Simple self-care strategies for Mental Health Awareness Week (and beyond)

It goes without saying this year has been tough for just about everyone. Between the state of the world at large and each of us experiencing our own challenges on a personal level as a result, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t glad to put 2020 behind them.

This week marks the annual Mental Health Awareness Week, occurring 21st — 27th September, and its arrival couldn’t be more timely. Organised by New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation, this year’s theme is “Reimagine Wellbeing Together” — “He Tirohanga Anamata”, and is “a chance for us all to build on the things we’ve been doing to look after ourselves, and to reimagine wellbeing together — during Covid-19 and beyond.”

The question is, what does mental health and wellbeing look like for you? It is different for everyone, however there are strategies and activities we can all engage in to promote positive mental health and self care. While the phrase ‘self care’ might now have garnered complex connotations due to its association with the multi-trillion-dollar wellness industry, at its core the sentiment of self care is more important than ever. It’s not selfish to make sure you’re feeling your best — it means you can show up more effectively for those around you, for your job and life in general.

Here, in honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, we share some self-care suggestions and reminders that might work for you year-round, not just for this week.

Ascertain whether you are an active relaxer, or feel more at ease with quiet time. For some of us, getting our pulse racing with some exercise might be just the ticket to burn off any anxious energy, or to give us respite from spiralling thoughts. If this is you, going for a run, doing a dance or gym class, going rock-climbing or even just doing a little at-home workout can help when regularly implemented. Not only will your fitness levels increase, you’ll have a sense of achievement to buoy your mood, and you’ll hopefully sleep better, which is always a good thing.

On the other side, perhaps meditative activities are more suited to you. Meditation, yoga, drawing or painting, reading for pleasure, a pottery class, listening to music and mindful breathing can all facilitate a feeling of calm. Equally, a stroll in nature can help. Try actively noticing your surroundings — the landscape around you, the feeling of the air on your skin, any smells or sounds you can sense. It will help you be present and in the moment.

Limit your time on social media and news sites. While we’re all for staying informed, sometimes the constant bombardment of information can actively contribute to a heightened feeling of anxiety — especially when it all seems like bad news. If you’re finding you’re spending a lot of time on your phone, implementing time limits on certain apps in your settings can be a good prompt to put the phone down and do something else.

Similarly, unfollow any social media accounts that make you feel bad. Find yourself wishing you looked a certain way, or had certain possessions or a certain lifestyle after scrolling through particular accounts? See ya — hit the unfollow button. Even though, by now, we know nothing on social media is as it seems, it often doesn’t stop us from feeing affected by it. Going through and unfollowing or muting any accounts that you feel unhappy after looking at is the best way you can protect yourself, and trust us, you won’t miss them.

Keep a gratitude journal. If you’re struggling to see the positives, sometimes reminding yourself of them does the trick. Even if it’s just once a week, or once a month, taking a bit of time to write down the good things in your life can help you appreciate them.

Make lists. Feeling overwhelmed? Try writing down everything you feel you want or have to do that day. Even if it’s something small, like remembering to call a friend, you’ll feel less stressed by making sure it’s written down and you’ll be less likely to forget. Creating a timeline for when you want to do each task can also be helpful, but remember not to punish yourself if you don’t get it all done.

Cook yourself a delicious, nutritious meal. Food is one of the great joys of life, and we all deserve to feel nourished by a healthy, tasty meal. If you’re someone who derives pleasure from cooking, take the time to show yourself some love by making one of your favourite dishes to eat.

Remember your purpose in life isn’t always directly connected to your career. There are several great snippets of advice in this the caption of this post by stylist and editor Mecca James-Williams, and in these trying times where job-loss is rife, separating your identity and worth from that of your career is a good one. While it’s important to feel you can derive satisfaction and a certain level of enjoyment from your job, remember we are so much more than what we do to make money.

Talk about it. If you are struggling, there’s no shame in expressing how you’re feeling. You don’t have to cope with things alone. Opening up to a friend or loved one can seem scary but chances are you won’t feel so isolated after doing so. Seek professional guidance in the from of counselling or therapy services if you can afford it — look at it as just another form of self-care. If you’re worried it’s not within your budget, Home and Family will just take an appropriate voluntary contribution based on your income and has three locations in Auckland.

Organisations to utilise and/or support:
Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand
Cloud Workshop — Art workshops for grieving children and young people.
Youthline
Prepair NZ — An organisation aiming to help women navigate relationships, emotional abuse and self-love.
The Lowdown — An online platform with tools to help young New Zealanders recognise and understand depression and anxiety.
Like Minds, Like Mine — A public awareness programme designed to increase social inclusion and end discrimination towards those with experience of mental illness or distress.

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