Looking after yourself
Abi and May talk about what their red flags are, and what they do when they catch their moods slipping.
how to spot your red flags
It can be really helpful in managing your mental health to know the changes occur that in your attitudes and behaviour before your mental health gets worse. Taking the time to acknowledge these signs can allow you to act in the most appropriate way to stop yourself before you become unwell.
What are red flags?
Red flags are the changes that we begin to recognise in ourselves and others when our mental health is in a decline. You may be becoming increasingly anxious, low in mood or heading towards a general burn out. A large part of looking after your wellbeing is recognising when you are struggling. This can be particularly difficult to identify when you are in the eye of the storm. Think about what the indicators are that you see when you might be struggling. It can be useful to tell other people of what these red flags are so they can help you identify them too.
Here are some common red flags that people report:
Becoming more irritable
Changes in sleep
Changes in eating
Difficulty getting up
Moving more slowly
Being unable to sit still
Procrastinating more than usual
remember - EVERYONE’S RED FLAGS ARE DIFFERENT. the experiences that you have can be completely different from everyone else's. THERE ISN’T A ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’ APPROACH.
My name is Abi. I began struggling with minor depression and anxiety at university and had no idea how to cope, having no experience of feeling anything like this before. I didn’t even understand what anxiety was before I began experiencing it. Despite being first aid trained for 3+ years at the time, I had no idea how to deal with a panic attack when I first experienced one myself. My experience with my mental health over the past 4 years has been one of learning and growth. I am very conscious of the fact that these illnesses can transcend far beyond my experience with them, so I appreciate that these small steps may not feel so small to some. But all I ask is that next time you feel yourself falling, you try one of these things. After all, it’s a marathon. Not a sprint.
I would say that I am very in tune with myself and how I feel which helps me cope. Some of my red flags are that I become more snappy, I smile less than I usually would and I find myself reluctant to exercise which is a huge red flag for me. When I start to feel myself slipping into a dark place, it can be difficult to find the motivation to make any attempt at trying to feel better.
I find that the first initial step is the hardest. However, the things that we can do to make ourselves feel better can be so small, yet really effective. I want to share the little things that work for me when I begin to feel myself slipping down that spiral.
I want to clarify that these things are personal to me. It is what I have discovered works through trial and error, accident, or maybe after a quick google search of something like ‘how to feel better’.
These are just some of the things that help me. I really hope that you find them useful and that they help you in the same way that they help me. The best advice regarding mental health that I’ve ever been given is from a Doctor I used to see. He said ‘You might feel depressed. You might even feel suicidal. But just like good feelings, those bad feelings will pass.’ I ALWAYS remember this. It might feel really bad right now, but it won’t feel like that forever. These steps help me to remember that and help any bad feelings pass just a little quicker.
HOW I TRY TO FEEL BETTER WHEN I CATCH MYSELF FALLING
1. Cold showers
This is my number one top tip! As soon as I start to feel anxiety creeping in or a bit low and lost for energy, this is always the first thing I do. I don’t want to go on about the debated health benefits of cold showers, although there are a few notable ones (They may be better for your hair, skin and circulation). The reason I love cold showers is that they make me feel alive. They shock me back into reality.
You might be thinking ‘How on earth can you just jump into a freezing cold shower?’ Of course, I don’t! I start my shower at a comfortable temperature and slowly turn it down throughout. By the time I am washing the last bits of my conditioner out, the water is pretty cold. Sometimes I test myself and turn it down lower just to see how long I can stay in there for, but that’s just a bit of fun.
If you’ve begun to feel low, I bet your space is a bit of a mess right now. I know it’s a cliché, but I really believe in the phrase ‘tidy space, tidy mind’. I know for a fact that I am my biggest critic. When I haven’t spent the day being very productive, I feel guilty and ashamed (especially in the coronavirus lockdown climate that I am writing this in). One thing I do to feel as though I’ve accomplished something great is TIDY! I put on some of my favourite happy music (probably 2000s Indie Pop) or a podcast and I get to it. It usually ends up taking me less than 15 minutes and I feel so great afterwards. My thoughts are clearer. My mind is less crowded. I feel more relaxed. When I was at university and my mental health was at its worst, I lived with messy people who didn’t seem to be bothered by living in squalor, but it really affected my headspace. Now I live at home and I can control my environment better, I know that a tidy space is so essential to feel good. So, I don’t know who needs to hear this, but put your clothes away and change your bedsheets!
