selfish self care

In praise of ‘selfish’ self-care: you can’t pour from an empty cup

There are a few bits of mental health advice I like to throw out on a regular basis, such as ‘don’t do drugs if you have crippling anxiety’. But a more widely applicable (I hope) nugget is this: you can’t pour from an empty cup, so prioritise self-care when and where you can.

I don’t know where I read that first phrase, but it’s stuck with me ever since. Even if you don’t have a mental health problem, we should all be reminded that no matter how ‘selfish’ it feels, self-care isn’t optional: it’s an essential act of self-preservation.

Unfortunately, this goes against the grain of modern life. Is it just me, or is there a certain cachet in pushing yourself to the edge nowadays? I regularly feel personally attacked wrong-footed by LinkedIn articles telling me success starts with a 5am wake up call. (Sorry, I know it’s not cool to admit to needing eight hours sleep, but I really do.)

There’s also a certain pride in the ‘I just can’t say no’ mentality. This isn’t a criticism, mind—the people who ‘just can’t say no’ are some of the kindest, most loving and thoughtful people I know. But they’re also usually exhausted and often unhappy, because they don’t put their self-preservation first. In turn, this gets taken out on the people they love, because (it bears repeating): you just can’t pour from an empty cup.

You’d have to be some sort of superhero or saint to have boundless energy for other people’s needs: the big JC turned water into wine, but he couldn’t magic it out of nowhere.

So remember: self-care first, within the realm of being a good human. The world won’t fall apart if you say no. Your friends should support this; if people only love you because you’re at their beck and call, screw them anyway.

So how can you implement self-care?

I’m not here to suggest you go out and buy a £100 candle in the pursuit of self-care. I read a truly excellent article by Amy Jones about the ‘Goopification of self-care’ this week, and saying no is a prime example of self-care that doesn’t involve luxury branded products. Self-care can be as simple as laying down boundaries about what you can deal with. (PS. Read The Pool

For example, I find it exhausting to have intense, emotional conversations over text. This isn’t because I don’t want to help people—in real life, I actually find it quite energising to try and help people with their problems. But I work in an office, staring at screens all day. I can’t get home and have intense WhatsApp sessions. It just makes me feel awful.

So I’ve just started telling people that. ‘I’m sorry if I can’t support you very much over text—I love you and am here for you, so please call me if you need to chat, or we can arrange to meet up.’

self care
Still hanging out on the sofa with a puppet. Not sorry.

Another example is time alone. I’m an introvert who needs this to recharge. But turning down plans always seems ungrateful (especially given my secret anxiety that everyone hates me and only invites me places under sufferance). I’ve learnt the hard way I need at least one weekend a month where I don’t have plans, and whilst people are occasionally offended when I say I can’t see them because I’m busy doing nothing, nobody has unfriended me yet (I think).

I’m currently on my ‘free weekend’ after a few big weeks of socialising and I feel a million times better after a 10am lie-in, several rounds of toast, and pottering in the flat. I will be a better human tomorrow because of this weekend. This is just who I am as a person. I really, really love hanging out on the sofa. I always have done. Please try it for yourself, if you can. Doing nothing is so underrated.

Go one step further, if you’re feeling brave. Actively call people out if they’re infringing on your self-care. My mum pointed out to me last year that I only ever phoned her to moan, which was draining for her at a time when she was personally struggling. I was briefly offended (in the way people tend to be when they’ve been rightly called out) then realised she had a point—so I’ve tried to adjust my behaviour, and I think our relationship is better for it.

Of course, your self-care will be different depending on your personality. Maybe you need to see people less. Maybe you need to turn down extra stuff at work that you don’t have capacity for. Whatever it is, find it, and don’t be afraid to do it—or rather, don’t do it.

Because you can’t pour from an empty cup. And it isn’t worth trying.

12554_182294846552_2784362_n (1)

 

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

Art For Anxiety: Creating a Worry Free Mind

Good news, team. The end of January is in sight, and I for one couldn’t be happier. Trying to keep my mental health ticking along smoothly feels like a full-time (and exhausting) occupation in the post-Christmas lull, and I know I’m not the only one who finds it tough.

