Mental health

Tips suggested by members of our online community about mental health

Whether you have an ongoing mental health condition or are currently experiencing stress and mental imbalance, taking care of your mental health is essential. This page contains a variety of tips from Scope’s online community, which may be useful in nurturing positive mental habits.

Please be aware that nothing presented here should be viewed as professional advice or guidance, and if you require immediate help, please refer to the list of resources at the bottom of this page. If you are feeling suicidal please ring the Samaritans for free on 116 123. If you believe you are a currently a danger to yourself, please visit your local hospital immediately.

Jump to section:
Understanding the reasons for poor mental health
Achieving balance
Reducing stress
Seeking professional help
Organisations offering support


Understanding the reasons for poor mental health

 Identify situations that are making you stressed, unhappy, isolated or upset

Sometimes the reasons for your depression, anxiety or stress can be obvious – such as worry about a PIP appeal, declining health, or concern for your child’s education or welfare. But on other occasions, these reasons may be less clear and you may have to take a step back to identify what is causing your current feelings. Once you have identified what is causing your mental disturbance, you can either take steps to change the situation, or if that is not possible, change the way you think about it…

Watch your thoughts

Any psychiatrist will tell you that the thoughts that you think will have a massive impact on your emotions, mood and mental as well as physical wellbeing. On any given day we all have tens of thousands of thoughts, 
Stylised face in chalk outline many of which we are barely aware of as being thoughts. Some of these will be positive and some will be negative, and the former will generally make us feel happy and energised, while the latter can leave us unhappy and drained.

If you have been experiencing difficulties with your mental health recently, it may be worth keeping a thought journal to log some of your thoughts. You may well notice a pattern – such as regular thoughts about a certain issue, person or situation. If this is the case, you can then ask yourself whether those thoughts are a) realistic b) helpful and c) whether they are causing you harm. 

If you'd like to learn more about the effects that thoughts can have on you and how you can change these, look into cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), either by reading books and online resources, or by seeing a CBT therapist on the NHS.

Seek a diagnosis and/ or treatment where necessary

Mental health can be seen as an everchanging spectrum in the life of every person, but some individuals have underlying conditions which may be genetic, rooted in past traumas or situational. 

In these circumstances, where you are suffering from prolonged stress, depression or other psychological disturbance (such as auditory/visual hallucinations), you should go to see your GP, as they will be able to refer you to an appropriate mental health professional or provide medications such as anti-depressants.  

Be mindful of alcohol use

One community member says: “I think that the most important thing I’ve learned with my mental health and well being is keeping an eye on my relationship with alcohol. Of course all drugs are problematic, but because of alcohol’s place in British culture we often get tricked into thinking it is safe… it is anything but.
The brain doesn’t get on very well with alcohol on a number of levels… particularly in those like me with Asperger’s and a swathe of other conditions that can be negatively exacerbated by alcohol.” 

Excess amounts of other substances such as caffeine and nicotine can also have negative effects on your mood and stress levels, so it’s a good idea to be mindful of your intake of these and adjust if necessary.

Identify thought ‘distortions’

Building with lots of windows, distorted as if through rippled water
Sometimes, negative outlooks on life, stress and depression can be at least partly brought about by ‘cognitive distortions’ – flawed ways of thinking that can trick us into feeling a certain way about something. There are many different kinds of cognitive distortions that have been identified by therapists. Examples include:
  • Catastrophising – Expecting the worst possible outcome to a situation
  • Black-and-white thinking – Seeing everything as either one way or another (eg. good or bad), with no middle ground.
  • Fortune telling – Predicting the future, often in a negative way.
  • Mind reading – Imagining what another person is thinking
By examining your thoughts (and perhaps recording them in a journal), you may be able to identify any cognitive distortions that you are prone to, and the effect that they may be having on your life and your mental health.

Isolation and loneliness

Humans are generally social creatures and if we lack companionship this can lead to loneliness and even depression. If you feel you have no one to talk to, try reconnecting with family or friends you may have lost touch with, and think about how you might new people, such as by joining a group. If you struggle with social anxiety or shyness this may be difficult and daunting at first, but this short workbook by Moodjuice on ‘Shyness and Social Anxiety’ may help you to manage and improve this.

Achieving balance

Join a group

Spending time with people with similar interests and experiences can provide much needed support. You might like to try looking for groups in your local area using a website such as Meetup.com, or search online for disability-related or other groups close to you. 

If you have difficulties leaving the house or socialising, you might also try spending time in online communities with like-minded people, such as Scope’s online community.

