I really hope you have enjoyed this past month following along with The Skill Collective as we focused on mindfulness, connectedness and mental health over on Instagram. As we wrap up the month I wanted to share with you 7 simple things that I do for my mental health. I’m not a psychologist or any expert by any means – these are just some practical ideas from a normal girl for how I look after my mental health. I’d love to hear your tips for how you manage your mental health in the comments!
Swapping my phone for a book
Last year I made a change to how I interact with my phone. There are so many times that I find myself waiting. Waiting for/on a bus. Waiting to pick up my kids from school. Waiting during their Taekwondo/swimming/piano/cricket. Waiting at appointments… It goes on and on! Before I had a smart phone I would sit and look, take in the world around me, talk to people or read a book. Chris used to tease me that if he left me on a park bench for 5 minutes he’d come back to find a new friend. I love to read and used to read so many books. And yet… after a short time of having a smart phone, I found myself filling all these moments with scrolling.
So last year I decided to swap my phone for a book. I made a list of everything i wanted to read and i bought them all. I made sure I always had one in my handbag and any time I felt the urge to grab my phone, I grabbed a book. And guess what! I read more books in the past year than I read in the 10 years prior
I feel like this one small change has given me so many wins.
1) I am finally finding time to read, which is something i love and have felt i didn’t have time for.
2) It’s had an incredibly positive impact on my mental health.
3) And importantly, i feel I’m setting a better example for my kids who are starting to enter the world of phones.
So this is a little pile of the books I’ve read this past year! Some are books I’ve always wanted to read, some are old favourites, some are even tween books i read with Bunny. Some were incredible, some were, well, definitely not ? but i don’t regret any of the moments i spent with these books.
Suddenly all the pieces of time in between things don’t feel wasted anymore.
Morning Quiet time
The most important thing I do for my mental health is this right here
I like to wake up half an hour before everyone else (at this time of year it’s still dark then, cry), I make myself a cup of tea, sit outside on the patio while the sun is still low, and I have my quiet time. This is time I set aside intentionally to read the Bible and pray. It’s a non-negotiable part of my day, and if for some reason I have missed it that day, I can feel it. It’s amazing to me how much half an hour with God calms me and makes me feel ready for the day. With everything going on in the world and life in general, He is the solid rock on which I stand, anchoring me in the storm.
This past year has been rough, and without my morning quiet time I don’t think I would have coped.
So how do I manage half an hour of quiet each morning with three kids?
- Firstly I have to intentionally prioritize it. Everyone knows the routine, it’s expected, it’s normal. I set an alarm so i don’t feel time crunched, and i make it the first thing in the morning so I won’t forget. Do i like getting up early? Noooo. But it’s important to me, so I do it.
- Second, I make everyone welcome – we’re a family of faith and my kids know that anyone who wants to read and pray with me is welcome to join in – and they often do! Especially Birdie who likes to bring a big blanket for us to snuggle under
- And last, Chris supports me. He’s there making breakfasts, unpacking the dishwasher and cleaning the kitchen and when I’m particularly tired he brings the very strong coffee that prevents my eyelids from closing
Before I had kids I was incredibly fit and healthy, but I had hard recoveries from childbirth and I honestly just couldn’t bring myself to exercise anymore. Instead of enjoying the rush of pushing myself as I had in the past, I just saw exercise as more pain. Pain i could avoid. So I stopped completely, and I spent years refusing to exercise.
The problem with that is that I have severe asthma, and exercising was what kept it under control. Only I didn’t realise that. Or rather I ignored it. I spent years having multiple annual chest infections and asthma attacks, and ending up in the hospital became almost routine. For years my doctor told me I needed to take up swimming, and I didn’t listen. A few years ago after a particularly bad run of chest infections, and being sick for almost 4 months straight I got pneumonia in both lungs and was in the hospital for a week. Not going to lie, it was the most terrifying experience of my life and years later I’m still rattled by it. It took months to recover, and as a part of my recovery my doctor insisted I needed to swim regularly.