Fortunately, I’ve had something to look forward to over the last few weeks, and it’s given my mental health an unexpected boost. I didn’t set out resolutions as such in December (apart from Dry January), but I had been making noises for a while about learning a new skill in 2018. Something creative, like an instrument or a life drawing class.

So you can imagine my delight when I was bought a beginner’s pottery course for Christmas (at the fabulous Claytime studio in Finsbury Park). I used to be a reasonably good artist, but I gave it up in my second year of college. Essentially, I was too worried about not getting the grades and sacrificing my university place.

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 19.02.27This was probably the sensible choice but it does mean it’s now been the better part of eight years since I really sat down to draw, craft or create anything more than a drunken fancy dress effort. (Although as you can see, my drunken fancy dress efforts were very good.) This makes me sad, because I really loved it, once upon a time. And it’s also a shame because art for anxiety can have really impressive results.

It’s a mixture of factors. For one, it’s hard to worry when you’re working with your hands. The problem with day-to-day living is that we can do it on autopilot, leaving our minds free to fret. When you’re learning a new skill—particularly something creative, which takes a lot of concentration—you’re forced to be present in the moment, thinking only about the techniques you’re learning. You can literally create your way to a worry free mind, even if it’s only temporary.

It’s also a nice way of physically working out your anxieties and tensions. There’s a reason kids like play dough so much: it’s intensely satisfying to spend a few hours squeezing, shaping, and rolling a big hunk of clay. Wheel throwing is even better—just the right balance between mesmerising and frustratingly difficult, requiring concentration levels so intense I wouldn’t have time to worry if I wanted to.

art for anxiety
It’s a bit lumpy, but it’ll do.

Don’t stress if you’re not creatively inclined. My pottery isn’t very good, and I’m probably going to piss my Mum off by trying to offload some to her for Mother’s Day… but I’ve had a nice time doing it, and that’s what counts.

So there’s my mental health tip for the week: get arty, not anxious. Have a search, and see if you can find a way to get creative—because even if you’re not creatively inclined, it’s a bloody good laugh and a nice way to meet people.

It’s given me a sharp reminder how therapeutic I found art, long before I was even troubled by mental health problems. It’s also got me noticing the #arttherapy tag on Instagram—this is something I really want to read more about, so if anybody has any recommendations, please let me know in the comments!

Lots of love,

Nic x

giphy-downsized-large

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

real kombucha

The best booze-free alternatives for Dry January

As discussed in this recent post, I’ve given up my favourite hobby alcohol for the first month of 2018, finally succumbing to the increasingly popular Dry January trend.

People have mixed views on Dry January, and to be honest, it’s not the sort of thing I’d usually be on board with, preferring moderation over total deprivation.

Sadly, alcohol and anxiety have a funny old relationship. I know people who use alcohol to cover their anxiety, and I know people whose anxiety is massively exacerbated by getting on the sauce. I fall into the latter camp, so I’m aiming to cut down this year to help minimise my alcohol-induced anxiety.

But since I bloody love sitting in the pub and clinking a glass with some pals, I’ve started thinking a lot more about the best low-alcohol or alcohol free drinks. I want to improve my mental health, but I don’t want spent Friday night necking Fanta, so I’ve been on the hunt for some more sophisticated choices.

Fortunately, the options have never been better. And far from the sugary crap you used to be able to get your hands on, some of them are actually pretty damn good for you. The best one I’ve tried recently is Real Kombucha, a fermented tea low in calories and sugar.

dry january 2Royal Flush is my recommendation: brewed from Darjeeling, I could tell you about its notes of rose, vanilla and quince—or I could be honest and tell you how much it looks and tastes like prosecco.

This is a huge win for me, because if we’re being totally honest, one of the hard things about not drinking is feeling like a fun-sponge at the pub. When you’re having a dry night, there’s nothing more annoying than you loving but ultimately sozzled mates ribbing you constantly for staying sober.

Real Kombucha is great in this regard—the guys behind the Booch recommend you serve Royal Flush ice cold in a champagne glass, and I agree. If I ever decide to follow in my mother’s footsteps and have a shotgun wedding six months up the duff, I’ll be toasting my guests with Royal Flush. If you’re more of a cider fan, try Smoke House—I can see myself necking around a campfire, if I was the sort of person who believed in paying to sleep outdoors.