3. Good smells
This is a bit of a weird one, but I’ve learnt that I’m really susceptible to smells and smelling things that I like really helps to calm me down when I feel anxious or sad. My favourite smells are lavender and sun cream. I have an abundance of candles and incense sticks and I use the lush sleep spray called ‘Twilight’ (a strong lavender scent). And yes, sometimes I do literally sit there smelling a bottle of sun cream. I think this links to how having a tidy space makes me feel. Being comfortable in the space where you spend most of your time is so important and for me, smell is a huge part of that. Take the necessary steps to make your space comforting, calm, and cosy. You’ll feel better for it, I promise!
I know that this is a big challenge for some people. I’ve always loved exercise and it’s a huge part of my life, but this isn’t the case for everyone. I’m not going to tell you to go to the gym and force yourself to workout. Gyms can feel very intimidating. I’ve been using gyms since I was 14 and I still feel anxious using them sometimes. But I can promise you that everyone has felt the same at some point and no one is actually looking at you. They’re focusing on their own workout!
Anyway, as I said, I’m not going to tell you to go to the gym. I’m just going to tell you to move. Move around, dance, jump. Put on some of your favourite upbeat, party tunes and move. Maybe you just want to dance around your room for a few minutes. Maybe try going for a walk. A nice walk in nature while listening to a podcast is one of my favourite ‘wind down’ activities. The mental health benefits of exercise are undeniable. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins which trigger a positive feeling in the body. No one is trying to argue that exercise ‘cures’ depression. It doesn’t. But it helps you COPE! It can temporarily improve your mood, which sometimes is all you need. Building something into your daily routine that is scientifically proven to boost your mood, in the long run, can only create positive outcomes. Maybe you do 5 sit-ups, 5 squats and 5 press-ups. Maybe you go for a walk and you decide you’re going to try running for a little bit. You run for a minute. That’s an accomplishment. Something is always better than nothing!
5. Use Social Media as a Tool for Good!
This is more of a general life thing. Social media, especially Instagram, can feel like an evil existence in our lives. A cyber void where we all compare ourselves to lives of the rich and famous and every other person claiming to be living their best life. This leads to the majority of us feeling the need to go on ‘social media detoxes’ every so often. But, realistically, if you are a keen social media user it is unlikely that you will ever ‘quit’ for good. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool. I would almost say that you’d be foolish to completely ignore it in the world we now find ourselves living in. I love social media. I love posting. I love networking. I love seeing cool videos and aesthetically pleasing photos and I love sharing my views and thoughts with the world (by the world I mean my 55 twitter followers).
This is how to use social media (mainly Instagram) in a way that brings positivity to your life. Instead of following the Kardashians, Victoria’s Secret models, and ex-love islanders, follow meme pages, pet accounts, local businesses and wildlife photographers! Fill your feed with things that make you feel good, smile and laugh. This is not a foolproof plan. I probably follow about 10 celebrities on Instagram, yet my explore page is still filled with amazing girls in bikinis. However, it does help to filter the negative content. Also, it is important to remember that while you’re looking at someone’s page and feeling not so great about yourself, there is more than likely someone looking at your page feeling the same.
Here are some of my favourite Instagram pages:
For aesthetically pleasing things: @ssagittarrius @migonettetakespictures @hillhousevintage
Celebrities with good vibes: @chrissyteigan @celestebarber @daisymaycooper
Animal accounts: @cats_of_instgram @mochikittyfrog @dogsofinstagram @dextythedachshund @chowderthebeardog
Nature/wildlife/travel: @natgeowild @travelandleisure @wonderful_places @ocean_magazine @africananimals @thebucketlistfamily
My red flags are beginning to move more slowly, a sudden drop in mood and the inability to get out of bed. In order to stop falling into a full-blown depressive episode, it’s important that I get the help that I need as quickly as possible. Usually, this will entail letting my Mum and partner know that I think my mood is dropping, and with their help, I will usually book a GP appointment as soon as possible. Due to NHS cuts, I am unable to get a psychiatrist, so it is my GP who looks after my medication. Often, we will make small adjustments to my medication and I will get put on a list for therapy. Sometimes this therapy list amounts to something, and other times it does not. I spent the whole of my university degree being denied therapy! It’s really important to me that I let the people in my life know what is going on and I try and be as open and transparent as possible. My mood tends to drop quickly and acutely so I try and be as gentle as I can with myself, taking myself on small daily walks, not berating myself for not achieving what I might want to achieve.
Here are some resources that you might find helpful:
Mental Health Foundation offers practical advice about looking after your mental health
People First also offers tips for good mental health and well being
Rethink Mental Illness explores Red Flags as well as how to look after yourself and your friends