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It’s OK to be Blue

24 MAR

This month our chosen charity, York Mind, are raising funds and awareness around mental ill health with their ‘It’s OK To Be Blue’ campaign.

It’s Ok To Be Blue aims to help tackle the stigma surrounding mental ill health. By highlighting just how common feelings like low mood, anxiety and depression are, It’s OK To Be Blue shows that ‘mental health’ affects everybody and no one should be made to feel ashamed for suffering from mental ill health.

Here at brightfive, we took part in a little ‘blue’ fundraising of our own at the start of the month. Additionally, to support the campaign, March’s blog features tips to help improve and maintain mental wellbeing. Whether you suffer from mental ill health or not, we could all benefit from taking the time and care to tend to our mental wellbeing. Here are just a few practical examples of how we can be a little kinder to ourselves and cultivate better mental health...

Nurture your relationships

Holding Hands

Healthy relationships are one of the most important factors in mental wellbeing. Spending time with people who care about us and whose company we enjoy makes us feel good and builds up our mental resilience. Many people have an inclination to retreat from loved ones when their mental health dips. Although it may feel counter-intuitive at these times, being surround by a strong support network can be incredibly helpful in aiding recovery and avoiding relapses of mental ill health.

So, make time for family and friends - it’s good for you! It can also be hugely beneficial to seek out opportunities to form new relationships.  Activities such as sports, volunteering or even a befriending service are just a few ways to make new connections.

If someone you know is having a hard time, reach out to them. Spending some time together could have a real positive impact on their mental wellbeing (as well as your own!).

Look after your physical health

Woman's running shoes

Mental health and physical health are closely linked. Eating well, exercise (particularly outdoors) and getting enough sleep are important foundations of good all-round health.  Working to improve physical health has been proven to have a significant positive impact on mental health.

Even small changes in diet and physical activity can, over time, make a big difference. This is good news, because even if the idea of hitting the gym and blitzing your own kale smoothies fills you with dread, you can still take some positive actions you can really feel good about. Simple steps could include swapping some unhealthy snacks for more fruit and veg, and increasing your physical activity by driving less and walking more.

We all know that smoking and excessive drinking can have devastating affects on our physical health. Well, research shows these habits take their toll on mental health too. So, all the more reason to reign in the booze and finally quit the tobacco.

Sleep is another important factor in our physical and mental wellbeing. Anyone who's suffered from insomnia (or has had a young child) will know all too well how quickly a lack of sleep can begin to affect the immune system, memory, emotional stability...the list goes on.

Prioritise getting a good night’s sleep. Set a sensible, regular bedtime and a helpful night-time routine if you have difficulty dropping off. If you’re having issues with sleep, don’t put up with it - see your GP.

Do what you enjoy

Playing piano

Doing stuff that makes you happy, makes you...happy. It seems a no-brainer really. But so often we don’t make time for our ‘hobbies’. They seem unimportant, indulgent, or we feel too tired or busy to get round to it.

When you invest time in the things you enjoy doing, you are investing in your own mental wellbeing. Whatever your ‘thing’ is - football, walking, reading, drawing, book club, raising homing pigeons, extreme ironing - our hobbies help us in so many ways. They help us relax, connect to other people, gain new skills, overcome obstacles, improve our fitness, and enjoy a sense of ‘flow’ which takes our minds away from day-to-day stresses and strains.

Make time to do something you enjoy, or get out there and try some new activities. Resist feeling guilty about the more ‘productive’ things you could be doing. Time spent looking after your mental wellbeing is time very well spent indeed. 

Show kindness to others

We’ve written before about how committing charitable acts make you healthier and happier. When we feel we’ve done a ‘good thing’, we get a hit of feel-good hormones in the short term. In the long term, these good deeds begin to shape our perception of ourselves, improving self-esteem and giving us greater a sense of fulfilment and purpose.

More good news: good deeds are contagious! Think about it. You’re struggling to get out at a busy junction and some saintly driver stops and let’s you pull out. A few yards up the road you see another poor soul desperately looking for an opportunity to join the flow of traffic. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I am much more likely to stop and let that person in front of me if someone has recently shown me the same kindness.

Acts of kindness can be big bold gestures, they can be fundraising or regular volunteering, and they can also be small things like this. You can improve someone’s day (and, consequently, your own) just by helping with a heavy bag, sending a nice text to a friend, bringing in treats for your work colleagues. Or even just flashing a stranger a warm, genuine smile. Actively looking for opportunities to show kindness to others improves your mental wellbeing, and generally makes this a nicer world to live in. 

Treat Yourself

Treat Yo Self Parks and Rec

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist..)

This goes back to my earlier point about indulgence and guilt. Many of us feel pressured to always be doing something ‘worthwhile’. Any time not spent working towards progressing your career, attaining a model-physique or generally ‘improving’ yourself can feel like a shameful waste.  Guilt-inducing lifestyle titbits like this don’t help either...

Kara’s day may work for her, but it seems a bit puritanical to me. While most of us aren’t anywhere nearly this worthy, we regularly feel guilty that we’re not living up to these kinds of expectations.

Kara Rosen My Day on a Plate

Treating yourself (by which I don’t just mean an almond milk cappuccino at the weekend) is a necessary part of cultivating good mental health. It’s important to give yourself time, space and permission to relax. Treat yourself to activities that make you feel good - a holiday, a massage, a nice long walk, an extra hour in bed reading a good book, a weekly yoga class, a 10 minute meditation. And hey, sometimes you need to treat yourself to a great big pizza and 4 solid hours of Netflix. Guilt-free.

It's OK to be blue

So, there we have some practical tips which can improve mental well-being. However, part of what ‘It’s Ok To Be Blue’ is all about is acknowledging and accepting that we can’t always control our moods. Sometimes - no matter how much running, meditating or healthy eating we undertake - we are all going to have times when we feel less than great, and that’s ok.

And, while we can all work to improve our own mental health through generally taking greater care of ourselves, mental illness - just like physical illness - can affect anyone. Anyone suffering from mental ill health deserves to be taken seriously and to receive appropriate treatment, advice and support. Which is why organisations like York Mind are committed to ensuring anyone suffering from mental ill-health gets the help they need.

Visit their website to find out more, access their services or to see how you can help. For those outside York, visit the national Mind site to find services in your area.