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 19.17.47And there are plenty of other great options out there, regardless of what your go-to beverage is. I had the pleasure of trying Seedlip the other day—I recommend the Spice 94 variety. Seedlip has some seriously impressive credentials and is stocked in Selfridges and The Savoy, which tells you all you need to know.

Sadly, I’m yet to try an alcohol-free beer that really floats my boat. Can anybody recommend one? The weather is currently pants, so I’m not missing sunny days in the beer garden too much just yet—but rest assured, I’ll be on the hunt come Spring.

Whatever your usual poison is, alcohol free versions are popping up faster than you can say ‘Booch’. So keep your eyes peeled and give your sober-self a spin–and if you have any recommendations to keep my Dry January fresh, let me know in the comments!

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

Gifts of joy: positive thinking and mental health

The veg is peeled, the turkey’s waiting, and the table is set—and as crazy as it seems, Christmas is just hours away. For the first time in a good five years, I’m feeling properly festive and looking forward to celebrating with my family, especially as my sister’s boyfriend’s and his family are joining us for lunch.

But as exciting as the presents under the tree are, I thought now would be a good time to talk about one of my favourite mental-health boosts: the unexpected gifts we all receive on a daily basis.

When you’re down, it’s only too easy to focus on negative stuff that happens, which reinforces your mood. I think most people’s brains are wired that way; I know I often end the day dwelling on some fairly minor crappy event. Believe me, I don’t want this to come across that I think mentally ill people should just ‘cheer up’ and ‘think positive’, because I know that’s often not possible.

mental health at christmas But it is possible to practice this mental health trick. When I’m trying to pick up my mood, I make a conscious mental note of every good thing that happens to me during the day; sometimes I even make a physical list. These little ‘gifts of joy’ are often insignificant, but they’re just one small way you can train your brain to seek out happiness. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true: I now feel like ‘positive thinking’ is a strength of mine, where it used to be anything but.

I tried to come up with 12 gifts of joy (because it’s Christmas, and there’s 12 days of Christmas… or something) but mine are fairly boring, and mainly consist of food/meeting cute dogs. So, I had a whip round the office to round up some of the weird and wonderful joy gifts we all experience on a daily basis. Some are poetic, some are pragmatic—but all of them are a little boost from the universe and a way to increase your positive thoughts.

  1. ‘Unexpectedly good sunsets in the midst of a grey and dreary winter.’
  2. ‘When you wake up before your alarm goes off.’
  3. ‘Getting a seat on the tube/bus/train. A cliché for a reason. Likewise: getting to the platform just as the train/tube arrives.’ (Editor’s note: there’s a set of traffic lights just outside my tube stop that takes ages to change. When I get off the tube just as the lights turn green and get to saunter across without missing a beat, it gives me way too much joy.)
  4. ‘When I get to the gym and the smith machine is free.’
  5. ‘When work has my favourite porridge and almond milk in stock for breakfast.’
  6. ‘When someone’s eating something delicious, and they get full and offer you the remainders.’
  7. ‘When you’re buying a baguette from the bakery and the person behind the counter gives you the most filled, juiciest looking one.’
  8. ‘When you get home late and think you’ve run out of makeup wipes, and then discover you’ve got one
  9. ‘Unexpectedly seeing dogs: especially if they sit next to you on public transport, and the owner is happy for you to pet them.’ (Ed: this was mine, but other people backed it up.)
  10. ‘When your overdraft is at bursting point and you risk it anyway and your card doesn’t get declined. Winning.’
  11. ‘Turning on the radio just as your favourite song comes on.’
  12. ‘When my favourite toilet at work is free.’ (Ed: fair.)

nicer thoughts Give this form of positive thinking a go next time you’re having a crap day—physically make a list of every good thing that happens, no matter how insignificant. I’d love to hear about the weird things that make you guys happy, so let me know in the comments!

And now, go off and enjoy your festivities in whatever way brings you the most joy. Merry Christmas, and lots of love to everybody who has read, commented on or shared my blog this year.

