Minding How You Go

For many of us struggling with our mental wellbeing, the worst thing we can be is isolated with our own thoughts for too long – under any circumstances. So, while we’re socially distancing, now is the time to get some space from the demons in our heads too.

It must be said: for those of us who don’t have a ‘poor mental health’ sticker of our own to slap on, it doesn’t mean we won’t have bad days or that we’re not allowed to be kind to ourselves. Now (with extra time on our hands as we’ve never had before) is as good a time as any to re-think habits and get a handle on this ‘adulting’ lark. We all deserve the space to talk about our feelings, to connect and feel balance and peace – we just might not know where to start. So, hang about for what will hopefully be a helpful little bus-stop tour of things we can all try to mind our heads with.

BE KIND
Like everyone, I’ve got my fair share of problems to sort through. At one point or another during this pandemic, I’ve had a head so numb I’ve been zombified. There have been days when I did nothing, knowing full well that it would ultimately make me feel worse, but I lacked the motivation to do anything about it.

I let myself have those days because it’s alright to acknowledge that it’s all a bit shit, but then I’ve also tried to get back to salvaging the things that aren’t quite so shit. I even baked a batch of brownies that came out better resembling a draft excluder. The point is – I tried, and we really should just get credit for trying.

TOP TIP: if you put some welly into it, draft excluder brownies taste significantly better chunked in ice cream (even if you’ve got to blag it, find the positives, folks!).

LITTLE THINGS
Speaking of which, some days, 100% is getting up, dressed, pressed, and running 5 miles. Some days, if getting yourself out of bed is your biggest achievement: celebrate it, alright?

Setting huge, unachievable goals, accomplishes nothing other than making us feel worse, frustrated, as it starves the brain of the ‘motivator’ chemical dopamine. Checking off a complete tick-list each day of basic tasks like making the bed, eating breakfast, opening the windows for a while, etc. is likely far more satisfying. Do this every day, and the constant flow of our ‘winning’ hormone will allow us to start setting bigger goals. In the words of comedian and artist Tim Minchin “Be micro-ambitious!” Baby steps!

TOP TIP: download a habit-tracker or splash out on a posh one from Paperchase online!

STRUCTURE
If I’d been in the same room as my therapist a couple of weeks ago when she told me that my bed was solely for sleeping, rather than safely miles away down the phone line, I’d have set her to stone with my stare.

The more I thought about it though, the more it made sense. Even if we’re answering seven emails from the comfort of our pit, we’re not actually up and ready. Are we fully engaged in the conversation, in these cases?

“Structure, Sophie! You need structure or you’ll go to bits!”
– My mum, one to talk (but always right) as she picks a fight with the cat…

What we wear, even our level of hygiene, makes a huge difference to our outlook. There are undoubtedly many of us that are business attire upstairs and pyjamas bottoms downstairs, on various Zoom calls. Consider this: is your top half more awake? Are you more attentive with your hands popping out of a dressing gown or a blazer? According to Harvard Business School, the most refined point you make in your choice of clothing is intention, so wear what will help you achieve something. Even if you’ve been furloughed, get out of pyjama bottoms and into a pair of joggers each morning: transition your clothing to suit your day.

TOP TIP: if you’re as easily distracted as I am, set any number of alarms that drive you to distraction for all the right reasons (i.e. staying on task): to keep your day rolling. You’ll find, with a full day of things to do, you’ll be back in your pyjamas quicker than you think!

STAY CONNECTED
In this age of technology, many people consult their social media with the same reverence as morning prayer, but the likelihood is that it’s also a mish-mashed mess of toxicity. It’s alright to follow someone we love to hate and roll our eyes at, but with all this free time, I’d deem a cull time well spent. Unfollow the people that you don’t actually engage with and fill your screen time with things that interest and motivate you, follow tags that might inspire new passions. And cat blogs, cat videos, cat anything, help no end.

Check-in with your proper friends too. Time To Change is an organisation that champion #AskTwice – don’t just take ‘I’m fine’ as gospel when you know that when they check on you, you don’t mean it either.

In our last UK-wide seven-year survey on mental health, 1 in 6 people reported experiencing issues such as anxiety or depression on any given week (Mind). 21% of those surveyed were already experiencing suicidal thoughts. We need to hold onto one another in these unparalleled times of uncertainty. We need to have those frank conversations, and those silly, distracting conversations with the people we love – pride be damned. We need to remember what we’re isolating to preserve.

