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As amazing as life can be, sometimes we can all feel low – it’s normal. But sometimes this feeling may linger a little longer than we’d like, affecting the quality of our day-to-day interactions and outlook.
The discussion around mental health has (rightly) been given more attention in the past few years. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020 though, more of us have spoken out about needing help to deal with the new stressors that we’ve been exposed to both in and out of lockdown. And it’s been necessary: leading mental health charity Mind found that around a third of adults and young people felt that their mental health got ‘much worse’ since this time.
In the midst of what’s been an incredibly hard couple of years, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone and that support is at hand. Here’s what you need to know about caring for your mental health as well as the resources that can help (the majority of which being completely free) if you’re feeling low at the moment. From online to in-person, apps to podcasts, there are a range of options available. Don’t forget to also speak to those who are close to you and seek help from your GP if you’re really struggling. If you have a low mood that lasts two weeks or more, it could be a sign of depression according to the NHS and it's important to speak to your doctor for an extra helping hand.
What is mental health?
Our mental health refers to the way in which we think, feel and react to things. Just like physical health, it’s something that we are all in possession of and need to care for.
Why is mental health important?
When we have good mental health, it helps us to relax more, achieve more and enjoy our lives. However when it’s poor, we might find that the ways that we’re thinking, feeling or reacting become difficult, or even impossible, to cope with.
When it comes to our mental health, it’s important to be able to differentiate between periods of low mood and times when the help of a mental health professional would be best. Generally speaking, symptoms of low mood may include:
• Feeling sad
• Feeling anxious or panicky
• Feeling more tired than usual
• Being unable to sleep
• Feeling angry or frustrated
• Low confidence or self-esteem
A low mood often gets better after a few days or weeks. However, if it lasts two weeks or more, it could be a sign of depression and it's important to speak to your GP.
If you’re finding that your symptoms are proving impossible to cope with, there are options available for more urgent support. Find details about local NHS urgent mental health helplines here. They’re available for people of all ages, open 24-hours a day and provide advice as well as help to speak to a mental health professional and/or an assessment to help decide on the best course of care.
How does social media affect mental health?
Social media can affect mental health in a number of ways, with the envy that people feel upon using social media sometimes influencing their levels of anxiety and depression. Getting enough sleep is paramount to having good mental health, and excessive social media usage before bed can make this harder to achieve: not only does it leave our minds whirring, but the light emitted from electrical devices like phones and laptops can suppress melatonin, the hormone that helps us feel tired.
How does exercise help mental health?
Exercise can help mental health in several ways. It promotes better sleep by making us feel more tired at the end of the day, releases feel-good hormones like endorphins and gives us more energy. It can also reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, provided that it’s moderate rather than excessive (which can actually have the opposite effect). Lastly, exercise gives the brain something to focus on and can be a beneficial coping strategy during testing times.
How to help improve your mental health
As well as exercise and limiting social media usage, the NHS recommends connecting with other people to build a sense of belonging and emotional support, learning new skills to boost self-confidence, and taking part in acts of giving and kindness. They also suggest focusing on the present moment (also known as mindfulness) to help support good mental health.
In addition to the above, there are a range of resources available to support us when we need a helping hand – and most of them are free.
Here are some of the best...
Online mental health resources
All manner of things are available online these days, and that includes mental health resources. Here are the sites we head to when we’re feeling a bit blue.
Every Mind Matters
Every Mind Matters is an NHS platform for all things mental health. As well as wellbeing advice and expert guidance, it also hosts Mind Plan, a quiz that gives you tailored tips on how to help keep yourself happy and fulfilled.
Mind are the leading mental health charity in England and Wales. Aiming to empower anyone who is struggling, they offer a wealth of information and practical advice to raise awareness and promote understanding of mental health issues. Their site is also home to Side by Side, a supportive online community where you can talk about your mental health with others who are in the same boat, 24/7.
Mental health helplines and local services
Although these are not in-person resources in the conventional sense, the following offer a level of human connection that rivals simply going online or using an app – as useful and great as both of those things are! Sometimes hearing a friendly voice at the end of the line can make a world of difference to our outlook.
Whatever you’re going through, you can ring Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and speak to someone about it. The volunteer can help encourage you to discuss your thoughts and feelings, which may help you to make sense of them and therefore feel better. If phone calls aren’t really your thing, you can also email.
Shout offers free 24/7 mental health support to anyone who needs it over text. It’s ideal if you don’t fancy a phone conversation for whatever reason and would like a speedier response than emailing allows.
In-person and online therapy resources
If you’ve been struggling with your mental health, you may be keen to get therapy. Here are some good starting points.
Improving Access to Psychological Therapies is an NHS service that offers access to a range of talking therapies from counselling to guided self-help and cognitive behaviour therapy (based on the concept that negative thoughts, feelings and actions are interconnected and that breaking seemingly overwhelming problems into smaller parts is the most positive way of dealing with them). They are used to treating a variety of mental health problems from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder and agoraphobia. Either your GP can refer you or you can do it yourself, just bear in mind that you need to be registered with a GP to use the service.
If you’re looking for a private rather than an NHS service, Counselling Directory is a great place to start your journey. With any luck you’ll find a therapist who’s conveniently close (you can also search for telephone and online therapy), within your budget and specialises in whatever it is you’re going through.
Mental health apps
Using apps is now a part of daily life, so why should it be any different when it comes to managing your mental health? Here are two worth freeing up some space on your phone for.
CatchIt is a free app that uses cognitive behavioural therapy to help change the way you think and feel about things. Whenever a negative feeling arises, it encourages you to record and rate your mood before taking a moment to reflect on it in writing. Post-reflection, you may find that you feel less anxious and depressed about the incident than beforehand.
Feeling Good helps you with just that! Combining cognitive behavioural therapy with relaxation and resilience building techniques, it aims to improve the self-esteem and self-confidence of users.The free version comes with four audio tracks that combine soothing music and coaching to get you started, but the full 12-track Positive Mental Training audio programme – used by the NHS in Edinburgh for the last 12 years to aid recovery from stress, anxiety and depression – is available as an in-app purchase.
Mental health podcasts
Who said mental health resources can’t be entertaining too? We love these mental health podcasts for opening our minds and healing our hearts.
Fearne Cotton’s podcast invites an array of fascinating guests (including Stephen Fry and Tom Daley) to open up about struggles they’ve had with their mental health. As moving as it is lighthearted and warm.
Terrible, Thanks For Asking
Hosted by Nora McInerny, this podcast encourages listeners to be honest with themselves and others about their feelings instead of brushing them off. Not that this means it’s all doom and gloom, you might even find yourself laughing along with some episodes.
We recommend seeking help from your GP – or another healthcare professional – if you are really struggling, as well as letting your loved ones know.