How to be happy
I would like to begin by saying this post is not a one-size-fits-all recipe for happiness. It contains tips for improving/maintaining your mental health. If you've read my previous blog posts, you'll know that I've had my own struggles, and gradually I've developed a specific self-care routine I know helps. More recently I have had the privilege of helping others through similar struggles. This has been a fantastic opportunity for me to test my own self-care tools on other people. The results have been dramatic. To all of my clients reading this; I see you and I am proud of you.
Number One: Keep a gratitude journal
This is the first piece of homework I set my clients. Keeping a daily gratitude journal helps us become aware of positive things and over time these can begin to seem bigger than the negatives. Often the challenging or difficult things about our days, months, years are the easiest to recall. We can change this. You could be thinking "but something good doesn't happen to me everyday". Yes it does. You just haven't noticed. I use my gratitude journal to write down something I'm grateful for every night, just before bed. Some examples include; having a dog to walk, my family, my job, my health, my friends, Game of Thrones, warm weather and fajitas. You can find something to be grateful for even on days that have been very dark. For example, the last day I was very hungover I was grateful for my usual health. Because most days, I don't feel like I'm going to die.
Number Two: Keep a 'doing well' journal
It is never a bad time to give yourself a pat on the back. The first thing I ask my clients to do is to start working on becoming their own cheerleader and biggest fan. In general we are very good at giving ourselves a hard time and are terrible at congratulating ourselves for achievements. It's also important to recognise that while something might not be a big deal for someone else, it is a big deal for you. When you are experiencing poor mental health, some very 'normal' activities can feel impossibly hard. Spending time with friends or taking public transport for instance. It may be easy to think "taking the bus is something that everyone does. So even though it was hard for me, I shouldn't be too happy about it because it's something that everyone else can do no problem". But if we change that to "well done you absolute champion, you're doing great! Buses are stressful but you bloody smashed it". Can you imagine what a difference that makes?! I don't need to imagine, because I've seen the amazing results as my clients become more and more kind and compassionate towards themselves. You may be thinking "I don't have something to be proud of myself for every single day". Yes you do. I promise. You made it to the end of the day. Life is dark and full of terrors but you made it. (GOT reference. You're welcome).
Number Three: Avoid drugs and alcohol
Our brains produce and contain a delicate balance of chemicals which, when working properly, allow us to negotiate the challenging twists and turns of everyday life. Tampering with these chemicals can have very negative short and long-term effects on our functioning. I have never been one for using illicit substances (except on a very few occasions when I was younger . . . No one tell my Mum or the police) so refraining from these has almost always been easy for me. However at times in my life alcohol has been a VERY big deal for me. I have used alcohol to start/end a holiday, celebrate my successes, drown my sorrows, numb my anxiety (doesn't work), give Monday evening the recognition it deserves and many many more reasons. I have been so drunk I have done things too shocking to describe here. I know I said I'd be 100% honest on this platform but the internet is not ready. Maybe one day.
Anyone who has ever had a hangover will know the flutters of anxiety that come with 'the fear'. Or the dark realisation that life is completely futile. I drink quite regularly when my mental health is stable but as soon as I start to feel a bit fragile it is the first change I make. Maybe you only have a couple of drinks at a time so you don't ever experience a soul crushing hangover. Fair enough, but I have news for you friend, you may think alcohol doesn't effect your mental state at all, but it definitely does. If you are curious try a month without drinking. I promise you'll have more energy and you'll feel more positive and resilient.
Number Four: Cut down caffeine
Ah sweet sweet heart-rate-increasing, anxiety-provoking caffeine. What a way to wake yourself up in the morning! I bloody love coffee (almost as much as alcohol) but I'm well aware of the effects on my body. I usually keep caffeine to before 4pm. Many people will consume caffeine in some form just before bed and they'll say it doesn't make a difference. Even if caffeine doesn't prevent you from dropping off to sleep, it is likely to be affecting the quality of your sleep. I try to keep to two coffees a day.
1st strong coffee: Good morning world!
2nd strong coffee: Let's do this!
3rd strong coffee: God life is stressful but it's okay because I have the energy to take it on!
4th strong coffee: My heart rate is very quick and I'm inexplicably nervous!
5th strong coffee: Everything is terrible, I must retreat to safety. My chest hurts and my life is difficult and pointless. I have a headache and I am so sweaty.
That is my experience, However if you're experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety, why not try reducing your caffeine intake or cutting it out completely? I think it's worth trying.
