It’s World Mental Health Day 2018, and I am BIG on supporting mental health. It’s something that most of us have issues with at least some of the time, but it’s so easy to feel isolated or like it’s just you when you’re standing in the street with a racing heart and mind and you can’t catch your breath and you don’t feel like you can ask anyone for help. But it’s never just you.
I don’t really talk publicly about my own mental health and I’m not going to start now (and you don’t have to either – I know there’s often a lot of pressure on days like these to suddenly feel comfortable spilling all your innermost thoughts and feelings, but it’s very very OK to not do that too), but what I can do is suggest a few little things you can do today, or any day really, to make yourself feel better when (not if) life gets hard. Yes, I’ll include some of the hygge classics, but equally there’s so much more that just isn’t cosy that lifts my mood a little bit, so maybe it’ll do the same for you too.
Play a soothing video game
Quelle horreur! I’m suggesting time in front of a screen! But man alive, when my mind is going wild, sometimes what you need is a couple of hours (or, yes, a full weekend) building your dream home on The Sims, or watching your crops flourish on Harvest Moon, or meeting all the weird and wonderful sea creatures on Endless Ocean. Sandbox-style, open-ended video games are ideal when you just need to calm down and stop thinking – there’s no right or wrong way to play, there aren’t any time limits or lives to lose, and you’re free to explore a fantasy world in a completely safe, secure environment.
Take a bath
I know, I’m sure you’re all beyond shocked that I, Bathing Queen, have recommended a bath. But it’s not just about getting clean – this is an event. Leave your phone somewhere else, use that expensive bath oil that you’ve been saving for a special occasion (which is now) and bring a book, or don’t. I love disconnecting from the world in the bath and letting the steam clear my mind. I also like to think about my pores opening up and releasing some stress – look, biology was never my favourite subject, but sometimes you just need to think about things in this way to cope with life in these stressful times.
Look after your skin
My self-imposed rule is that if I’m not going out all day and can’t be bothered with makeup, I have to do something good for my skin. Sometimes it’s a face mask, sometimes it’s just slathering it in oil and walking around looking slimy all day, sometimes it’s using a nice exfoliator and just letting my skin breathe – whatever it is, it has to be something that will ultimately be beneficial… even if I do just cover my nice glowy skin up with makeup the very next day. I know it’s nice, and that’s what matters.
Watch an old favourite TV show
When the ol’ mind isn’t operating at full capacity, I never, ever feel like jumping into the new Netflix series everyone has been tweeting about. Instead, I watch one of my trusty favourites (also known as ‘the hangover collection’): The Office (UK or US), Peep Show, I’m Alan Partridge, Gilmore Girls, The Pioneer Woman or anything Nigella Lawson. Something that you could repeat word for word, nothing that will surprise you, nothing that will challenge you. It works with films too – I like Frances Ha, An Education and Le Week-End, but obviously you do you.
Get that food you want
I’m very in tune with my body, and I like to give it what it asks for. Sometimes when I feel rubbish, it says ‘Hey, wanna get saag paneer and brinjal bhaji?’ and to that I say ‘YES BODY, pull up Just Eat and then we’ll feel better’. Food doesn’t fill a void, but it is comforting as hell – and there’s a reason there’s such a strong link between food and hygge. Now I’m quite obviously not saying it’s fine to go on crazed binges all day every day, but sometimes you have to say ‘This one meal that will help me on a difficult day won’t kill me’ and push the boat out. Yeah, chuck a couple of extra poppadoms in there. Life’s too short not to.
Turn off your notifications
I get very easily overstimulated and overwhelmed, so when I’m trying to relax and I see a million messages pinging up on my phone, it just makes it worse. Sometimes I just have to mute everything and come back to it when I feel calmer. I also like leaving my phone face down or leaving it charging in another room. I have a terrible habit of checking it every few minutes, but making a decision to make the world go quiet for a bit helps me chill and not worry about that little blinking light or the backlog of WhatsApp messages.
I know, I know – some days you just can’t face it, and on those days it’s cool to just live on your sofa and ride it out. But sometimes some fresh air and a cool breeze is what I need to blow away the cobwebs. It gives me new things to look at and think about, and a change of scene can literally give you a different perspective on whatever you’re thinking about. When I feel that way I like to go out without purpose, so I can just wander and go home when I’ve had enough. Often I come home feeling a bit calmer even if I haven’t really done anything other than mooch aimlessly for half an hour.
Write a to-do list
I am an awful procrastinator – I’ve been putting off doing my tax return for four months now. But sometimes you’re just not mentally equipped to do certain tasks, and when I’ve hit my mental limit I know it’s time to reschedule the tasks looming over me. I write ALL my tasks down (even tiny things like ‘Check online banking’) so that the responsibility is out of my head and out in the real world. My phone calendar is also filled with these tasks – if I put something off now, I know it HAS to be rescheduled for a future time, so it goes into my phone calendar with a reminder so that I don’t also worry about tasks slipping through the net. I swear to god this keeps me functioning like a real person about 75% of the time.
Book something way in the future
If I don’t feel OK, the last thing I’ll want is an event in two days hanging over me. But by booking something weeks or months into the future, I’m acknowledging that the clouds will lift and there are nice things waiting when they do. It could be a gig, a play, cinema tickets, even a weekend away – I spend A LOT of money on experiences (like a true millennial), and Future Kayleigh ALWAYS thanks Past Kayleigh for being kind enough to sort such nice things for us to do.
I literally talk to my plants. They don’t talk back (rude), but I know they’re alive, and even though I don’t think they understand English I like to think that they don’t mind listening anyway. Having low-risk things to look after that aren’t me always helps give me some very low-level sense of purpose. I need to water my plants and make sure they’re getting enough sunshine – and even if I don’t particularly feel like taking care of myself, I feel better knowing that I’m giving them what they need to grow. I’m 26 and my plants are my inspiration. Cool.
Talk to someone
I find it really hard to talk to people about this sort of thing. I feel like it’s self-indulgent and it makes me feel vulnerable – but I have never, ever had a single negative feeling about anyone who’s come to me saying ‘I feel anxious, I’m scared, I’m sad, I can’t do this’. It’s so easy to think that people will view you differently, but the second you manage to prise your shell open and say ‘Hey guys, I feel…’, people will ALWAYS come back with ‘Hey I totally relate, you’re not alone’. As I said: it’s NEVER JUST YOU. Sometimes the prospect of going outside or getting on a bus or going to a party is scary as hell, but either we find the immense strength to do it or we recognise our limits and we look after ourselves until we feel a bit better. Mental health is SO important, and absolutely everyone can look and listen more to spot people who might be struggling. When people answer the question ‘How are you?’, make sure you’re really listening. Tell people you care, and remember that we all deal with things differently, and remember that whatever is going on in that head of yours, it’s NOT JUST YOU.