Looking after your Mental Health
Hello again and welcome back to the couch. This time I want to begin a look at ways of protecting and improving your mental health. We live against a background of an ever increasing pace of life, something even Spain cannot protect us from – just ask someone who lived here 5 or 10 years ago how much things have and are changing. The proverbial, “straw that broke the camel’s back” is found in psychotherapeutic case work just as much as in other walks of life, and this increased pace places us at greater risk of emotional breakdown. We are well advised to take the time to factor into our lifestyle some fundamental ways of protecting ourselves.
Furthermore, the split between mind and body - viewing them as two separate and unrelated entities - is now largely obsolete. Many people are aware of the links between “emotional” health and “physical” disease. The impact that emotional disturbance can have on the development and outcomes of the disease groups of eating disorders and addictions is well proven and apparent in any consulting room. While research continues looking for genes to “blame” for these diseases, we are all aware of the impact our own lifestyle has on us and our behaviour - how many of us say and mean “I need a drink” at stressful times, or reach for a bar of chocolate or tub of ice cream when we are feeling down? Research also looks now at the impact of lifestyle and diet on development of other major groups of illnesses, including cancer. So let’s begin to look at what you can do to help secure and improve your mental and by implication, physical health, and that of those you care for.
There are several areas I want to explore with you, and in this series of articles I’ll work through the most basic to the more complex ideas. Use what you can of them and don’t be afraid to do things your way - most of us actually know what is best for us. However, for some of us, that in-built skill gets distorted by early life experience and for others, it can get switched off by the pressures we experience in life. Then we run the risk of drifting into unhealthy and sometimes dangerous areas where our judgement about what is good for us gets further skewed or distorted.
The first question I want you to ask yourself is, “Do I get enough sleep?” We all know how our moods and ability to deal with situations deteriorates when we are tired. But what is enough sleep? We all vary, but one way to find out for yourself is to choose a morning when you don’t really have to be anywhere and leave the alarm clock off. If you sleep for longer than “normal” you probably need to. So if you are in this category, make sure you make more time for rest and sleeping. Have at least one morning each week when you are not woken by the clock. Remember too that you live in Spain, the land of the siesta. No-one said you have to have your sleep in one session, while it is dark, so if you can’t get 6 or 8 hours or whatever you need at night, make time for rest during the day. We all have particularly busy periods in our lives when our normal sleep patterns get altered. But make sure that this is temporary and if this interruption “must” last for any period of time, take other things out of your schedule instead of sleep, and look after yourself and this most fundamental need.
The second area to look at is diet. Do you eat well? By this I am suggesting that you to look at what and when you eat – do you eat sensibly and at regular intervals. The energy we have available to deal with the demands of life comes from what we consume. If we eat poorly and infrequently, blood sugar levels can swing widely and making us tired, lacking in energy and irritable. Tasks become more difficult, we can become fractious and we can trip over emotional situations that otherwise wouldn’t bother us, sometimes with major consequences. Next time you find yourself irritated or frustrated in a conversation with someone, just check it is not because the situation feels beyond your control because you are feeling tired and without enough energy to get a grip of what is going on. I will be inserting some links into www.onthecouchwithsteve.com to guide you to more detailed information optimising your diet.
As usual I’m out of space, so will simply say goodbye until next time when I’ll continue this look at ways of improving your mental health. As always, your thoughts on what I’ve written or on any other emotional issues are really welcome. Just contact me in confidence via any of the methods detailed in the adjacent box.