And if you want to get me a last minute present… please scroll down to subscribe and be kept up to date with all my posts!xox

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

When Christmas sends you crackers: mental health in the festive season

As a merry voice on the radio is currently reminding me at least once an hour, it’s the most wonderful time of the year—but as anybody with mental health problems knows, the month of December can be anything but.

I used to love Christmas. But after losing my Dad and experiencing severe anxiety and depression several years ago, the season hasn’t just lost it’s magic… it often makes me feel actively worse.

mental health at christmas 2
I also apparently used to look like Michael McIntyre, but that’s not the point.

As the excitement ramps up, so do the mental health triggers. If you have issues with food and body image, the endless parade of festive feasting is a nightmare. If money is a big source of your anxiety, the pressure is ramped up even more. If you’re suffering because you’ve lost someone you love in the last year, the whole thing feels almost offensively pointless—no present in the world can plug that gap.

And all of this is sharpened by the expectations of happiness. The general environment doesn’t help; long, dark days and terrible weather are a killer if your mental health is fragile—and this is made all the worse if you feel like everyone around you is having fun, fun, fun. It’s sad to say, but Christmas can be a truly lonely and difficult time.

Just to really push you over the edge, there are emotional booby traps everywhere. Christmas TV adverts destroy me: I can’t even talk about the BBC father-daughter animation without welling up. As I found to my embarrassment at work. Oops.

Unfortunately, short of hibernating, it’s hard to avoid the whole shebang. It’s been three years since I lost my Dad and simultaneously lost my shit—here’s what I’ve learnt about dealing with Christmas along the way.

Treat yourself first – the rest can follow

treat yoself

It’s a time of giving, but remember you can’t pour from an empty cup. Take time out from the madness for self-care, quiet reflection, a hot drink on a busy day of shopping—whatever you need. A bonus tip: if Christmas is hard because you’re grieving, make the most of an awful situation and splash the cash you would have spent on them, on something nice for yourself. (Shallow? Yes. Do I care? No.)

People not presents

In a completely contradictory bit of advice: focus on people not presents. Make the time for your loved ones; it seems like effort sometimes, but you’ll feel better after. And don’t be afraid to open up. When everyone’s caught up in the Christmas hype, I often worry I’m being a party pooper. But really, there’s a lot of good people out there—and once you start admitting that you’re struggling, you’ll be amazed how many people fess up to their own private struggles. If you can’t believe in the magic of Christmas, believe in the magic capacity of people to give you the support and love you deserve. You might just be surprised.

Sack it off

Remember you aren’t obliged to engage in the whole shebang. It doesn’t make you a Scrooge or a bad person. Let’s be real: the whole thing’s a horrendous capitalist ploy. If Christmas makes you feel awful, bin it off wherever you can. In the words of a wise and sassy colleague, ‘TURN OFF THE MUSIC AND THROW AWAY THE JUMPER!’

Change it up

christmas in australia

And finally, if you can’t avoid it, and you can’t make it better… make it different. Do whatever version of Christmas you think will bring you the most peace, whether that’s sacking off the work Christmas party or refusing to stress yourself out with Christmas dinner, a la Caitlin Moran. The best Christmas I’ve ever spent, mental-health wise, was pissed up in a swimming pool in northern Australia. It was so different, I didn’t have time to dwell on my sadness. There were no presents, social pressures, or expectations—and the only mass consumerism was a mass consumerism of tinnies. Win.

So there you have it—a rushed post this week (I’ve been away and am now dying of a cold so struggling with my to-do list) but hopefully one which resonates with at least a few people. I’d love to hear how you all cope with the difficulties of the festive period—let me know in the comments, and good luck with the rest of the month!

Nic x

positive talk for mental health

Positive Talk For Your Mental Health: Cutting the Crappy Self Talk

It’s been a busy few days, so I’ll keep it short and salty. This week I want to talk about something I think is essential for good mental health: cutting the crap when it comes to self-talk.

