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Gill celebrating end of marathon

My own personal experience

Having suffered from poor mental health over the last few years, I’ve worked really hard at trying to improve my outlook and mindset. I referred myself and went through a couple of stints of CBT. Cynically I didn’t think CBT would work but I actually got quite a lot out of it.  I’m a creature of habit and I’m so impatient; I want results immediately but unfortunately it is a daily battle and as a result I’ve learnt to just try my hardest on improving my outlook/mindset every day but also to stop being so hard on myself, another trait of mine! But alongside CBT, I’ve figured out other ways to help me along the way.

Mental Health toolkits

Everyone has and knows what a first aid kit is. You go to a first aid kit when you’ve physically hurt yourself so why not arm yourself with your own mental health toolkit?!

As part of my 35 Before 35 challenges, I collaborated with some great life coaches and mental health advocates and we shared what’s in our individual mental health toolkits. I’ve honestly taken on pretty much every tip that was discussed.

What’s in my mental health toolkit

Assess your stress

If something is stressing you out, sit with the feelings and really figure out why is this stressing me out, am I in control of the situation, can someone help/can I ask for help (almost every time this answer is yes!) how best can I respond to this?

Take five minutes to think through the situation, even with some breathing techniques if needed. This will avoid any knee-jerk reactions and potential conclusion jumping. This will hopefully keep you and your thoughts on a more rational steer.

Exercise

This is SO important to my mental health. I don’t have to be fast, come first in a race or actually be any good at it. But any form of exercise just clears my mind, particularly running. I also thrive on the challenge of improving myself and abilities.

Look up

This was a great tip from one of the collaborators. How many times are you outside and looking down at your phone, in a tunnel vision state of mind trying to tick things off your to-do list? Every now and then when I’m out on a run, I take the time to look up and around. The sky is a good example. It’s calming and it reminds us that life is much bigger than what’s in our heads. This gives me perspective every time. Looking up and around at things will also make you notice things you’ve never seen before either, I promise you! Next time you go for a walk, practice this and actually be present in the moment. It’s a great feeling!

For example - my local park! Not only did I used to work in the grounds of the park but living so close to it I would also do some of my marathon training and parkruns around it too. It was only until last summer when I made the effort to go for a walk through it and I found so many new things! There was a secret garden, a menagerie, gym equipment and even a pet cemetery from the 1800’s!

Morale of the story - start being present and enjoying the here and now.

Do something that you enjoy every day/weekly

This could be something completely new to you or something you loved to do as a kid. It doesn’t matter what it is but having that feel good feeling from doing something you love can really help your mood.

Sleep

I’ve found that sleep is so important to my mood. I try to have a good sleep routine but it doesn’t always work. Just try putting one new pre sleep routine together every day/every few days, without pressure. Habits are built over time, so again don’t be hard on yourself if routine doesn’t happen overnight!

Hobbies

Sport! I am such a sport geek! I love sport. Sport is my escapism! I love watching pretty much any sport, I have different teams who I follow and I love learning about all the different aspects of the rules and strategies. Obviously it’s hard to do this in the current climate, but I’m just reminiscing watching sport in summers gone by with refreshing shandies! What are your favourite hobbies?!

Journaling

I never used to be a fan of ‘journaling’ your thoughts. I’m someone who isn’t great at talking about my feelings, I was one to bottle up my emotions and definitely wouldn’t write things down. But I’ve started to write down just three things I’m grateful for/or positive thoughts every day. Seeing the small, positive things every day will start to build up your mood and in turn will start to change your mindset. The thoughts definitely don’t have to be deep, just things that you’re appreciative of that day, or maybe a compliment someone gave you, or you gave them. It’s amazing that the things I’m grateful at the moment are all the things that I used to take for granted.

Have your 'person'

If journaling doesn’t help then go to your ‘person’, it could be your partner, family or close friend. We all have that one person. Speak to them, however hard it may be. A problem shared…

Social media

Give yourself a ‘lock down’ on social media. Maybe give yourself one, two hours a day (?!) then put your phone down and do one of the above!

Scrolling social media is all well and good and can help with inspiration and connection but particularly during these uncertain times, I’m not sure about you but I’m overwhelmed and tired at seeing how productive some people are claiming to be online, as it isn’t helping my mind.

So don’t feel pressurised into doing anything extra right now. If you aren’t in the headspace at the moment then don’t worry, don’t feel guilty. Just make sure you’re aware of how you’re feeling and let yourself be guided by this. 

Everyone’s timeline of coping with the current climate is different. So if you just want to binge on Netflix or Amazon, then do it! I have some great recommendations for you. Although we are in awful times, this is the time to slow down and really be appreciative for what we have got, make sure we don’t take things for granted and for being so thankful for all the amazing front line workers doing their thing to keep us safe!

Gill Barker is a Senior Marketing Officer and alumna of Leeds Trinity University. In the last two years, Gill has dedicated her time to 35 Before 35 training and fundraising for Leeds Mind and Yorkshire Cancer Research, and to raise awareness of mental health. 

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