In general, people know how to keep physically healthy, by exercising, taking vitamins, eating well, etc. However, it seems there is less understanding of how to keep mentally healthy and how to prioritise your psychological wellbeing. We face these psychological wounds more often than physical ones – we experience rejection, failure and loneliness – and they can have long-lasting effects if we don’t help to heal ourselves afterwards.
Prioritising your mental health helps you recover your wellbeing more quickly from these psychological injuries. It can also protect you from anxiety, depression, heart disease and more. Here are a few suggestions for how to create your own emotional toolkit.
Notice what you are thinking and feeling
By checking in with yourself regularly, you can notice when your mood is dropping and when your thoughts are racing or turning darker. You can try this with journalling or just taking a few minutes every day or so to stop and look inward. What thoughts are you noticing? What are you feeling? What physical sensations are you noticing? It’s very easy to ignore the signs that we need to step in and take action to protect your emotional health. It’s most important to do this after you’ve experienced a challenging, stressful or emotional situation.
Create your emotional toolkit
Rather than spanners and hammers, an emotional toolkit is activities or items that bring you a sense of joy and calm. When I work with clients, we explore activities and experiences that improve their mood and can provide a positive distraction. For example, talking to friends, listening to music, painting, etc. These can be a list of calming activities that help when you are feeling anxious or activities you really enjoy for when your mood has dropped. These will be very personal to each individual. For example, one person might find crossword puzzles really fun and gain a sense of achievement when they’re completed it while another person may find them really frustrating. Having a list is useful because sometimes when our minds are full or we are feeling emotional, we don’t always remember what helps us. I have clients who have simply made a list on their phones and others who have created elaborate jars or shoeboxes with activities inside to be pulled out at random. There is no right or wrong way to do this – it is whatever works for you. In most of our houses we have a first aid box filled with medicine and plasters to fix physical ailments. But what if we have an emotional first aid kit for psychological wounds? If you’re not sure where to begin, think about your senses – what do you enjoy smelling, feeling, tasting etc. Then fill a box with those things and keep it easily accessible. For things that won’t fit in the box (like connecting with friends), you could have a photo of a happy time with friends as a reminder to call them in your toolbox.
Practise using your toolkit
Like any new habit, this takes some practise. Checking in with yourself, noticing what is going on for you and using your toolkit when needed can help to empower you when you are facing challenging situations. Take some time and be patient with yourself while you are learning what works for you.
Understanding when your mental health is suffering and taking steps to improve it can reap real psychological rewards and help to build your resilience. I hope you found this useful and can try creating one of your own. I’d love to hear how you get on!
“You’re only as strong as the tools in your toolbox”