Managing your mental health: Knowing what you need to do to stay healthy

Mental health blogger Fiona Kennedy looks at the importance of sleep, energy management and time to yourself

Managing your mental health: Knowing what you need to do to stay healthy

By Kurtis Garbutt (Flickr Creative Commons)

Last week I started looking at the WRAP programme, and the plan was that this week I’d talk about the the action plans developed during the programme.

There would be a massive irony in that though, because right now I’m not maintaining any of my own plans and my well-being is suffering as a consequence. 

I’ll come back to the plans at a later stage. Instead, I'll tell you what happens when self-care stops being a priority.

There are three things that I know, with absolute certainty, will keep me on the straight and narrow when it comes to my mental health; Sleep, energy management, and time to myself to think, to reflect.

I lose out on any of those and it doesn’t take long before my sense of perspective becomes shaky. Once that happens, I’m a stone’s throw from sending myself into a complete tailspin.

Sleep and energy management

With sleep, there is an almost immediate fallout. I need a decent 7-8 hours, every night.

I’ll not lie, it’s an absolute bugger to try and make that happen. Anyone who has young kids will probably be able to relate to the urge to stay up late once the kids are in bed, despite sometimes crippling levels of exhaustion, because it’s just so lovely to be able to sit in peace in a quiet house.

I’m hopeless for doing this. I know I should be in bed, but I fall into the ‘just one more’ trap with Netflix, and before I know where I am it’s after midnight. Straight away I’m guaranteeing myself a shorter amount of sleep than I need. Maybe only by an hour, but if I do that for a few nights it adds up.

The knock-on effect? When I’m tired, I’m less able to cope with absolutely everything, from the simple to the complex. I’m less inclined to think about managing my energy effectively because my focus goes into just getting to the end of the day.

Instead of allowing myself 10 minutes to close my eyes, breathe and regroup, I resort to sugar. Minor irritations with the kids get blown out of proportion. I’m more inclined to get overwhelmed by any difficulty that may raise its head, and if there are a couple of big things at the same time there’s every chance it’ll tip me over the edge entirely. It doesn’t even need to be something big. It could be a succession of small events.

But whatever the tipping point is, however big or small, chances are it will elicit a reaction that is out of all proportion. At worst, it sends me to a place where my thinking gets so clouded, self-harm comes back onto my radar.

This inability to cope, the tendency to self-harm – these were among the many ‘symptoms’ that led to a psychiatric diagnosis. But they aren’t the result of something being intrinsically wrong with me.  Rather they are my mind using giant flashing red lights trying to highlight for me that I’m not looking after myself.

Time to yourself

The final of my 3 crucial steps to maintaining (relative) sanity is time to myself.

I’m not talking about time spent slumped in an exhausted stupor in front of Netflix here, but rather time that I need to actively carve out to make space for my mind to breathe.

For a few weeks I was flying it with this. I was getting myself to bed early enough that I could be up and out for a walk with the dogs before the kids were even up. Part of that walk took in a few minutes just sitting under a tree by the river in a park near my house.

It was the simplest of activities, but changed my day and my outlook completely for those few weeks. Why? I was giving my mind space to mull over what was ahead of me on any particular day, or whatever happened to be bothering me at that time. It was time where I wasn’t distracted by the demands of kids, dogs, screens or housework. It was time just for me.

I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but that time has vanished the last few weeks, along with getting enough sleep and being smart about my energy. I suspect insufficient sleep came first and the rest just naturally followed.

The impact that that has had on my state of mind is quite profound. I find myself struggling, easily overwhelmed, volatile, inclined towards depression and regularly considering self-harm.

I’m now faced with two choices; take myself in hand, or let things continue as they are. The latter cannot end well. The latter has the very real possibility of ultimately ending with me back on a psychiatric ward, if I choose to ignore everything I’ve learned over the last year.

However, I have no intention of ever, ever setting foot on a psychiatric ward again. I’m not sick. What I am is tired, and not looking after myself. That has to change, and I’m the only one who can do it. So I will!

***

Fiona Kennedy writes regularly about mental health issues on her blog sunnyspellsandscatteredshowers.org. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.ie to find details of your nearest branch. You can also find online information at www.yourmentalhealth.ie

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