Managing your mental health

1. Avoid setting unrealistic targets. Having high standards can be a positive trait. It encourages us to aim for the top and reach our potential. However, if you set yourself impossibly high goals, which either cannot be met or can only be accomplished with great difficulty, or if you are never fully satisfied with the results you achieve, you are putting yourself under undue pressure. If you have perfectionist traits, you may be familiar with any of the following:

• You have difficulty handing over certain tasks to others in case they do not complete them to your satisfaction

• You agonise over small details and worry about making mistakes

• You find it hard to meet your own exacting standards. No matter how well you do, you are unhappy with the result and believe you could have done better

• You do not appreciate your achievements because you are always focused on what remains to be done

Susan Browne, a Kerry based counsellor who has given courses in Galway, says challenging our thinking can help us break away from this restrictive behavioural pattern. She believes perfectionist traits are a result of beliefs formed early in life which we can challenge and replace with more helpful thoughts. For example, you may think there is no point in starting an assignment or project because you do not have all the material you need and will not be able to do it to the best of your ability. You could challenge this attitude by seeing the merit in making a start, that way you will have less to do later.

Think also about when your perfectionist thinking affected you negatively. Then, imagine what would happen if you responded differently and how this would feel. Instead, of, for example, berating yourself for not passing your driving test, assign the experience to the past, and channel your energy into being better prepared for the repeat test. Remind yourself of your most recent successes, too. These will boost your confidence.

2. Reduce your stress levels. Stress has been described as a mismatch between the demands placed on us and the way we view our ability to cope with these demands. Stress can be positive when it motivates us to get things done but negative when we feel pressurised or overwhelmed by excessive demands. These can take the form of relationships, workplace stress, financial difficulties, deadlines, unemployment, or illness. Major changes such as a bereavement, redundancy, moving house, or retirement can be stressful events, also.

The way we cope with these demands will depend on the way we think, our personality, and our past experiences. People who cope well with stress tend to be those who feel in control of their lives, have good support from family or friends, and have a hopeful attitude.

If you are under stress, try working it off - physical activity boosts our mood, releases tension, and helps us become fit. Try talking to someone you trust, too. Sharing our worries is beneficial, not only from the perspective of unburdening, but also we may get a better insight into our concerns from an outsider. Getting sufficient sleep will help you recharge your batteries and unwind. Accepting what you cannot change, taking one day at a time, and living in the moment are all beneficial practices, too.

3. Reward yourself. It is important to treat ourselves with kindness and to recognise our efforts, successes, and ability to bounce back after setbacks. Having something to look forward to helps us cope with life's stresses. Rewards need not be expensive or elaborate, just something nice to mark getting through a difficult day or week or dealing with a challenging situation. A meal with a friend, a walk in the woods, a new top or shirt, or a quiet hour spent on your own listening to your favourite music or podcast are all ideal ways to reward your efforts.

4. Learn to relax. We are all living increasingly busy lives and often fail to prioritise time for relaxation. Experts recommend taking at least 20 minutes a day to unwind. Be sure to set aside this time (otherwise it may not happen ) and plan how you are going to spend it. That could be simply enjoying a hobby or interest, watching something on television, or reading a favourite book.

5. Communicate. This is important on every level, from sharing ideas, expressing opinions, or just rewarding kindness with a smile. Being able to share our sadness, joy, or fears is good for our mental wellbeing. Mental Health Ireland offers the following tips for good communication:

• Adopt a relaxed posture. Make eye contact and speak slowly.

• Listen carefully to what is being said or asked. If you do not understand or are unclear about something, ask the person to repeat the question. When making inquiries, ask open-ended questions. These cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no" reply and are phrased as a statement which requires a longer response. Examples include: "Tell me about your relationship with your employer", or "How was your day?"

• If something you say does not come across as intended, say so, and correct it

• Humour is a great conversation tool and icebreaker. It also puts people at ease.

• Having common ground with others makes it easy to start a conversation, such as sharing an interest in sport, music, the arts, history, or travel. The weather is always a safe topic to discuss in this country and you can be guaranteed you will not offend anyone by your views on it.

6. Boost your self-esteem. When we have a good sense of self, we have a realistic but positive view of ourselves and can live comfortably with our strengths and weaknesses. Setbacks may slow us down temporarily but we do not become defeated by them. We rejoice in our successes and believe we deserve the best.

Having a good sense of self-worth is important not only for our own growth and development but also for our relationships and our overall view of life. It helps us feel secure, believe in ourselves, be decisive and assertive, communicate effectively, respect others, and ourselves.

Replacing negative self-talk and self-doubt with encouraging and positive messages, such as "I can", "I am able to do this", or "I will succeed" will foster self worth. Equally, looking on the bright side of life will help in this regard.

7. Exercise. It has numerous benefits for the mind and body. It helps reduce stress and work off muscular tension. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins (feelgood hormones ). They help relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve your sense of wellbeing. If you are new to exercise, go gently, at first, and build up to a routine of 20 minutes per day. A brisk walk may be a good starting point. If you would like to widen your social circle, maybe make new friends, enjoy getting fit in the company of others, and sharing a common interest, consider joining a local fitness club or sports centre.


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