Tuesday, May 8 2012

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What's in your first aid kitWhen you get a cut or a scrape, you usually have your own first aid kit to help out with that, don’t you? You get some antiseptic cream or wash, maybe grab a bandaid. When you get sick, you have vitamin c tablets, or cough syrup. Many people will have their own specific first aid kits depending on the area they live in and what they’re prone to – and how cautious they are.

But what about for your mental health? When you’re having an off day, what do you do? Some people are better equipped for dealing with these sorts of things – some people (though I must admit I haven’t met one) don’t actually have these little ‘episodes’ of feeling blue. For those of us who do could it be possible to prepare a sort of ‘Mental Health First Aid Kit’ for yourself? Even if it wasn’t in actual physical box or bag, and just a list of things that you keep in a journal or your brain – what sort of things would you put in there?

I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, and thinking about what I would prepare for myself for those ‘off’ days. Here are just a few things that I would suggest:

Music

Some music that makes you feel good. This could be in playlist format on your mp3 player (or your phone), it could be a CD from your favourite artist, or even (and I know we’re getting a bit old school here) a mix CD or tape that you’ve put together or that someone has kindly put together for you. (Editors Note – Great suggestions Bethwyn – Tune In Not Out has just launched a competition looking Music and Our Mental Health called Tune Your Mood – it invites you to take a look at your music listening and create a playlist for those tough times – have a go and then you have one ready for your first aid kit)

Journal

A journal that you use specifically for writing about things you like about yourself, and things that you’re grateful for in your life. Often called a gratitude diary. Showing gratitude can make you feel good whatever mood you’re in – just saying thank you to yourself for knowing when to rest and take time out is great.

Letters

Letters. These can be ones that you have written to yourself (an interesting practice, but one that can be really enjoyable) in a friendly tone, or from other people in your life. You can ask them specifically to write a nice letter for this venture if you feel comfortable with that, or you can simply exchange letters and keep them together if they make you feel happy.

Feeling of Safety

A childhood toy that brings back feelings of safety. A lot of the time when we’re feeling low, just having that sense of safety and warmth is enough to make us feel even the tiniest bit better. It doesn’t have to be a stuffed animal or a blanket, it can be an action figure that you loved playing with, or even just something that reminds you of feeling safe and loved.

Those are just some suggestions. I’m not encouraging people to spend time ‘living in the past’ – that would be counter-productive. I’m just suggesting that by having this box of things that bring you joy, your low mood may be easier to handle, and may not hang around as long.

Yoga and Meditation

Yoga Mat - Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/gauri_lama/I’ll also take this opportunity to indicate that meditation and yoga have been really useful for me to centre myself when I’m feeling angry, lonely, or upset. I know it sounds ridiculous – why would you want to sit around seething for twenty minutes? – but the thing is that if you can get into a regular practice of quieting your mind, it comes easier when you’re feeling emotionally aroused.

In fact, in Buddhism, mindfulness is encouraged. Mindfulness is to do with being in the present moment and being ‘mindful’ of everything that’s happening without being stressed about it. One good technique is to think of five things that each of your senses is experiencing – that is, five things you can see, five things you can hear, five things you can smell, five things you can feel, and, if you can do so, even five things you can taste. This technique just helps to take you out of the situation that is upsetting you and put you back in control. So, even techniques can be put into your mental health first aid kit – you can write down a few things that you know can help and put them in there, too.

I know it might be a bit of strange idea – after all, mostly we’re encouraged to look after our physical selves and not to give much attention to our mental health until something goes wrong. But what if we could look after it now? Would you benefit from having a box of tricks up your sleeve? Give it some thought.

Happy mental health, everyone!

Bethwyn

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Comments

2 Responses to “Mental Health First Aid”

  1. Xin says:

    What a great article!

    As a social work student, I occasionally hear great pieces of life wisdom from people who have been in the business for a long time. Social work can be extremely challenging, working with some really difficulty, heavy issues. One social worker once said that the way he gets through those hard, heavy days is by keeping a notebook on him at all times. Whenever someone says anything nice about him he’ll write it down, and whenever he feels overwhelmed by what he hasn’t accomplished, he takes out the notebook and reads all the things people have said that have let him know he made a difference in their days.

    One other thing I’d add to the kit is exercise, especially with other people. Playing sports, going to the gym with a friend or heading to the dojo for some training are all quick and healthy ways of burning adrenaline and releasing endorphins. (Generally, you want to work up a sweat when you exercise to get the chemical/hormonal changes- going for a light walk doesn’t really do much physically, though sometimes it can be just what you need.)

  2. Carolynn says:

    This is really helpful, I have a mental illness and needed someways to bring me up from my down days, so this has helped. Thank you for lifting my mood today :)

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