8 top tips for when your mental health is going downhill

tips for when your mental health is going downhill

Have you noticed that your mental health is going downhill? If so, then take the 25 minutes to listen to this episode. 

I share my top 8 tips on what to do (and what not to do!) when your mood and wellbeing are declining. They range from nutritional tips, to mindset shifts, reaching out to others and paying attention to what to consume day to day. And more!

Also very useful if your mental health has been consistently poor lately. Which, given it’s the year 2020, is unfortunately the case for so many of us!

Read the transcript here

Welcome back to the Better Mental Health Podcast. It’s so nice to be back after my summer break and it’s really good to start creating these episodes again, all about improving mental health naturally.

Today I want to address something that has undoubtedly affected a lot of people this year (2020): noticing that your mental health is going downhill.

This year is tough, and it still is. There is a global pandemic that is putting normal life on hold. We are told to report our neighbours to the police if they don’t behave according to the rules, effectively turning against one another. We can’t see our friends and family as much as we’d like to if at all. There is financial insecurity, job loss, loneliness, domestic abuse, and just this general sense of having to cope with less freedom and much more restriction. Perhaps you feel bored out of your mind or you worry about your future. There is so much uncertainty and we simply don’t know when life will feel a bit more normal again.

I often say to my husband these days how so much of this year feels a bit like a terrible dystopian novel written ten years ago.

And if you read the news you’ll get daily reminders of other equally important challenges and crises such as climate change and racism that is still around us everywhere we look. Trump is still in power (update, thank goodness that is over!), Brexit is going to happen… there really is a lot to worry and stress about right now. What’s particularly difficult with these challenges is that a lot of us feel helpless and don’t know what to do about them.

Plus all these national and global topics that are very much affecting our day to day lives are on top of any challenges you might be facing in your personal life!

So no, life doesn’t feel easy for most of us right now.

Mental distress is one the rise, more people are feeling anxious than before and the ones that are particularly hard hit are young people, particularly women, and young mothers with especially preschool age children.

So what are some of the signs that your mental health is declining?

  • You worry to the point of not being able to do certain things easily such as leaving the house or talking to other people
  • You find yourself crying a lot
  • You feel so overwhelmed that mundane things such as getting up and having a shower feel like too much
  • You can’t sleep well at night and perhaps experience nightmares
  • You feel tired all the time and perhaps are needing a lot more sleep
  • You have this real sense of heaviness and can’t think clearly
  • You struggle to concentrate for long, struggle to participate in conversations or watch a whole film in one go
  • Little things upset you way more than before and perhaps you feel angry and irritable a lot
  • You struggle to calm your mind and thoughts
  • You are eating a lot less than before, or way more than before
  • Perhaps your digestion has changed
  • You might be feeling more achy and unwell in general
  • And perhaps more subtly, you are hardly ever in the present moment. You get lost in stories of the past or are perhaps fantasising about things you’d like to happen in the future – so much so that life right now, as it is, becomes almost unbearable. Do you know what mean?

So my guess is that you are listening to this episode because you have indeed noticed that your mental health is not as good as it used to be. And I know from my own experience just what an uncomfortable place that is to be in.

Mental health is not something that is permanent and very much moves up and down on a spectrum. You can notice a general lack of happiness but still be able to get on with your day. But you can also feel so severely distressed that taking your own life can feel the only option left to you.

Now, my work including this podcast is not aimed at people in severe mental distress and those that are at risk of suicide- please please please reach out to your GP or doctor or phone a mental health helpline in your country. The website befrienders.org lists helplines for quite a large number of countries across the world. Make sure you get the help you need – it is not something you need to feel ashamed about. So again, that’s www.befrienders.org

Okay, I just always want to make that clear and help you get the help you need. So if you have noticed that your mental health is going downhill, here are my top 8 tips.

  1. Acknowledge how hard this is and send yourself some love

     

Literally, I want you to place your right hand on your heart, take a deep breath and simply acknowledge that right now, things feel hard. With no judgement whatsoever. Acknowledge how you feel, right now, in this present moment. Make a big sigh and drop your shoulders. “This feels hard. I’m suffering. I’m in pain.” 

Whatever it is you feel, simply try to name it for what it is. And then wish yourself well. Say or think things like “May I be well” or “I hope this gets easier soon”. Or “I can do this”.

Particularly when it’s our mental health that is declining, we can become pretty judgmental towards ourselves. As if we’re simply not strong and capable enough.

But how will this harsh inner self critic ever help you to become happier, to live a healthier life and to feel well again? It’s simply not. So instead of harsh self judgement, try becoming mindful of your present experience, try to remind yourself that these feelings although unpleasant are natural human feelings that soo many other people feel too. And then send yourself some warmth and love. And also appreciation for what you’re already doing, right now even though things feel hard.

2. Try not to be on your own too much

I know you probably want to withdraw from the rest of the world and stay inside your hiding place forever, but try to make a commitment to yourself to NOT take this approach. You probably know yourself that being alone for most of the time right now is not what you need. 

So call a caring friend or family member or even better, meet up with someone face-to-face. If you can tell them how you feel (so as long as that person is kind and caring), then that’s great. Sharing how you feel and talking it through with a trusted friend can make the world of a difference. It can help you process what is going on, get an outside perspective on your situation and very often you’ll also end up realising that other people struggle too.

But if you can’t or don’t want to share how you’re really doing, still try to spend time with other people. Depression and anxiety can both really shrink your world down to you and your views. Try expanding your world a little and if there aren’t people around you can meet, just spend some time walking around your local area and try smiling at people.

3. Eat wholesome food and try to stay away from sugar and alcohol

Again, all we want to do is comfort ourselves with foods and drinks that we crave. We want to feel better and foods can help us do that – in that very moment of eating or drinking it. But the foods we typically crave when we feel stressed and / or down are processed, far from being natural and laden with sugar and added chemicals. Whilst we might get an initial boost, we can end up feeling worse in the long-run, even just a few hours afterwards. 

To help avoid blood sugar imbalances and nutrient deficiencies and to support your brain health with nutrition, try this: Can you actually just remove any foods from your house that are laden with sugar or ultra-processed? Crisps, chocolate, sweets, jams, juices? Can you give up or reduce alcohol for now? Can you add protein to all of your meals and try to eat oily fish a few times a week? Can you have more colourful veggies on your plate? Can you commit to not skipping meals? Can you go grocery shopping after you’ve had a main meal so you are less likely to purchase sugary snacks and ready-made meals?

By all means, have treats. Absolutely yes, food should never become a source of stress. Ideally.
But treats should be just a few times a week, not every day. Try to promise to yourself that you are going to avoid sugar, processed foods and alcohol. And next time you go shopping, just simply fill your basket with a wide range of veg of all sorts of colours and choose high quality protein, so various meat products if you’re not vegetarian, go for fish, have pulses, buy nuts and seeds. And once they’re in your house, eat them.

When your mental health is declining, it’s really time to up your nutrition game. Start where you are, and just do the next best thing (nobody changes overnight!).

4. Move your body

You probably don’t feel like exercising, but that’s the very best thing you can do to help yourself feel better. In my personal and professional opinion, there is nothing better than exercise to lift your mood and help get rid of stress and help to calm your mind. I really don’t think there is a better way, and in most cases it is entirely for free and you don’t need anything else other than your body. Perhaps some trainers and a pair of leggings, which most of us already have.

Again, start where you are. 

Perhaps the best thing for you is a ten minute yoga session that where you actually sit in a chair the whole time. There are free youtube lessons, go and explore and find something that feels right for you. If you don’t struggle with severe fatigue, by all means, do the things you know you loved doing before you felt the way you feel now. Or try something new entirely. Just because you’ve never done something doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, today- and I really mean today. Long walks? Running? Cycling? Lifting weights? Swimming? Dancing? Tennis? Bouncing on a trampoline?

Go for it. Unless you’ll get injured, I doubt you will ever regret a session of moving your body.

5. Reconnect with meaning & purpose in your life

Depending on what you think has triggered this decline in your mental health, it can be invaluable to spend some time thinking about the bigger goals you have in your life. Or indeed, committing to something for the greater good.

Not long ago I ran a poll in my Instagram stories and I don’t think I ever had that many replies. It was about whether you are struggling with a sense of meaning in your life. Whether you have done so in the past. And whether you know what gives your life meaning now. And the past majority of people have said that they have struggled with a sense of meaning and purpose in their life, and about half do so right now.
So I have trained as coach, and my training was particularly focused on positive psychology. So that’s the study of human thriving and flourishing and rather than asking what makes us ill, it asks what makes us well.

And so I’ve learned about the huge importance of deeply knowing what your values are. What your strengths are. What passions you have in life, and I also know how beneficial it is for most people to have bigger goals for their lives. Something that they can contribute to, something that isn’t just for the benefit of their own lives but for the greater good. And really making sure that your goal or goals are aligned with your values, the things you deeply care about.

So for example for me, it’s about helping people to radically improve their mental health, to build happy and fulfilling lives, to improve their health and wellbeing, and to do so in a natural and sustainable way. 

I find this work personally very fulfilling, yes challenging but really very meaningful and this is my way of contributing to the greater good I hope. Perhaps one day my meaning in life will change and I’m sure that it will evolve, but it really gives me this real sense of groundedness and also the sense that I can make a difference. 

And let’s face it, right now in this world we are living in, particularly during a global pandemic, there is this real sense of helplessness and so having a sense of agency in certain aspects of your life, this sense that you can do something, you can control of something and that you can make a difference, even if it’s just in a small way, can make you feel a lot better. And as a result, you become much more resilient and strong.

So how do you want to make a difference? What do you feel passionate about? What do people come to you for & ask your advice on? And what makes you smile day-to-day?

6. Watch comedy

Tip number six is very different to the others. And when I say watch comedy, I do genuinely mean that. Watch and read and listen to things that are FUNNY. That are uplifting, perhaps silly, that normally would make you laugh. Now is NOT the time for horror movies, crime thrillers or upsetting documentaries.

Reading the news, quite frankly, is dramatic enough. And you know, often I actually recommend to my clients to stop consuming the news for a few weeks. Think about it: Before our lives became so global, we didn’t know what was happening in other places. I mean, for centuries, we didn’t even know that there were other countries and continents. We weren’t bombarded by news of tragic events elsewhere and I imagine life was far more about what was happening within your own community.

Now I’m not saying we should all stop reading the news and stop education ourselves about the real issues that are going on around us. But I really want you to keep in mind that our brains and nervous systems are still the same as back when humans lived in hunter gatherer tribes. They haven’t changed much. And so you need to give yourself regular breaks and you also need to pay attention to the stuff you are consuming. Seek out positive choices. Things that fill your cup, even if you can’t fully feel those positive emotions right now.

7. Take your medication / supplements

Don’t skip any mood-boosting medication you have been prescribed, or supplements that your practitioner has recommended. Stick with them. Take the remedies that you know have helped you to feel better before. You don’t need the next shiny new thing that will hopefully make everything bad disappear- instead, commit to the things that have worked before.

There is no shame whatsoever in taking medication or mood boosting herbs or nutrients.

8. Remind yourself that you can do hard things

Life can get really, really tough sometimes. Remind yourself of all the things that you have done before that felt hard at the time. Find a mantra for yourself that reminds you of your strength. Or put a banner or post-it-note with a positive message, something as simple as “ Be Brave” somewhere where you’ll frequently see it.

Talk to or read about someone who has overcome hardship or severe mental health challenges themselves. Remind yourself of your strengths and remind yourself that you can do hard things, and then don’t give up.

So these are my top 8 tips for when you notice that your mental health is going downhill. Or indeed for when it already is pretty low. I really truly hope that they are useful to you, that you will be able to find some relief and if you know someone who might benefit from listening to this episode, then do simply send them the link.

If you have any tips of your own, I also love to hear from my listeners so get in touch. And I also just want to invite you book a free Zoom call with me, if you want to explore working on your mood and mental health naturally with me. I’m a nutritionist and qualified coach and specialise in depression and anxiety – plus I have my own experience of overcoming depression. So do just simply get in touch with me – it would be an honour to help you on your journey to better mental health again.

Thank you so much for listening, it really means a lot. And I wish you all the best and until next time!

Welcome to my podcast

I’m Claudia Smith, a qualified nutritional therapist, functional medicine practitioner and coach specialising in depression. This is where I share my thoughts and advice on natural and holistic approaches to overcoming depression.

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