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Ways to unwind and destress when you live with a mental illness

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There's a proven relationship between stress and mental illness. It can worsen an episode, or even result in symptoms returning.

A balanced lifestyle and coping strategies can help with the management of stress. But how do you start?

The following suggestions can be implemented right now, or they can form part of an ongoing plan. 

The best way to start is to try something you find enjoyable, or provides you with a sense of purpose every day.

Stay in touch

Being connected with others is an important part of positive mental health. But when we're affected by mental health issues we may not feel like mixing with others. This isolation can result in delayed support, longer treatment and tougher recovery.

Even though you may not always feel like it, try to:

  • Surround yourself with positive people and influences
  • Stay in touch with family and friends (face to face or by phone is best)
  • Go out even if you don't feel like it, be as brief or low key as you like
  • Try some friendly banter with shop assistants (or even just a smile)
  • Tell someone how you are feeling, be it a friend, family member, medical professional, member of your spiritual group, teacher, or helpline counsellor.

Relaxation techniques

When our mind becomes tense, so does our body. Try relieving your physical tension with these techniques:

Start a hobby

Hobbies are a great way to disconnect and unwind. Try exercises like cycling, swimming, or join a sporting club. Get into gardening. Join a choir. Or unleash your creative mind through photography, painting, or other arts and crafts.

Contact your neighborhood house, community centre, or citizen's advice bureau to find groups available in your area.

Learn to self-soothe

Self-soothing is the act of comforting, distracting, or being kind to yourself in times of distress. It is an important skill for emotional wellbeing, but does not come naturally to everyone.

Self-soothing strategies vary. Some people use physical activities to implement positive behaviour, while for others nonphysical activities including practicing acceptance and positive thinking works best.

Find something from our list, revisit something you have previously enjoyed, or discover something new that works for you. This could include:

Physcial activities

  • Visit a self-help website or join a discussion on the SANE Forums
  • Play with a pet
  • Wrap a blanket round you (try weighted blankets)
  • Let yourself cry or sleep
  • Massage your hands
  • Have a warm bath or shower
  • Do some gardening, DIY or household chores
  • Use your senses: look at calming things, listen to your favourite music, smell your favourite perfumes, touch pleasing textures, savor each mouthful of your favourite food
  • Read a book or a magazine, do a jigsaw, Sudoku or crossword
  • Learn something new on the internet
  • Look at photos
  • Watch your favorite movies or TV shows
  • Write positive things down - List the things in your life you value, no matter how small. These may include family, friends or pets, spiritual beliefs, everyday pleasures or favourite memories. Keep the list on you, and read it if you're feeling low.
  • Write down your goals - You may have always wanted to travel to a particular place, read a specific book, own a pet, move to another place, start a hobby, volunteer, go back to school, or start a family.
    Call a friend for a chat, visit someone, or organise a regular night out with your partner or family member (a weekly or monthly event).

Nonphysical activities

  • Keep a positive outlook – This helps maintain hope through life's challenges, and reminds us recovery is possible, sustainable and worth the effort.
  • Don't compare a situation to the past or worry about the future. Live in the present and think of the good occurring right now.
  • Practice acceptance – Make space for events. Give yourself permission to be angry, upset, or disappointed by an experience, or people involved. Learn from it and be better prepared in the future.
  • Do something good today — Pay for a stranger's coffee, tip a waiter, compliment someone, give up your seat on the train — add something great to the world.
  • Maintain clear boundaries – This can differ depending on the situation. A helpful tip is that it's ok to say 'no', it's ok to take time for yourself and be firm around your needs.

More to read . . .

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