What is self-talk? Any words you say about yourself, essentially. I’ve really noticed recently how frequently people run themselves down. In the workplace, amongst friends—I constantly see people talking negatively about themselves. There’s a sliding scale of this, from rejecting compliments to actively slating themselves.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m British, I know it’s Not The Done Thing to big yourself up. But there’s a difference between comical self-deprecation and constant critique. It’s time we reassessed, for two key reasons:

  1. It’s damaging to your mental health. You know how it’s hard to rub your belly and pat your head simultaneously? It’s also tricky to have a genuinely positive mind-set when you’re constantly spewing negativity about yourself.
  2. It’s fundamentally unfair to other people. The example I see most often is fatness; I regularly witness women (myself included, though I try not to, now) talk constantly about their loathing for their bodies. How fat they are, how grotesque. I have real sympathy for this; I know how paralysing body dysmorphia is. But if you talk constantly about how fat you are, I can almost promise you you’re upsetting someone else. I see size eight women calling themselves disgusting, in front of women who are double their size. And what does that reassert? I’m not good enough, and you aren’t either.

Of course it’s not intentional. Again, I am compassionate, but increasingly, I’m incredulous. You’re not just tearing yourself down—you’re tearing down the people around you.

1581c98dd0790c29f278f3e81cbc66e0

Believe me, I know how it feels to have poor self image. But (revolutionary thought, I know) if you have poor self image… you don’t always have to have it. And you sure as hell don’t have to reinforce it in your own mind by talking about it every twenty minutes.

So, rant over—and on to the positive. What steps can we take to cut the negative crap and talk about ourselves more kindly?

  1. First, learn to accept compliments instead of rebuffing them. This week, I overheard my yoga teacher compliment somebody’s hair. This girl was rocking a straight Pocahontas do, alongside some pretty flawless downward dogs. No word of a lie, she replied by saying ‘oh no, it’s awful, I need to get it cut!’ Can’t we just… accept it, when someone says something nice? Is it that hard?
  2. Next, train yourself to cut the crap. Every time you go to speak negatively about yourself, force yourself to stop, crumple up the words and throw them in your mind-bin. Self-love and good mental health are more likely to come when you stop spouting a never-ending ream of shit about yourself.
  3. Finally (and I appreciate the difficulty of this for all of my fellow Brits)… learn to compliment yourself. Own your brilliance. Last week at work, we were shooting the shit on a Friday afternoon, asking each other deep life questions. ‘What’s your favourite thing about yourself?’ I asked. The appalled silence that followed, and the hesitancy of the answers that followed, speaks volumes about how incapable we are of owning even one really good thing about ourselves. And this is sad, because this was a group of women that I think are truly fantastic humans.

None of this is easy, but it is important. But people will think I’m arrogant! Yes, they might. But do you actually want to be friends with people who think you’re arrogant because you don’t talk shit about yourself constantly?

For your happiness’ sake, I hope not.

Love Nic x

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

*Note: this doesn’t mean I think nobody should talk about feeling crappy. When my mental health was at its lowest, I needed to talk often and at length about a lot of negative stuff. Your feelings are valid. But there’s a difference between discussing your feelings and slating yourself relentlessly. A good litmus test is this: if you say something negative about yourself, imagine how you would feel if you overheard somebody say that about your mum. ‘My mum is having a really tough mental health day and feels awful about herself’: fine. ‘My mum is a fat, useless waste of space’: not so good.

Keep on movin’: exercise for anxiety

The year is 1999. Companies around the globe are plagued by fear of the millennium bug. The Phantom Menace has just been released, subjecting eager cinema-goers to whatever the hell ‘Jar Jar Binks’ is meant to be. The world’s population has exceeded 6 billion for the first time.

5ive_-_Invincible.jpegBut amidst all the carnage, ‘Five’, a dedicated quintet of hip-popping young vocalists have just released the track which not only became the 16th biggest selling boy band single of all time, but also the best piece of advice I can give anyone suffering with moderate anxiety: Keep on movin’. 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it took me a disturbingly long time to truly cotton on to the link between moving my body and caring for my mind. But once I discovered the magic effect of exercise for anxiety, I have (sadly) never looked back.

Some background on me: I am a cheerfully lazy sort by nature. A big fan of cheese, and wine, and getting public transport everywhere over a ten minute walk away. I never enjoyed sport or exercise as a teenager. If anything, I regarded it as a punishment—a thing I had to do to make myself skinnier (but that’s another post altogether).

