4 compassionate steps to take on the really bad days when your mental health is at its lowest
For those times, when even the simple things feel impossible, try this
Good and bad mental health days are something many of us will cycle through at some point in our lives, and, usually, we have strategies in place to keep on going about our daily routines. But, when things get really bad, those usual strategies can feel out of reach, and the thought of doing anything can feel overwhelming.
When that happens, show yourself compassion, and try these four, basic steps for taking care of yourself.
1. Take time off work
In the UK, there is no legal difference between taking a sick day for a mental health problem, and taking a day off for a physical problem – and the process of arranging a mental health day is just the same; you simply need to follow your workplace’s usual sick day policy.
Legally, you don’t have to tell your workplace why you’re off sick, and a doctor’s note will usually not include any sensitive information. However, if you are comfortable speaking to your manager or HR about what you’re going through, it may help them understand how they can better support you on your return to work.
2. Basic hygiene
Letting personal hygiene fall by the wayside is a very common side-effect of mental illnesses like depression, PTSD, and sensory processing disorders. Even among those without a specific condition, habits and routines that might normally be second nature can slip down the priority list.
Of course, feeling better is never as simple as just taking a shower and washing it all away – but taking care of yourself on the outside can make a difference to how you’re feeling on the inside. Think about all the things you would usually do when you’re feeling better (i.e. taking a shower, putting on deodorant, washing your face, brushing your teeth). If that feels overwhelming, or if the thought of having to do all of it puts you off altogether, try to just do one thing, and see how you go from there.
3. Stay hydrated
When we’re dehydrated, our bodies start to shut down – and when you consider how mental health problems are caused by brain activity, and dehydration causes our brain functions to slow down, it’s easy to see how the two are linked.
The best way to get into habits is to remove all barriers to achieving them, so try to make sure that you have a bottle of water near you that you can take sips from throughout the day. Alternatively, suck on ice cubes, have some fruit juice or herbal or green tea, or set regular reminders on your phone to pour yourself a glass of water if you’re prone to forgetting.
4. Get some fresh air
‘Fresh air and exercise’ is a common recommendation for good physical health, and mental health is just the same. Numerous studies have linked spending time in nature to an improvement in wellbeing, and breathing in oxygen-rich air is invariably going to support our brain function.
Of course, on the really bad days, when energy is a finite resource, setting off on a 5K hike probably isn’t realistic. But if you can get outside, give it a go. If not, airing out your home by opening some windows can help get some fresh air inside, or even just stepping outside for a few minutes and practising some deep, slow breathing can help ground you a little.
5. Reach out to your support system
If you’re working with a mental health professional already, now’s the time to reach out to let them know you’re struggling – they might be able to offer you an additional session, or point you in the right direction to access more help.
If you’re not at that stage yet, try contacting someone you trust. Remember, you can go into as much or as little detail as you feel comfortable with. Even a text saying: ‘I’m having a hard time today, can we talk?’ can set you off on the right course.
Another option is to reach out to the numerous free support lines that are available to you. You can call Samaritans on 116 123. Many services also offer live chats, email contact, and textlines, if you’re more comfortable speaking that way. Visit happiful.com/where-to-get-help to find more details of where to get help.
If you are struggling with your mental health, visit counselling directory for more information or speak to a qualified counsellor.