprise, and more than likely overwhelming. But you’ve got to get through the day.

Laura (right) doing a gardening task at Tower Hamlets GoodGym.

So let’s take it back to basics. Let’s get you to not only survive the day, but to thrive today! (Chirpy Trainer Alert). This next bit is essential. Not easy – simple and essential but maybe not easy, and you might need to work at it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

Right, let’s start with that moment you wake…

Your Four Daily Must Do’s.

You need to get out of bed. Nothing will happen while you’re languishing under the covers hoping things will improve. If you’re shattered, consider a 15-minute nap later in the day* but get up in the morning. (*be wary of this if your sleep is poor).

Then you need to draw the curtains. And look at the world. Check out the sky: whatever else is going on in your head, however much turmoil internally and externally you’re experiencing, you can spend 15 seconds looking at the sky, observing clouds (or the absence of them), birds, rain...

At some stage, ideally within the next hour, get dressed. The action of choosing your clothes for the day and getting out of your dressing gown or PJs is one of the greatest acts of self-care when the internal s***’s hit the fan.

And before you call it a day, whenever that is, make sure you leave the house. Whether it’s for 60 seconds, or 6 hours, leave your house. Put one foot in front of the other, feel your feet on tarmac; look at trees, pavements…And if you can say hello to another human being, well, you’re a warrior. And a wise warrior at that.

GoodGym Tower Hamlets partaking in a meditative yoga session after doing some hard work.

…Which brings me nicely to my next instruction. Talk. Here’s a strict instruction for you: don’t confuse downtime with isolation. Solitude can be lovely, yes, and necessary. Recharging often comes from an absence of engagement. But don’t confuse that with the negative narrative persuading you not to reach out to another human being when you’re in pain. Anxiety, depression, and most mental health conditions, thrive on secrecy and isolation. You staying stranded in your own head is their oxygen. On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is being out with friends, engaging and enjoying yourself, and 1 is opening your mouth to thank the person who just served you in the supermarket, let’s aim for a 1-5 on a bad day. And don’t wait to want to do it –gently remind yourself that this is what you need to do to stay well, this is your bare minimum and this you CAN do.

Eat. No, I’m not going to go off on a predictable ‘eat a balanced diet’ preach here. But you do need to eat to keep your blood sugar levels as even as possible, to minimise your adrenaline spiking, to help avoid anxiety and panic. Or to avoid it getting worse. Don’t worry too much if your appetite’s AWOL – eating regularly should form part of the most basic self-care plan. We’re not after savouring every last morsel and relishing every bite we take here. We’re talking regular snacks and meals to prevent things from deteriorating.

Break a sweat. If you can, consider exercise. Now, depending on where you’re at, this suggestion may be actionable – or laughable. But know this: the research is robust for exercise and mental health. Forget everything you’ve heard about happy hormones and long bouts of running – the truth is this: the scientists still don’t understand how exercise works to improve anxiety and depression, but work it does. It alters the brain chemicals endocannabinoids, GABA and glutamate (by all means spend some minutes Googl-ing that lot). So race up your stairs, or go to a Zumba class…whatever floats your boat. But put this on your wellbeing radar to get cracking on ASAP.

I am duty bound at this point, to suggest a GoodGym run. Here’s the thing about a GoodGym run, as a relative newbie to the organisation: community is more than a strapline. You won’t be forced to speak, or reveal or share anything you’re not comfy with. But you will be met with a smile. And by a group of soft, decent people who are more interested in digging the borders on a neglected community garden than looking and sounding good.

GoodGym Tower Hamlets.

Here’s what I’ve learned about GoodGymers: GoodGymers will show you how to run, if that’s something you’re interested in. They’ll show you how to celebrate every achievement going, whether that’s a sub-3 hr marathon, or finally prising open a stuck window in a community centre. They’ll show you how running together as a group with us isn’t about performance or speed, it’s about using our feet and legs to weave our way through congested UK streets to reach a community garden to repair a trellis that Storm Freya’s wrecked. They’ll show you how being useful can be very, very helpful in helping to diminish anxiety, and soothe the scald of feelings such as panic, fear and inadequacy.

And if a GoodGym run or session isn’t within your reach at the moment, for whatever reason, think about ‘tethering’ yourself to some community, whether that’s a local running group, a support group for any condition you’re suffering with, a new club or activity…Just be bold, be brave, and cultivate some blind faith. The power of a little bit of socialising combined with a little bit of physical activity, and all the distraction that it’ll bring, isn’t to be underestimated.

Written by Laura Williams, Tower Hamlets GoodGym Trainer. Laura’s qualifications include Advanced Gym Instruction, Nutrition and Weight Management, Sports Conditioning, and an NCFE Level 2 in Mental Health Awareness.

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