Until, that was, my anxiety led to my mental health hitting rock bottom. I had lost a lot of weight, and no longer felt motivated to exercise to fit into a smaller size. For the first time, in desperation, I flirted with the idea that exercise might just be good for my mental health.

Now, I had the approximate strength of a kitten and the endurance of a nervous 17 year old boy. But when I finally got out the door, to jog-shuffle-splutter my way around the block, it helped to clear some of the anxious fog in my mind.

I didn’t go in hard on the fitness. I did drop out of my PhD and get a physically demanding job, so I was sort of fit without thinking about it—and also taking a shedload of sertraline, so it was difficult to pinpoint the blame. I then went on a seven-month adventure around the world where I walked so many miles every day I could barely stretch my legs out—so again, I was fit without really thinking about it.

It was only when I came home from travelling and got a desk job that I started to feel really quite anxious again. And I’d been healthy for a while, so I put this down to the stress of trying to start an adult career. It all came together surprisingly quickly, actually; I got a good job that I enjoyed, made friends, found a flat. But I still felt anxious, and couldn’t identify why. Maybe this is just who you are, a voice said. Maybe you’ll always be this way.

Even then, I didn’t quite click. I started exercising purely because, in a fit of insanity, I signed up to do Tough Mudder with work. Having not been to a gym in over a year, I was very sceptical about how this would go down.

It was bloody hard. I couldn’t walk for three days after my first session, having gone in slightly too enthusiastically.

22292073_10155124123726553_470448784_nSo. I walked until I could jog. Jogged until I could run. Then I wanted to build my strength, so I started lifting. Lifted until I could lift more. Lifted until I could haul somebody else’s body over a 10 foot wall during a muddy obstacle course. And then I flew for a week on the giddy adrenaline of what my body could do.

And throughout this time… not one bad mental health day. It was like a magic pill. I remember thinking, could this really be it? Is exercise the way to keep my anxiety at bay?

Turns out, the answer is yes. One of my biggest mental health problems has been that my anxiety leads to a strong sense of ‘detachment’: I struggle to feel emotions, and have a disconcerting sense that I’m a visitor in my own body. My mind, body, and reality are all disconnected.

Exercise aligns the three: it’s almost like focusing a camera. When I’m ill, my mind is foggy. Exercise endorphins sharpen my worldview, and help me get my body and my mind in tune.

I’m finding the only way to keep at it (I have fallen off the fitness wagon more times than I care to admit) is to treat exercise like you would a counselling session, or even taking your medication. Exercise is an input, and the output is better mental health. Exercise for anxiety is legit.

As I said, I’ve never been an exercise fan. Full disclosure, I still don’t love it now, but I love how it makes me feel less batshit. So I’m sucking it up and trying to make it fun. There are many ways to move your body in a joyful way, not slaving away in a gym: ten minutes of slut dropping in your bedroom is as good a start as any.

And don’t beat yourself up about it, on the days when it doesn’t go to plan. Some days I clock-watch every second of my body pump class. Some days I run for two minutes and then sidle home because I just can’t be arsed. Some days, I cancel Burn 360 and slink off to the pub, because having a pint with people who make my stomach hurt with laughter is also excellent for my mental health. Consistency really is the key—just two or three times a week, find the time to raise your heart rate, release some endorphins, and see if you notice a reduction in your anxiety afterwards.

I plan to write more posts about how exactly to get started with exercise for anxiety; including top tips for free or very cheap exercises. So watch this space, and let me know in the comments what your experience of anxiety and exercise are.

And in the meantime? Keep on movin’.

Love Nic x

So you had a bad day: 5 tips for bouncing back 

What ever happened to Daniel Powter? ‘Bad Day’ was a bop. But unlike the eponymous 2005 classic, nobody likes a bad day. And if you’ve suffered from mental health problems, the setback of a bad day can feel like a world-ending calamity.

They take on an ominous quality—not like a ‘I’ve missed my bus and spilt coffee down my top’ bad day. They can feel world-ending. Some can be predicted—I know I usually feel fairly crap on certain significant dates. Some come out of the blue, which is almost worst. One of the hardest things to come to terms with is knowing that, unfortunately, they’re likely to crop up throughout the rest of my life. This is incredibly annoying, as I’d like to be able to say I used to have anxiety, put a tick next to it and move on with my life. But sadly not.

