The Wonders of Self-care

In honour of world mental health day being today, I wanted to share a post all about self-care and the positive benefits it can have towards our outlook on life, as well as the way we view ourselves. I encourage everyone, every now and then, to take a mental health day, recharge your batteries, and incorporate your own form of self-care and self-reflection into your lives on a regular basis. It can realign your perspective and allow you to start fresh and get back to whatever keeps you busy each day with better focus and a clearer mind. Self-care is about slowing down and enjoying the silence for a moment. We are all constantly focused on everything in our lives rushing by and occupying us. Instead we should take some time to reflect and have a mental check in with ourselves about how we are really feeling.

Enjoying quality time alone is unbelievably important. Finding the perfect balance between socialisation and quality alone time is key to a healthy and happy life. It’s hugely important to take time to yourself to recharge your batteries and reflect on your life. We all need to feel comfortable and calm in our own company, focused on ourselves, not preoccupied a million miles away thinking about everything stressing us out this week. Self care is about investing in yourself, it is no way selfish because it lets you excel better in your relationships and life. You have to invest in yourself before you can invest in others.

Finding the right balance of self-care is very important. You should in no way isolate yourself from your loved ones or use ‘self-care’ as a means of distraction or procrastination in getting something done that needs to be done. However, if you’re feeling burnt out and lacking in energy to fulfil a task, if you’re overthinking or anxious about small things that wouldn’t normally irritate you, then taking some time to yourself is an important remedy.

Self-reflection

Whilst self-reflection isn’t technically part of self-care, I think the two come hand in hand. Taking time to look back on the week, the highs and lows and how they made you feel, can allow you to better understand yourself. This can simply be done by just sitting with yourself and thinking about it, or a more popular version, journaling. Having this form of self-reflection can allow you to keep track of your thoughts.

I think these moments alone are so important because it allows you to understand yourself, what you like and what you don’t like. If you’re reflecting on your week you can ask yourself why a certain scenario that played out frustrated you, or why something made you stressed or anxious. Moments of reflection really let us look inside ourselves to understand our behaviours and emotions.

Feeling comfortable in your own skin and in your own company is a form of self-love and self-acceptance. When you slow down and just sit with yourself you learn things about yourself that you potentially hadn’t noticed before, sometimes comforting or uncomforting things, but you do learn. During the pandemic I realised how much of a workaholic and perfectionist I really am. Although I already knew I was this way, having so much time alone allowed me to understand why I behaved the way I did and how to control those emotions. As a person I have to fit in time for my own forms of self-care for my mental sanity and to prevent burn out. Sometimes self-reflection can feel like a reality check and a wake up call to who you really are. It can shake you out of a rut you are in and wake you up.

I’m not really someone that knows a lot about the law of attraction and manifestations, but self-care or self-reflection is similar because of it’s consistency. Self-reflection is very important for your mental health and outlook on life, it can give you a lot of clarity and help to change up your mindset when you’re feeling low or overwhelmed for whatever reason. It’s like a reset period. I like to use self-care time for affirming behaviour and readjusting my sense of direction, such as setting out monthly goals or focusing on what I achieved in the past week and how that outweighs whatever may have gone wrong. It is similar to manifesting and changing up your mindset because you are taking time to reflect and push yourself in the right direction towards what you want to improve in your life and achieve. Taking time for yourself is one of the most important steps in that process.

Another reason why taking the time to sit with yourself and self-reflect is so important is because a lot of the thoughts we have are sub-conscious, we don’t always realise we are having them and they become part of our nature. Overtime, if we continue to have sub-conscious thoughts revolving around stress, anxiety or lowness, it can build into something much worse. Our minds are powerful; our thoughts have the ability to affect our emotional lives. When we have an irrational or low thought, that has a huge impact on our emotions, even when that thought is falsely interpreted from our reality, it will still have a huge impact on our self-worth and emotions. When we self-reflect, we take the time to actively question these thoughts and stop our mind from taking control.

Self-care is a habit

Turning self-care into a consistent habit is very important in seeing it’s benefits. We have to make it a regular occurrence to take time to ourselves, to self-reflect and to recharge our batteries. It doesn’t always have to be the same activity, but making self-care a part of your routine is revitalising. Keeping up with it means you are always looking out for yourself and showing yourself love and respect.

Self-care really can be anything, it’s completely subjective, but it should be slotted into your week, even your days. For some people self-care is their skincare routine, others it’s watching TV or playing a game, even tidying your room. Something where it’s just you and you are giving undivided attention to yourself.