My mom went with me to look after me and keep me accountable. The first time I went I swam 1 lap and my lungs were so weak it took half an hour to recover. But we went back, and slowly, very slowly I got better. My lungs healed and got stronger, and then something interesting happened. I realised I had started to look forward to those swims. The quiet, the rhythm of my breathing, the methodical strokes and kicks, were all so calming.
So oddly, though I had started swimming for my physical health – it’s become a huge part of my mental health management. The pool is where I go to let go of my stress. When I’m there all I can think about is breaths and kicks, and when I get out I breathe easier and the world is a sunnier place.
Making a cup of tea
This is about as simple as it gets. Anyone of British decent is probably familiar with the very British belief that tea solves all problems. In my family the first step to dealing with anything whether it be good, bad, big, little or crisis – is to put the kettle on and make a cup of tea.
And I heartily believe it works. But why? I think it’s because making a cup of tea forces you to pause. It delays action and thought until you’ve had a moment to calm down. And that’s often really important.
Stopping to make a cup of tea is a coping mechanism for me that I use at home and at work. It’s amazing how often after waiting for the kettle to boil, carefully making a cup and then drinking it slowly that I find I’m mentally ready to tackle my problem. And sometimes, the answer arrived while I was drinking. Tea, highly recommend ;)
Having a bath
I thank my mom heartily for this one (and also for the tea… moms know everything). I can’t even tell you the number of times as a stressed out teen my mom gently directed me to the bathroom, gave me a scented candle and a jar of bath salts and told me to soak for half an hour. It works every time and I must admit 20 years on my formula is still the same. Bath salts and a scented candle and half and hour does an incredibly amount for restoring my mental state when I’m stressed, worried and worn out. Add one of the aforementioned books, and you’ve got my ideal of a Friday night!
It also helps with the muscle aches that sometimes come from swimming all the laps haha.
Making something for myself or someone I love
I’m pretty sure everyone who sews can relate to this – but sewing is so calming and restorative. When I need a break I often turn to sewing or prepping for my next make.
For anyone who sews, ironing and cutting your fabric before you begin sewing can often be considered an inconvenience before a project can begin. Call me weird – but I look forward to this preparation stage and I often use this time to be more mindful and present, in the place of more passive relaxation like watching tv.
I tend to save my cutting out for the evenings when my kids are asleep. I enjoy the ritual of making a cup of tea, wiping down my dinner table, carefully ironing and pressing the fabric, laying pattern pieces out, pinning, and thoughtfully cutting.
As you’ve probably noticed, I love pattern matching, and part of the reason I do it so often is an intentional decision not just to enjoy the challenge, but knowing how much it engrosses my attention. It’s hard for your mind to wander when you are fully focused on matching stripes!
An evening spent carefully preparing and cutting out fabric leaves me more calm and ready for sleep than anything else, as well as fully prepared to tackle my sewing project when I next have the time to.
Talking to someone
I believe really strongly that people were created to be in community with each other. We need each other, and it’s ok to lean on each other and ask for help. I like to talk things out. When I’m having a tough time I find someone to talk to, and I’m grateful for all the people in my life who have comforted me and bucked me up when i needed it. I talk to my husband, to my parents, to friends, my sisters in law and at times lovely psychologists. If you need help – ask for it :) If you don’t have someone in your life who you feel you can talk to, don’t be afraid to find a therapist or psychologist i know from experience it’s well worth it.
So those are the 7 simple things I do for my mental health! What about you? Self Care is so important and I’d love to hear what you do to take care of mental health – leave a comment and let me know!
I really hope you’ve enjoyed this collaborative series with The Skill Collective on Instagram. If you’d like to catch up on the posts, check out the hashtag #craftingamomentofmindfulness. If you’d like to read our blog post on Crafting a Moment of Mindfulness in your day check it out on their blog. I highly recommend following @theskillcollective on Instagram for your daily dose of mental health tips and advice.