Nicky Lambert, an expert on mental health, reveals how people can take several simple steps to improve their personal self-care
It is World Mental Health Day on Tuesday 10 October. This year’s theme – set by the World Foundation of Mental Health – has been called ‘mental health is a universal human right’.
It is a day that reminds all of us to make positive changes to increase our wellbeing and to raise awareness of mental health issues more broadly.
Pressures related to the ongoing fallout from the pandemic and cost of living crisis continue to impact mental health.
According to the World Health Organization (2020) more than 264 million people experience depression globally and it is the leading cause of disability. In addition to rising numbers of people with mental health problems, there are ongoing staffing and funding shortages and despite nurses’ best efforts mental health service provision can be limited, with long wait times.
Whilst there have been significant strides forward in public understanding of mental wellbeing, the stigma around many mental health conditions remains and can form a barrier to people seeking support and reaching out to help others. It’s important that we are all aware of the indicators of when we need help and that we know how best to support our own psychological wellbeing.
Signs that professional help may be needed include:
- Feeling constantly overwhelmed and unable to cope or see a way forward.
- Significant personality changes or an increase in agitation, anger, anxiety or other mood changes.
- Withdrawal or isolation from others, poor self-care.
- Talking and thinking a lot about suicide or feeling you can’t go on
- Or uncharacteristic engagement in risk-seeking behaviour
If you or someone you know needs help – which can range from a supportive conversation and counselling through to more formal care, please tell someone. There are university systems (Counselling and Mental Health – CMH) that are designed to help and offer guidance on emotional wellbeing and mental health. Please come forward when you first notice something amiss and don’t wait for a crisis before reaching out.
There are some misconceptions about self-care that we should address before looking at ways to support wellbeing. It is not indulgent or a luxury to look after our mental health – in the same ways that we have to be mindful of our physical health the same is true of our emotional and psychological wellbeing. Also, there is no right way to do it. Everyone is individual in their needs and what they find nurturing, however there are aspects of our lives that can offer us prompts to action:
Mental aspects of self-care – Set realistic goals and priorities and learn to say no without feeling guilty – boundaries help you place your energy where it is most needed.
Physical aspects of self-care – Move more! Just 30 minutes of walking every day can help boost your mood and improve your health. If it’s raining find somewhere you can be free to be by yourself and dance like no one is watching to your three favourite songs!
Environmental aspects of self-care – Spend some time outdoors every day, develop an awareness of nature, grow something at home – it can be anything from a house plant or herbs to liven up a meal.
Spiritual aspects of self-care – Reassess your purpose in life, think about what makes you happy and try to align yourself better to your goals. It may take time to make changes (if they are needed), but it is important to live a life that is meaningful to you and to identify things that you are feel grateful for.
Recreational aspects of self-care – Being creative takes many forms, perhaps you are a great cook, or you love making music or gardening. We can forget to play sometimes and remembering to prioritise times when we experience joy and the calm focus of being in a state of ‘flow’ is essential to our wellbeing.
Social aspects of self-care – Many bonds linking us have been placed under strain over the last few years. Even if you are at a distance from the people you care about, a regular zoom call with old friends or sharing a WhatsApp group with family or a local community keeps us stay connected.
About the author
Nicky is an Associate Professor at Middlesex University, she is registered as a Specialist Practitioner (NMC) and is a Senior Teaching Fellow (SFHEA). She is also a co-director of the Centre for Coproduction in Mental Health and Social Care. Nicky has worked across a range of mental health services both in the UK and internationally supporting staff and practice development in acute and mental health trusts, councils, businesses, charities, HEE and the CQC. She is active in supporting mental health and wellbeing with the RCN and Unite. She is an editorial board member for Mental Health Nursing, and on the education and policy committees of MHNAUK. Nicky engages with local trusts and with the RCPsych to support sexual safety in mental health services. She is also a Trustee for The Bridge a charity supporting women to make positive choices, and encouraging improvements to fitness, health & well-being.