My own personal self-care really does fluctuate. I find the gym very therapeutic and destressing. Endorphins and moving your body is unbelievably good for your mental health and makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. However, I also cherish unwinding at the end of the day slowly, either reading or slowly going through my skincare routine, throwing in a face mask. Whatever allows you to relax and focus on yourself…do that.

Finding happiness in the simple moments

I think that taking time alone to breathe and relax, maybe on a walk or just sitting in a spot you find comfortable, can allow you, even for a second, to really feel content and grateful. It’s a difficult feeling to explain, but it is feels almost like a glow. You could get this feeling maybe looking out at a view after a walk, the fresh air in the morning, the comfort of your own home, looking at old pictures. Anything that sparks gratitude and peace.

Holding onto those moments is important because they can keep you going and motivated. I think it’s encouraging to know that there is a potential for peace in your life. No matter what you’re going through, those split seconds can show you that it’s there. It doesn’t mean that things are great right now, or that things will be better in a week. But those simple moments where you feel at peace and grateful for something, potentially during your self-care, is something to hold onto and to cherish. They ground you and they keep you sane.

Moments like these are so important because it allows us to take control of our thoughts. When you are sat alone in silence and that feeling of happiness comes rushing in, even for a second, it shows that happiness or peace is out there for you still, no matter what you are going through. Negative feelings often have the ability to take a strong hold in our mind, removing and displacing them can become a hefty task. A lot of the time repetitive thought patterns keep us feeling low or anxious. Replacing the negative repetitive thoughts can be done in moments of silence. It gives us the time and space we need to turn away from those thoughts, breathe and refocus ourselves and our mindset. Constantly and actively choosing to change your mindset and not let the thoughts consume you. Reminding yourself of something to be grateful for, like those simple moments, can keep you going.

A disclaimer regarding mental illness

Although self-care and self-help techniques are helpful in keeping your mind clear and taking time to relax. It is not a complete remedy to mental illness, it may help you in your bad days, but if your bad days consistently continue you should seek mental health support. It doesn’t have to be taboo and there really is nothing wrong with asking for support when you need it. Reaching out to a loved one or looking for therapies and counselling is normal and should be done more. Don’t undervalue your feelings or disregard them just because they don’t feel as big as other peoples problems because that’s how problems worsen.

It can be frustrating when a family member or friend tells you to just take some time to relax, meditate or write everything down when you are in the midst of feeling low. The same techniques don’t work for everyone and you have to find what works for you. It can be particularly hard to self-reflect productively when you have allowed your anxious, irrational, or negative thoughts to consume you because in moments of self-reflection you can find yourself spiralling. Sometimes you can’t help your self and you need more support, which is why therapy or counselling is a great option, especially cognitive behaviour therapies (CBT), which focuses on displacing those irrational or negative feelings. So, if you are feeling low or anxious and taking time to reflect and focus on yourself is not helping to relieve any burdens, then do reach out for more support. Also remember that your bad days do not equal to a bad life. This is a feeling that you will get through.

Mental health support links

  1. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helplines/
  2. https://www.samaritans.org/
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/?WT.tsrc=Search&WT.mc_id=Brand&gclid=Cj0KCQjwt4X8BRCPARIsABmcnOr94uOrYxgOCHVkR4eYhAB0A0i08VNKgL_xqb4JIh5odFRGdpBHbUIaAtCqEALw_wcB
  4. https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/
  5. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/seeking-help-for-a-mental-health-problem/where-to-start/

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

A disclaimer before I begin. I will be discussing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, as well as suicide. If this is something you are sensitive to or triggered by, then this is a warning. There will be links at the bottom of this page to resources that can help support you. You are not alone.

As I mentioned in my last post, there are hundreds of writers paving the way in various fields and raising awareness about important topics.

One of which is Matt Haig, a best selling writer based in England. Matt writes in various styles as a journalist, children’s and non-fiction writer. Matt is active on his social media accounts working towards breaking the stigma around mental health.

Some of my favourite books by Matt are ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and ‘Thoughts on a Nervous Planet’. Both of these books are non-fiction and tackle the issues and stigma around mental health, as well as Matt recalling his own personal battles with depression and anxiety. Today I’m going to talk about ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’. This is one of my favourite books and I urge anyone and everyone to read it, whether you are going through your own personal journey with mental health or are seeking ways to support a loved one, even for just general awareness! Mental health is becoming a pandemic in itself, breaking the stigma and shutting down stereotypes is extremely essential in tackling this issue. It is an enlightening and informative read.