Number Five: Improve your sleep
If you take the above steps and avoid alcohol and reduce your caffeine intake your sleep-cycle is likely to improve. I have many other tips for good sleep hygiene but that topic requires a whole post of its own. If you really struggle with sleep I advise that you do some research into 'sleep hygiene'. Sleeping enough hours and getting good quality sleep is so important for our minds, especially if we're having a tough time.
Number Six: Spend less time using technology
I think we are all aware of the detrimental effect technology can have on our mental state. I'm not telling you to avoid your TV, tablet and phone completely. But you may find it beneficial to take intentional breaks from using them. For example, going for a walk without your phone. Short activities like this, done without distraction can settle your mind and help you relax. Doubling up on technology is unnecessary stimulation. Do you ever scroll through social media on your phone with the TV on in the background? Then try to go to bed and find your mind won't switch off? Yeah, I don't feel like that needs much more explanation . . .
Social media is the WORST. Well sometimes it's good fun but other times it's made me feel like a fat loser who should settle for the nearest man, get a real job, get married and have a baby ASAP. However I have recently counteracted the potential negative effects of Instagram with some really positive accounts; inspiring women who share so much hope and realness with the world. They demonstrate that truth, honesty and supporting each other is so much more important then portraying a perfect image of your life (Mrs Hinch - ATB). More on this in a later post.
Number Seven: Go outside
If you haven't already read and memorised my 'Outdoor wellbeing' post then you're dead to me. Go and read it. NOW.
Number Eight: Connect with nature
This is mentioned in 'Outdoor wellbeing' however I don't feel this necessarily needs to be done outside. I get so much pleasure from tending to plants and watching something flourish because I've nurtured it. Looking after a plant is not difficult. Basically you have to purchase a plant, or get a cutting from a pal. Then google how to look after it. Then look after it. That's what I've done with all my plants; this approach also works well with outside plants if you have a garden or scope for a window box.
Number Nine: Move your body
Move your body with joy! Not to lose weight or to change yourself. You are perfect just the way you are. Exercise for your mental health. It's a fantastic way of shaking up those brain chemicals and getting a nice flood of endorphins to pick up your mood. I go to a personal trainer one hour a week with one of my best friends. I've noticed that sweating profusely really seems to help my mind. I always leave the gym feeling tired, sweaty and relaxed. Of course you don't need to get a PT in order for this to happen. Go for a walk. Put on some music and dance.
Number Ten: Meditate baby!
I've covered the benefits A LOT in other posts. But I want to let you know how easy it is to start meditating. You don't need to pay a huge amount for a course or buy loads of books on the subject before beginning. My favourite free app for meditation is Insight Timer. it has over 19,000 guided meditations to choose from. Download it, explore it, find a voice you enjoy listening to and just do it. It is that simple. There's also a great mindfulness activity book called 'I am Here Now' by The Mindfulness Project. You can get it on Amazon and it's a fab place to start if you're new to mindfulness and meditation.
Number Eleven: Get creative
You may not feel you have a creative bone in your body. But I urge you to give this a shot. The 'I am Here Now' book is a super place to start being creative. The important thing with creativity is to focus on the experience rather than the result. It's about settling and calming your mind rather than achieving an impressive piece of art to show other people. Make/write something weird, keep it a secret. The positive effect on your mind will be the same.
Number Twelve: Make choices
When it comes to self-care, you need to check in with yourself and make sure that you're not just acting out of habit. Spending an evening watching TV and scrolling on social media may be exactly what you want to do, and that's fine! But it really should be a decision you've made, rather than just doing them because it's what you always do. When you make a decision about how to spend your time, it is important to think of short and long-term. So watching 5 hours of Netflix (GUILTY) may feel good at the time, but would something else have felt better? I explore this more in my 'what is self-care?' blog post. Go take a look if you'd like to know more. I think it's also good to acknowledge that self-care doesn't mean taking the easiest option at the time. Sometimes self-care means forcing yourself out of the house to see a friend even though at the time you would rather sit on your sofa alone in the dark scrolling through social media.
I think whether your mental health is stable just now, so you're looking to maintain it, or you're on the brink (or midst) of an epic breakdown, it is never a bad time to nourish yourself and look after your mind. I must also make it clear that this post doesn't include all my tips on being happy and well, because if I gave away my secrets for free then no-one would pay to see me anymore! Jokes. Jokes. In all seriousness though, there is a lot more, but it's far too much to say in one blog. Maybe I'll write 'How to be Happy 2.0' at some point in the future.
For now, remind yourself that you're doing great hun!! Stay blessed and be kind to yourself.
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