In recent years, I have struggled with my mental health. When I was pregnant with my second child I developed antenatal depression and anxiety. Although I received help and managed to get somewhat better, I never fully accepted what had happened. So, it was no surprise when I faced a difficult period in this last year, that anxiety and depression returned.
I was lucky that I had people around me who had been through this with me before and thanks to the help I received when I was going through my antenatal depression, I was also able to recognise and acknowledge that I was not well and needed help. I went to see my GP as soon as possible and they referred me on to my local NHS mental health service. I received CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) as I had done previously, but this time I made sure to engage with all the advice and activities given to me and have continued to utilise them on a daily basis.
It has taken many months and there is no magic cure, but thanks to the help I received and awareness I now have, I am better and have far more tools in order to try to maintain my mental health on a day to day basis.
I have created a very clear daily mental health routine. I do love a routine and for me consistency really helps me to achieve. I am not a therapist, a psychologist or a health professional of any kind, but I have been a patient and a sufferer of mental health issues. I know when going through bad times, having access to information and reading about others who had been through or were going through the same thing as me, really helped. That is why I am sharing some of my mental health management strategies in the hope they may help others. I can’t say if they will work for anyone else, but so far, they have successfully helped me to improve and maintain good mental health.
At its worst, my anxiety was causing me to have regular panic attacks and worry uncontrollably. This was very debilitating, so one of things I was encouraged to use was mindfulness in order to focus on the present. It was only after being aware of how overpowering my thoughts were, that I realised I never actually focused on an activity completely because I was always over thinking or worrying. I was given a CD to work from by my therapist, but I also used The Little Book of Mindfulness by Dr Patrizia Collard as it has 10 minute a day exercises which are very easy to access. I didn’t take to it immediately and it did take some work and exploration of the different activities before I started to see some benefits. I try to start every morning now with a mindfulness activity and it really does help me focus my thoughts throughout the day.
- Worry Time
This is a process recommended to me during CBT in order to control my thoughts. Initially, I would carry a little notebook with me and list any worries that came to mind. I called this my ‘Worry Diary’. I would then tell myself that I am not going to worry now, I will worry about that at my allotted ‘Worry Time’. I have to say that was incredibly hard and initially impossible, because when a thought comes in to your head you can’t help but think or worry about it. The more action you take around this activity though the easier it becomes because you start to see the benefits of doing it. I would usually give myself around 30 minutes at a certain time in the day (I found during my son’s afternoon nap was the best time) to look through my notebook and worry about all the thoughts I wrote down. If possible, I would try to take action and problem solve in order to deal with my concerns. As I have used this technique more, I have found that I don’t need to write everything down. This is also because my anxiety has improved, so I am worrying less. I still give myself this time though and it has really helped me take control of my worries.
- Treat myself with kindness
For a long time, I had been so negative towards myself. I never felt I looked right, did things well, I thought people didn’t like me, the list could go on. I only realised how negatively I had been thinking after starting to really move forward with CBT. My therapist gave me tasks in order to improve my low self-esteem, which although was one of the causes of my anxiety and depression, had become much worse during this time. The first thing she asked me to do was write a ‘Positive Qualities Record’. This was incredibly difficult for me, because she was asking someone with such low self-worth to list all the good qualities and achievements they have. This was the moment I realised how negative and toxic my thoughts were. After a few hours and some tears later, I had written down quite a number of positive qualities and it did make me feel slightly better. It was hard to push those negative thoughts about myself aside, but by the end it had been quite eye opening and liberating.
After this, in order to keep the positive thoughts and self-image building, my therapist asked me to create a ‘Positive You Journal’. Every day I had to write down some positive things I had done throughout the day. The things I wrote down didn’t have to be ground breaking, it could be as simple as ‘I put make-up on’; which I have to say at this time was a very big achievement as my self-care was not wonderful either. So, every day I would write down a few positive things I had done or achieved that day, and this has been such a big help in managing my mental health. I make sure I do this task every night when I get into bed just before I go to sleep, and I find it helps me end the day in such an encouraging way. It has enabled me to develop a more positive view of myself and helped my self-esteem increase so much.
- Keep Busy and Get Organised
I found that when I was struggling most with anxiety and depression, being in the house all day on my own really affected my mood and made everything seem so much worse. It was due to an accident and injury that my anxiety and depression returned in the way it did, so for quite a while I was physically unable to do anything and was house-bound. When you are going through dark times, facing the day can seem impossible, so even when my injury improved, this was something I started to do gradually and increased once I was receiving treatment.
When I felt I could I would try to stay busy. This was the best way to stop myself from over thinking, which caused my anxiety and mood to deteriorate. I made sure I was actively involved in looking after my children and the house; something I hadn’t been able to do for a while because of my injury. There were days when just getting out of bed felt like a challenge, but fighting through and praising myself for these little achievements encouraged me to continue to build up my activities.
In order to be as proactive and productive as possible I like to plan. This gives me goals and a focus of what needs to be achieved every day. This was probably the last thing I added to my routine, because until I had overcome a lot of other obstacles, I couldn’t even begin to give myself these kinds of targets.
I tend to only focus on short term goals at the moment, so I now like to plan my week using a weekly planner. I will sit down on a Sunday evening, go through my calendar and write down all the activities and events the family will be doing throughout the week. This is then put on the fridge and everyone is aware of what is happening, and I feel in control.
I also have a diary that I use to create weekly tasks for myself. At the moment they mostly consist of activities with the children, cleaning the house and creating blog posts. As I begin to feel more confident and mentally able, I will probably try to set myself long term goals, but for where I am right now, less is more.
I also set my alarm every morning for 6:30am in order to start my routine before the children wake up. This gives me the opportunity to do my Mindfulness activity and get myself mentally and physically in the right frame of mind. Being a new stay at home mum, having a clear morning routine has also helped to keep mornings calm and do the school run without any stress. I’m sure other parents will agree that mornings can be one of the most stressful times, especially when everything feels like a rush. This is why having a set time to wake up and jobs to complete has become so important, because otherwise I find my anxiety can start to flare up.
All of these activities have taken a long time to implement and become a solid part of my routine. They have made a big difference to how I approach my mental health and have helped me become more aware of my thought processes and how to control this.
I hope some of the information and advice I have shared can be useful. As I said previously, I cannot guarantee how well they will work for others and I haven’t written in as much depth about each activity as I probably could, but I didn’t want to waffle on for too long. I will hopefully be creating more posts in the future around this topic and these activities.
If you want to read more of my blog posts, please click the ‘Follow’ button on my blog page. If you like this post click the ‘Like’ button and leave a comment. I am also on Facebook and Instagram @frommissjtomrsp and Twitter @FromMissJtoMrs1.
Thank you for your support.
Mrs P x x x