Matt’s writing style is so engaging and his ability to explain such complex mental health struggles in such simplistic ways is truly inspiring. He uses various metaphors and explanations that allow people to really understand the way depression and anxiety can affect a persons life. Matt also includes scripted conversations with himself, portraying the inward struggle and turmoil he felt when his illness spoke to him.

Mental health is such a vast and complex topic, being able to explain its influence is something many struggle to put into words, but Matt Haig does this in a wonderful and effortless way. It allows people to really understand how mental illness can consume a person and the mental and physical symptoms that come with it.

But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.

Albert Camus, A Happy Death

Matt discusses the invisibility and ability depression has to creep up on a person and consume them. Whoever that person may be; a billionaire, an alcoholic, a mother, a teenager, or a businesswoman. Depression can affect anyone and whilst some mental illness are related to past trauma, some may feel they do not have a reason to feel the way they do. This only leaves those people feeling guilty and confused for the way they are feeling. When those around them try to belittle their emotions or behaviour this guilt can intensify. Ending this stigma is SO important, Matt seeks to do this in a number of effective and informative ways within his book.

Another key statement Matt raises in his book is that mental illnesses impact and appear differently on everyone. This means that there is no set way to overcome it, get around it or deal with it. Understanding this is so important! Mental health is a journey of good and bad days. There is no one size fits all solution. There is trial and error, Matt retells how he began to cope with his mental illness within ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’.

The key is in accepting your thoughts, all of them, even the bad ones. Accept thoughts, but don’t become them. Understand, for instance, that having a sad thought, even having a continual succession of sad thoughts, is not the same as being a sad person. You can walk through a storm and feel the wind but you know you are not the wind.

Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

In an effort to break the stigma around depression and mental health, Matt compares physical and mental health issues. He uses a variety of scenarios to explain this idea but as an example, you wouldn’t say to someone who had just broken their arm, ‘Oh, just get on with it, stop thinking about it!’ So why would you say to someone with depression, ‘Mind over matter, just get over it!’. Mental health issues are just as much issues as physical health issues. There is an obsession to separate the body and mind, when we should take time to care and nurture both. As much as we can have issues with our physical health, we can also have issues with out mental health. Matt pushes this idea throughout his book.

Matt fluctuates between retelling his own personal battles and experiences with depression and anxiety to more statistically informative facts surrounding mental illness. According to the World Health Organisation, “1 in 5 people will experience depression in their life”, and “A million people a year kill themselves. Between ten and twenty million people a year try to. Worldwide, men are over 3x more likely to kill themselves than women.” These figures clearly suggest to us that there is a mental health pandemic amongst us, which is why breaking the stigma is important now more than ever.

When you are depressed you feel alone, and that no one is going through quite what you are going through. You are so scared of appearing in any way mad you internalise everything, and you are so scared that people will alienate you further you clam up and don’t speak about it, which is a shame, as speaking about it helps.

Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

These are just a few topics Matt touches on in his book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’. He also explores the benefits and drawbacks surrounding medication, exercise and therapies. What coping mechanisms work for him, including some discussion on what he has learnt from Buddhist thought in controlling his anxiety.

Matt also discusses how the modern world has set us up for failure due to the feeling that we will always need more, stating that: “The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more?”

Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.

Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

Matt’s story is truly inspiring and a message to anyone who feels suicidal that things really will get better again. Matt found a way to live and enjoy life, something he never thought he would ever be able to do again. Mental health is an ongoing journey, doubts can fill your mind and depression can creep up on you, but learning to control those thoughts and to know that you are more than what your depression and anxiety is telling you, is the present theme throughout ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’.

If these topics interest you then I’d recommend you grab this book! It’s a great starting place for anyone wanting to grasp more of an understanding on depression and anxiety. Matt honestly and authentically captures the experiences of mental illness. After facing his own struggles he is not hesitant in stating that life is really hard. However, we can learn to see the beauty of it again within the simple moments, not everyday is promised to be amazing, but it will get better.

Links to mental health support

  1. https://www.samaritans.org/
  2. https://www.mind.org.uk/
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/

Reasons to Stay Alive: https://www.waterstones.com/book/reasons-to-stay-alive/matt-haig/9781782116820