Here are some of the things I do to improve my mental health. My mentalness waxes and wanes – but not in time to the moon. So it’s not predictable and can take a dive at any point – a bit like … [fill in the name of a centre forward who plays for a football team you don’t like.]
If you’re living with things like depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress, I hope my experience may help you or someone you know.
Having said that, if you’re feeling utterly crap right now, you possibly can’t even be arsed reading this.
But if a part of you can be bothered, maybe there’s something in here that may help a bit. And if it helps you, it’ll help me (see ‘Giving is better than receiving’ below).
Of course, you have to take some of this with a pinch or even cellar full of salt – it would really help to have a ‘control’ me so we could test these things in a more scientific way. But I’m told having one me is quite enough.
So here’s the advice.
Take a walk on the wild side – or at least to the end of the cul-de-sac and back
I’m fairly sure there’s a direct relationship between the number of miles I walk and my mental health. This means I have a massive incentive to get off my arse and walk.
Granted, I take this to extremes by regularly walking 26 miles in the Yorkshire Dales. But I take everything to extremes.
Including making generalisations.
But even a half-hour walk round the block or a park can have big benefits for the mind. Change of scene. Fresh air. Seeing some nature. Stretching your legs. Releasing some positive hormones.
Only watch out for dog shit – walking in dog shit is guaranteed to adversely affect your mood.
Make yourself smile or laugh
I can guarantee that five minutes of Les Dawson videos will improve my mood – often from utterly shite to fairly shite. But I’ll take fairly shite any day if the alternative is utterly shite.
I asked the doctor if he had something for persistent wind.
He gave me a kite.
I’m pretty sure you have things that make you laugh. Even if it’s just a pair of wind-up chattering false teeth or Michael Macintyre – whatever your secret comedy shame, have it ready in reserve and make sure you use it when you need it most – when you’re in the mental gutter.
When I was a child, I had wax in my ears.
Dad didn’t take me to the doctor, he used me as a night light.
Accept how you’re feeling
There are good reasons for the way you’re feeling. And it doesn’t help if you think it’s something to be ashamed of, or that it’s somehow not acceptable to feel this way.
Realising this and not blaming, or getting cross with, yourself can reduce the suffering.
If this sounds a bit like mindfulness, it’s not meant to. All I’m saying is you don’t have to be horrible to yourself. There are plenty of bastards out there without you joining them. Just try to be nice to yourself – even if that only means treating yourself to a KitKat.
Reduce the amount of news you consume
People who work in ‘the news’ will tell you they always try to create an emotional reaction with every story. Otherwise they risk losing their audience. The news is designed to create emotional responses like horror, shock and disgust to keep you glued – and anxiety, depression and anger can easily result.
The next American president and the Brexit bastards produce all these reactions in me. They also produce feelings of powerlessness against their post-truth bollocks and smug white power bigotry.
So – despite an academic background in history and politics and a professional background in journalism – I’m having a sabbatical from the news.
And it’s such a relief. Reading and listening to brilliant books and music instead of dystopian drivel is a massive bonus.
Giving is better than receiving
There’s a book called 59 Seconds by a psychologist – Professor Richard Wiseman (a nice bit of nominative determinism) – which provides quick techniques to improve your life.
One of these shows that being nice to other people makes you feel better – and if you do a lot of nice things in a short space of time, you feel better than just doing the odd nice thing.
During one lunchtime as I walked through town, I opened a door for someone going into M&S, feigned fear at a little lad in a scary costume, gave a beggar a couple of pounds, smiled at an old lady and bought someone a Christmas present.
As I said before, there’s no control me to test this sort of thing. But I felt pretty good after this amazing run of niceness.
Note to self: Carry on trying to be nice even when other people are being annoying scrota.
I’ve had mixed experience when it comes to professional help.
A shrink once fell asleep while I was baring my soul to him.
A self-obsessed psychoanalyst re-trained as a clown almost immediately after he’d ‘treated’ me. At least 75% of our sessions were about his issues – mainly about wanting to be a clown, not having a sex life and how much it would cost to retrain as a clown.
Meanwhile, a psychotherapist repeated the phrase: ‘So … how’ve you been?’ at the start of all 14 of our sessions together. It started grating at session three.
Strangely, though, I think the EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) this last professional did on me had a positive effect.
Of course, the placebo effect is really powerful. So just by doing something kind for yourself may have a significantly positive effect. (See KitKat technique above.)
I don’t know if the acupuncture (during which the man said I had two hearts), the emotional freedom technique (tapping ‘end points of the energy meridians’ while reciting mantras) or the many weird self help books I’ve read have been a waste of time and money.
I suspect I would have been better advised going out for a posh meal or getting a nice pair of shoes. In fact, the amount I’ve spent on this shite would have paid for several meals and pairs of shoes and trousers. And possibly a couple of nights in a decent hotel. And a coat and a car. And a horse.
This can help in some cases. I’ve found it’s best to get the NHS to look after this side of things rather than the off licence or the pub.
I also think their customers’ mental health is probably not the chief concern of drug dealers.
So if you’re feeling like shit and nothing is shifting the turds swimming round your brain, I suggest getting to your GP asap – and start being nice to yourself. You don’t have to suffer on your tod.
And remember there are loads of things you can do to help improve your mental health.
I’m off for a walk now. Ta ta.
More of my stuff about happiness