Not everyone has a mental health problem, but everyone has mental health.
As a psychology student and a volunteer for Student Minds, you would think that the above statement would be obvious to me; the concept underlying a large part of my life, from what I study to what I do in my spare time. However, when I saw this I had a realisation: that whilst 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, every single one of us has mental health, which is as equally important to maintain as physical health.
Though I’ve never had a mental health problem as such, I noticed symptoms of social anxiety when I joined secondary school. If I was asked to speak in front of the class, or had to talk to anyone outside of my regular social circle, my heart would race, my breath shorten and the whole room would feel like it was closing in on me. Luckily, as a result of forcing myself to talk to people outside of my social circle, and growing more confident as I grew older, social situations rarely phase me now, and I rarely feel anxious.
However, if I’ve been super busy, and neglected to take care of myself (mentally and physically), the feelings of anxiety come creeping back. I’ll wake up feeling overly emotional for no reason, and the thought of doing day-to-day tasks or seeing my friends, will bring on shortness of breath and dizziness.
This is totally normal - according to the Mental Health Foundation, the one-week prevalence of generalised anxiety in England is 6.6%. Many more people experience ‘down’ days or weeks, often caused by seemingly unexplained reasons, but sometimes brought on by a stressful life event, such as loss/bereavement, relationship problems, or stress at work or education.
Therefore, it is important that you know how to make yourself feel better, if these feelings should arise. My go to checklist for when I’m feeling anxious is as follows:
Ring my mum.
My mum is my biggest supporter, and she gives the best pep talks. We have a special code word that I can tell her if I’m feeling anxious and she’ll be “sympathetic mum”, rather than telling me I’m being an idiot for panicking over the tiny things. Know who your support network is, and don’t be afraid to tell them what you’re feeling.
Look after myself physically.
A good sweaty gym session (although taking a lot of self-motivation to get myself there) always makes me feel better. Exercise has been proven to lift your mood due to the release of endorphins, and often the focus of a workout distracts my brain from what I’m worrying about.
Write down what you’re feeling.
Sometimes just acknowledging how you’re feeling, and writing whatever you want without feeling judged, can be a great way to lift your mood.
Go see your friends.
Even if your friends don’t know how you’re feeling, they will often make you feel better, and by pretending you’re okay, sometimes means you feel better naturally.
Equally, allow yourself some alone time.
Sometimes all I need is an evening on my own, watching Netflix and doing some serious life admin, and then I feel better - it all depends on the person.
Whether its buying yourself a magazine, or doing a face mask, or making something nice for dinner - its normally the little things that make you feel better about yourself, as sometimes splurging on shopping just makes you feel worse/more anxious. But you deserve to be treated and little treats can remind you of your self-worth.
So why not, next time you’re feeling down or anxious, try some of the things on the list - or make your own personal list and keep it somewhere safe, to look at it for reference, when you’re not sure how to make yourself feel better. Remember, self-care is not selfish, and your mental wellbeing is just as important to look after as your physical health.
If feelings of low mood and anxiety persist, then consider visiting your local GP, or contact services such as Student Minds, Samaritans or Nightline.