Seek perspective

Sometimes we can become so wrapped up in our worries and negative thoughts that we lose the ability to see rationally. In these instances it can be very useful to take a step back and experiment with looking at the situation from a different viewpoint. One community member recounts that,”I kept having panic attacks, and its only in the last couple of years that they stopped… 25 years of anxiety and then someone said to me ‘what is the worst that could happen?’, and that suddenly helped me so much.”

Get plenty of sleep and rest

If you’re not sleeping well or for very long, this can have a significant negative impact on your mental health and coping abilities, so try to get at least six or seven hours of sleep a night, and make sure you set aside
White cat lying on its back napping time to rest if you’re feeling stressed. Of course this can be easier said than done, and the worries and stress can themselves prevent you from sleeping, so becoming a vicious circle.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, try using some of the tips for reducing stress suggested below, and take a look at Mind’s comprehensive page on how to cope with sleep problems.

Take control of or remove yourself from stressful situations

This may not always be possible, particularly if it’s something that’s outside of your control, such as a PIP assessment, but if you do identify situations where you are needlessly placing yourself under stress, consider withdrawing yourself from them gracefully, if only for a little while. 

It may also help to take another form of concrete action, such as talking to a colleague about difficulties at work, as you may then be able to change the situation, or your relationship to it. Unpleasant or difficult situations which remain unresolved for long periods of time can cause significant emotional and mental stress, which may hamper your ability to cope with other aspects of your life.

Practise acceptance

If you’re not able to resolve a stressful situation or remove yourself from it, another way of reducing its negative effects upon your mental health is to try to accept it as it is. By accepting a situation, you can end the push and pull turmoil between your own mind and the reality that faces you, and so reduce the stress and anguish it causes.

This can of course be very difficult if you are experiencing difficulties, pain or loss due to an impairment, but in terms of general day to day living, acceptance can help calm your emotional state.

Show compassion to yourself

Often, people judge themselves far more harshly than they would their friends, family or complete strangers for that matter. It can be easy to criticise yourself when things don’t go to plan – “Oh, I’m so stupid”, “I messed up again” etc – but if you find yourself doing this, ask yourself if you would speak to a friend in the same way, and remind yourself that you are only human and allowed to make errors. This is known as self-compassion.

Get out of the house if you can

“Try and get out every day, even if it is just into your garden or a brief walk to the corner shop. If you can get out, the fresh air can really make a difference to your mood. I know it isn’t so simple for everyone but even if you need support to get out, I think it is so beneficial to mental health, mood and attitude.” – Sam Cleasby, Scope’s Digital Community Officer

Reducing stress

Be aware of the ‘fight or flight’ stress response

All stress is rooted in a very primal human psychological response known as ‘fight or flight’, or the ‘acute stress response’. The fight or flight response kicks in when we sense a danger to our survival, whether real or perceived, and the result is the release of additional adrenaline and other chemicals which enable us to react to these threats more quickly and effectively.
 
This biological response has proved very useful to our species in the grand scheme of things, as it enabled us to either fight the fiercesome prehistoric predators that stalked us, or to run away from them. But in our modern society it can become problematic. This is because our minds and bodies do not distinguish between the threat of a predator and the threat of an overdue bill. And while running away from a lion was often a prudent course of action, running away from or fighting your bank manager is unlikely to help your situation.

Once our ancestors had dealt with the threat by fighting it or fleeing the situation, the chemicals that gave them heightened awareness and speed would return to normal. The problem with the ‘threats’ we face today is that they often cannot be quickly resolved in such a manner, and quite frequently they are not even a real physical threat that we can deal with (for example, hypothetical worries about the past, present or future). And so the stress response continues for as long as thoughts of the threat dominates our mind, and the stress chemicals generated continue to build without being discharged. Over time, if not dealt with, this can lead to long-term stress problems, ‘burn out’ and other psychological issues such as depression.

Know your triggers

The word 'mental health' spelled out in wooden scrabble blocks If you find you are constantly getting stressed, it may be worth keeping a notebook with you to record what it is that triggers you feeling stressed. This could be a particular occurrence, such as a letter from the DWP landing on your mat or a disagreement with a family member, or it could simply be a thought that you have about a past, ongoing or future event. Once you have identified some of the things that trigger your stress response, you can:

Deal with the fight or flight response in realistic, productive ways

Once you have identified some of the things that are causing your stress, you can take steps to deal with them rationally, and so reduce your overall stress levels. For example, if a certain situation is stressing you out, you can either resolve the situation in a way that removes the fear or worry it causes, you can make an effort to change your attitude towards the situation, or you can remove yourself from the situation gracefully.