Whether you’re suffering/recovering from anxiety or depression, or are just a human being living a life, there’s always going to be bad days. In my experience, you can’t outrun them—but you can sometimes manage them.

5 tips for a bad day

1. Touch things! This sounds a bit weird, but one of the side effects of my own anxiety is feeling a bit… unreal. Like I’m not quite connected to the world around me. (This is called derealization and is a THING). A solid way to counter this is to touch things, preferably something living, although a great fluffy blanket is also a solid shout. People are good, dogs are better. I’m allergic to cats so I can’t confirm on that front. Whether it’s a hug, a squeeze of a hand, or even just physical proximity to another living thing, I find physical touch to be really grounding—it brings me ‘back into reality’.

‘But what if I haven’t got anyone to touch?’ I hear you say – and I feel you on this one. I lived alone for about a year and a half, and it was during this period that I was seriously unwell, and pretty lonely to boot. I was advised to ‘touch myself’. Not like that – (although: live your life). Squeeze your fingers, run your palms over your arms. I find it weirdly soothing to make a deep pressure on my palms. Give it a go!

2. My PhD supervisor always used to beg me: please, be kind to yourself. This is key advice. Do something nice and self-indulgent. If you’re already having a terrible day, don’t beat yourself up further by depriving yourself of things that might bring you pleasure. Get a hot chocolate, buy yourself a treat in your lunchbreak. Leave work on time, and refuse to feel guilty about it. Put your pyjamas (or better yet, your pants) on the radiator and enjoy having a warm butt. Cancel on your gym class and go to the pub with your mates. Cancel on your mates and go to yoga. I don’t condone being selfish all the time, but when you’re having a bad day, just do whatever you know feels good for you.

And if you have a date which you know is triggering for you, book something! On my Dad’s birthday and the anniversary of his death, I like to make sure I’m doing something a bit self-indulgent, preferably with somebody who also knew and loved him. It’s a ginormous help, even if it’s just something small.

3. Leading on from this: food. This brings a whole host of issues, which I’ll discuss another time; ‘comfort eating’ can obviously be a negative thing. But when I was at my most anxious, I couldn’t eat at all—I legit once threw up a spoonful of scrambled eggs back onto my plate in a restaurant. (Gross, sorry).

I wailed to my therapist that I couldn’t eat—even that I was trying to eat good, nourishing food. Turns out, healthy food wasn’t what I needed. I needed ice buns dunked in Earl Grey, and plenty of them. This weird diet slowly got my stomach used to food again, so I was able to start eating broccoli and all that other good stuff again. In my opinion, if you’re having a horrible day, treating yourself to something yummy and not beating yourself up for it is a win-win.

I repeat: do not beat yourself up. Don’t even allow yourself to say the negative words, ‘I’m being bad today’. Food does not have a moral quality. You are not failing for enjoying a chocolate bar on a shitty day.

4. I’m very loathe to put exercise as a tip for battling a bad day because I know when many of us are having a dark day, getting out of bed at all is a big ask, let alone hopping to the gym. So, this is really annoying advice. But if you can, get out of the house—preferably during daylight—and walk for at least 15-20 minutes. Or just dance around in your underwear for a few minutes.

It’s silly, but it’s seriously important. I hate that this a thing (I am naturally a sloth) but unfortunately, it’s a truth you can’t argue with. Exercise endorphins are good shit.

5. Tell someone! The simple act of saying it out loud often gives me a huge cathartic ‘woosh’. I get very ‘in my own head’ when I’m having an anxious day, and then I start to get paranoid that I’m acting weird and everybody thinks I’m a fruit loop. Now, as soon as I’ve identified a ‘bad day’, I try and tell somebody. A friend, a family member. Just a text to a mate who understands, or a workmate who can give you a bit of support for the day. I’ve been very lucky to work with sympathetic colleagues, who are understanding—and I do really believe that, if you’re brave enough to be honest, many people you work with will be more compassionate than you know.

If you don’t have anyone, tweet me, and I will send you my stash of puppy gifs.

These sound trite, and of course, these are tips for down days, not when you’re undoing a serious mental health incident. If you’re having serious thoughts, please always seek the appropriate help.

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS