Supporting Mental Wellness for Yourself and Others
Having your own self care plan can help you be a better friend
Please be aware this article involves discussions of suicide. If this is a hard topic for you, we encourage you to check one of the more upbeat posts on our blog about mental wellness.
The start of November is a tough time for me. Eleven years ago at the start of November I lost my uncle to suicide. He was a shining light in my life - the very person that sat with me on my own darkest night and helped me through to getting help rather than taking my life. In the eleven years since we lost him, I’ve often wondered what would have been different if he’d been better able to help himself as much as he helped others, or if I’d had the opportunity to sit with him on his darkest night as he did for me.
In Pennsylvania suicide killed more than six times as many people as alcohol related deaths in 2017 according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Since this is a topic which is close to my heart, I really wanted to take a chance to discuss the importance of self care and friendship in maintaining mental health.
Your Self Care Toolbox
Being successful at self care can be difficult - but it is the first step in making supporting yourself and others. Finding a minute in a hectic schedule can feel daunting, much less five or ten to focus on your own health. In the years since my own suicidal thoughts I’ve worked closely with mental health professionals and loved ones to help create my own self care plan. Your plan will be unique to you - if you don’t have time to spend 5 minutes journaling, try taking 5 single minutes through the day to practice mindful breathing. My plan changes each year, each month and each day as I pick and choose from methods that are working for me in those moments.
Tools in my Self Care Tool Box
Journaling - I picked up a Molskine notebook and I am constantly personalizing it with stickers, doodles and washi tape. Because my journal is small I can take it with me in my bag and journal when I have a moment - but keeping yours by your bed or in a special spot in your house is useful too. Focus on prompts that are mindful meditations - I usually just do a quick google search and pick what grabs me.
Mindful Breathing - Take a minute to clear your mind and breath deeply while focusing on your breath. This can take 1 minute or 5 - and I recommend using a guided app while you’re learning the techniques.
Get a good night’s sleep - Start by thinking of your nightly routine, and add ways to get to bed a bit earlier, or stay in bed a bit later. Make changes in your sleeping space to make it more restful - like using colors that support deep sleep.
Incorporate exercise - adding exercise can reduce anxiety, support cardiac health and lower stress levels. You don’t have to hit the gym, this can be as easy as walking to the next bus stop or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Be willing to say No - Don’t overload yourself by adding more to your to-do list than you can handle. Consider finding ways to pass along additional work rather than taking it on needlessly.
Schedule a Self Care day - It can be hard to say no if you don’t have something already on your schedule - so pick a day each month to schedule a self-care day. Mine usually involve popcorn, a few movies and a hot bath.
Take a new route - Sometimes just driving down a different road, walking to a different bus stop, heading up a different elevator or grabbing coffee from a new shop can help refresh your mind.
Spend time with people who love you - Spending time around the people who love and support you is just as important for you as it is for them - by having strong relationships with others you’re able to build yourself up while also being in a place to help others who might need it.
Work on your Daily Affirmations - I picked up a cheap picture frame and decorated it - I use dry erase on the glass, so I can write my affirmation on it every morning and see it as I come and go from home during the day.
Be willing to ask for help - If you feel like you can’t do all the heavy lifting on your own, finding a therapist, counselor or therapy group can help lift that weight with you.
Take time to check in with others
While practicing step 8 above, take that time to really listen to and support your loved ones as well. If you are practicing great self care it makes it easier to take the time to notice the feelings of those around you as well. While you can’t always solve every problem, being there to notice when someone might be heading toward a crisis point can help.
If you are worried someone you love might be at risk, the AFSP suggests the following steps
Text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line
Escort them to mental health services or an emergency room
Remember that you don’t have to be the hero - just the supportive person who is willing to sit and listen. When I was in crisis my uncle helped by simply asking me to grab a cup of tea with him and being willing to sit and talk. Just having someone there was enough to make me feel like I was able to share the load and reach out for help.
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Sarah returned to her education after 10 years of real world experience.