Of course, when we’re stressed it can be hard to think rationally, and in periods of heightened stress, our minds are biologically tuned to identify further threats – good for not getting eaten by marauding mountain lions, not so good for relaxing after a day at work. And when you begin to see everything in your life as a threat, the negative effects on your mental health can be substantial. Fortunately there are some things that we can do to reduce our overall stress levels:

Try meditation and mindfulness exercises

While some may associate meditation with religious practices such as Buddhism, it is in its essence simply a technique for quietening the mind whilst increasing awareness of the world around us. Meditation is a focus on the present moment, without judgement or reaction.

It can help to reduce stress by allowing the mind to release those worrying thoughts that trigger the stress response, and by promoting a calmer state of mind.

You can find a short introduction on meditation and how to meditate here. There are also some handy apps for your phone or tablet, such as Buddhify and Headspace, which feature a range of short audio-guided meditations for different circumstances. These can be a simple and accessible way to give meditation a try, and you can also find a great many meditations videos by searching for ‘guided meditations’ on YouTube.

Get more physical exercise

When our ancestors fought or fled, not only did they remove the threat they faced, they also burned off the stress chemicals that had built up with a burst of intense physical activity. By getting more physical exercise of any kind – this can be difficult if you have mobility issues, but anything that builds up a sweat can do the job – you can help to reduce the build-up of stress chemicals in your body, and promote the release of feel-good chemicals such as endorphins.

Try a stress ball

Stress balls can be a simple yet effective way of dealing with stress, and can be purchased online for just a few pounds. Though they won’t deal with the root causes of your stress, the act of physically tensing and then releasing your muscles can help to relieve some of the tension you feel, and this in itself can have a calming effect.

Lose yourself in music, art or literature

Focusing on something that you enjoy and find engaging, whether by listening, looking or reading, can be a 3-books_culture.jpggreat stress reliever and can help lift your mind from your worries. Because mental health issues are often 
rooted in the thoughts we have (such as worries about physical health or benefits claims), simply focusing on something else for a while can help to alleviate some of the detrimental effects of dwelling in negativity.
 
Doing something you enjoy and really engaging  with it is also known to again promote the release of feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins.

Spend time with animals

Some people find interacting with animals very therapeutic. Even if you don’t have a pet such as cat or a dog, you might try visiting a local wildlife sanctuary or similar destination. Animals can also be very soothing for children with mental health issues, and one community member has even talked about how pet rats have been very calming for her daughter.

Try yoga

A member of the community described how practising yoga had helped them to deal with stress and mental health issues. They commented that, “yoga helps me with controlled breathing, and when I do it, it helps me to relax. It might not help everyone but there are plenty of yoga demonstration videos on YouTube if you fancy giving it a try.”

Seeking professional help

Choose to seek help

Sometimes, despite all you do to help yourself, it can become necessary to seek professional help to deal with the things you’re going through and the mental health conditions you’re experiencing. 

One community member likens it to, “a house that has cracked walls because the foundations are broken - you can keep plastering over the cracks but they will reappear. My house came crumbing down and the doctors and therapists helped me repair those foundations. At the time I didn’t know why I was having panic attacks but through therapy and talking, I found out what had triggered them.”

Visit your GP

There are a range of mental health services available for free on the NHS, and these can be accessed by visiting your GP, who will be able to refer you to an appropriate professional.

“I think that if you are struggling, you should seek medical help and see your GP.  There is so much stigma and shame attached to mental health problems and this puts off people from asking for help.  Your GP can assess you and refer you for counselling and/or look at medication.” – Sam Cleasby, Scope’s Digital Community Officer

Support organisations

There are many charities and other organisations that can provide support and advice for anyone experiencing mental health difficulties. 

The Samaritans

If you need to talk to someone about your problems or mental health issues right now, call the Samaritans for free at any time 24/7, on 116 123. Though they are well known for talking to people who are suicidal, the Samaritans stress that their line is open to anyone who needs to talk.

Mind

Mind’s website has extensive information about different mental health conditions and the support available. You can also call their infoline on 0300 123 3393 to get advice and support, and they will be able to advise you on steps to take to get appropriate professional help as required.

Rethink Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness offer advice and support via the rethink website and helpline, on 0300 5000 927. They can advise on the types of medication and therapy that are available, as well as related issues such as benefits, debt and legal matters. 

If you are feeling suicidal please ring the Samaritans for free on 116 123. If you believe you are currently a danger to yourself, please visit your local hospital immediately.
Looking for advice, support and friendship from people in a similar situation to you? Join our online community today.