World Mental Health Day: 10 Coping Strategies

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Published 10th October 23

By Maureen Grant, HR Manager at Ploughshare

I’m passionate about providing a safe non-judgmental space where people can talk about their mental health challenges. If we as an organisation are serious about people bringing their whole selves to work, then that means both me on a great day and me on a crappy mental health day. I am both a confident, self-assured professional, and a melting iceberg of insecurities all at once. Some days I lead with my confidence and some days I drag myself through the day doing the best I can when I’m struggling.

I find that I get overwhelmed when I have too many competing demands on my time. I have a threshold of stressors that I can comfortably deal with, but when it tips over into being unmanageable then chinks in my mental armour start to appear. There are a variety of coping strategies that I have found work for me:

1. Exercise

Everything always seems better after a run. Getting those endorphins going round my brain helps relax me and being out in nature helps me to see that there’s more to life than just looking at a computer screen all day.

2. Reduce caffeine intake

I don’t do this half as much as I should, but I know that caffeine can cause irritability and anxiety, even without the insomnia. I try to have coffee only in the morning before 11am. It’s a tricky one because if I haven’t slept well, then coffee seems to help but I know it causes as many problems as it fixes.

3. Laughter

It really is the best medicine. I find when I start struggling with my mental health, my tummy stops being regular. Laughter makes those tummy muscles work and helps all the toxins escape. What works every single time is Damn you, autocorrect! (reddit.com).

4. Good food

I know I’m on a slippery slope when my diet is mostly brown (chocolate) or white (biscuits, chips) that I’m not getting the vitamins and nutrients my body needs to keep me in good mental health. The more colours the better (in so many aspects of life actually).

5. Ditch perfectionism

I don’t need to strive to be perfect. It’s unattainable and is a pressure that I put on myself, not one that is imposed on me. I explain it to my daughter in a way that I hope is easy to understand – when you put on your CV that you have a degree from XYZ, that’s good enough. No one is going to care if you got 36% in a Philosophy elective or 92% in basket weaving, just that overall you got the degree. The things you think are incredibly important at the time, you look back on afterwards and realise they weren’t. It’s the little things that are important. They’re the things you remember.

6. Talk

The act of articulating worries and fears that seem so big at 3am in the dark in your head on your own, helps to right-size them. Sometimes saying out loud the things that are swirling around makes you hear how unimportant they are. Talking with someone else takes the power out of those thoughts by taking them out of the darkness and examining them in the light.

7. Be your own best friend

Be as kind to yourself as you would be to your best friend. I’d never talk to my friends how I talk to myself in my head. I’m so punitive to me but so loving to them. Turn that negative talk on its head – it’s time to turn the volume down on the negative self-talk.

8. Boundaries

I found it so difficult to put boundaries in place in relationships. But sometimes I need to say ‘no’. It’s good mental health self-care to look after my own interests. There is no point in setting myself on fire to keep others warm, there’ll be nothing left of me! So, difficult as it can be the first few times you say it, learn to say ‘no’ and be ok with that. It’s not letting someone down, it’s preserving your own energy.

9. Listen to your body

If you can’t shake that cold or are getting aches and pains every few days, maybe it’s your body trying to tell you that it’s struggling. Listening to those warning signs early on and taking appropriate action is so important. I’ve been the one many a time who has shaken it off and carried on working, only to be more ill down the line. Those little aches and pains can be signs of mental ill health; the pressure has to come out somewhere.

10. Look at the data

So far, I’ve survived every bad day that I’ve had in life. So, it’s reasonable to think that I’ll survive what other bad days are in store. Reminding myself of my resilience when I’m feeling down is a great way to show where I’ve come from and what challenges I’ve already overcome.

What works for you?