TOP TIP: showering others with genuine compliments is a free and easy way to make both parties feel better – and online you don’t even have to look the person in the eye, which takes out any (highly unnecessary, I might add) embarrassment. Forget worrying that it’s cheesy: being sincere in spreading little bursts of joy and representing your authentic self has no end of mental health benefits.

 “Your winged eyeliner could cut glass!”
– “Thank you! You’ve proper cheered me [online stranger having an equally bad time of it] up!”

TRAIN YOUR TERRIBLE TENTACLE
In my experience finally having the right names for the things going on in my head – such as ‘anxiety’ and ‘dyspraxia’, has been a relief in and of itself; it’s meant that I can actually direct my search for advice, and better connect with people.

Ultimately, I feel consistently less like I’ve got a tentacle coming out of my back causing uncontrollable chaos.

I came across The Mighty a couple of years ago by happy accident; it’s a 2 million strong community of bloggers, researchers and people with one or more of 600+ conditions, both physical and mental, where you can connect with other people’s stories. If you’ve had something troubling you, and you’re thinking ‘Crikey, [insert own name], what’s going on up there these days?’ – I’d suggest starting your search in a place like The Mighty. You can participate as little or as often as you like. It’s liberating, honestly. If you already know what’s going on – start scrolling! You can sign up for tailored email alerts to keep up to date on new articles, and yourself on track.

Once you start understanding and sorting one element of your life out, then you’ll have more headspace for everything else. No matter how isolated we may feel when we face these struggles, long or short-term, The Mighty community perfectly demonstrates that not one of us is truly alone in what we’re going through.

TOP TIP: Remember to balance that space you make with different activities (and set a really annoying alarm so you don’t snooze on them infinitely). They should appear in the form of the healthy practices that keep anxieties and stresses at bay. Think of all the things you don’t have time to do when the voices occupy too much of your attention. Also consider how much time work would usually dominate and take advantage!

FIND YOUR (not quite Tilda-Swinton-in-Doctor Strange level) ZEN
I’ll be the first to admit that the thought of mindfulness made me scoff initially, seemed a right palaver. I was confusing it with meditation (which I still can’t do yet, the commentators in my mind are far too dry-humoured to take it seriously).

Put simply, mindfulness is about learning to be present, and in doing so reducing the time we give to the intrusive thoughts in our heads. Simple acts like feeling and listening to the crunch as you bite into an apple, or focusing on the heat of the water while hand-washing (rather than the safety concern behind it), or pummelling stomps into the ground on your one daily walk, are all part of being mindful.

If seeing is believing, writing down your observations can also help those of us struggling to concentrate, or the more creative of us, to achieve a level of mindfulness. Try a haiku poem, or start a free write with the prompt ‘I notice…’ This could be inspired by looking out of your window and describing the sound of birds.

TOP TIP: I don’t expect to become the Ancient One, and nor should you. Explaining to the people we live with that sometimes we just feel off for no apparent reason, as well as finding these mindful moments, really will help reduce the number of casualties when faced with the age-old ask “What’s the matter?” (My usual, charming response being “I don’t know, but it’ll be you in a minute!”)

KEEP IT UP!
Remember that you’re allowed to lapse, that it ISN’T failure, it’s just human. Try to acknowledge your sense of dread as a passing thought, without judging it – which only makes it bigger. The ideas I’ve laid out are by no means a comprehensive list of ingredients for an anti-demon cross-thrusting sage-burning mind de-cleanse, but hopefully we can all latch onto something here that’s useful. And even though it will inevitably be overwhelming for many of us to be released from our cages, with these tools, we’ll be better equipped to adjust to the wilderness.

Sophie Crabtree
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Sophie Crabtree is a 19-year-old observational writer from Bradford. A proud-to-be First Story alum, she’s been crafting poetry and short stories from a young age and advocates that this expression is crucial to her mental health. Sophie is a keen journalist-in-the-making and guest writes unabashedly honest and personable features for the online magazine FemaleFirst, highlighting various events and issues. She hopes to keep expanding her knowledge of different writing forms and genres further. Follow her on Twitter @CrabSophie

Illustrations courtesy of Hana Jang