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The importance of self-care in stressful times

by Jennifer Harper
Self Improvement10 min read

Losing a job, being off work through ill-health or taking time out to look after a loved one can impact your mental health in ways you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

Many people can feel isolated from their ‘normal’ life. Some may begin to lack confidence. Others can start to lose purpose. Throw in money worries, relationship issues and stress and you can see why anxiety can increase.

In these difficult moments it is easy to feel very alone. You can believe that you are the only person feeling these emotions, the only one experiencing these difficulties, and that others simply don’t understand.

Reality is that you are not alone. You are not the only person experiencing these raw emotions. And all of your thoughts and feelings are perfectly normal.

So how do you manage your mental health during this difficult period?

Firstly, don’t beat yourself up about it as there is potentially nothing you could have done to prevent this situation from arising.

Secondly, don’t cut yourself off. Stay connected to people. Is there someone you feel comfortable talking to? Ask for their support. Is there a local group you could join – whether in person or via social media – where you are talking to people in similar circumstances?

Thirdly, take time out to reflect on what is aggravating your situation. If you identify negative impacts then address these one by one. Examples of negative impacts on mental health may include:

  • Assuming that you have no identity (ie I am no longer a business analyst/customer service advisor/bank teller, therefore I can’t do anything else)
  • Financial strain
  • Negativity, whether intentional or otherwise, from family members, friends etc.
  • Putting additional stress on yourself (I must do this, I must do that)

It is easy to believe that your job role defined you. However, you are made up of many positive parts gained from both personal and professional life. Therefore, you have many skills that can be easily transferred into new roles. Often the hardest part is breaking one routine and starting another. This can be daunting, but if you approach it with a positive attitude, looking at the new skills you will gain, the new people you may meet and the new challenges you can conquer it can make the journey feel less stressful.

Sometimes family members or friends can come across as negative – they may believe they are trying to help – but it is important to tell them if their comments are hurtful or causing you distress. Of course, it is also important to listen to constructive feedback.

Organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureau are there to give free advice on many issues, including debt, money, housing, law and immigration. The Money Advice Service also offers free advice in relation to benefits you may be entitled to, budgeting, illness, disability, and family issues. For those who feel isolated, the Samaritans is a free, 24-hour, non-judgmental and confidential telephone and email support.

Through this period, it is also really important to recognise what makes you smile during the day and to make time for this. This can be anything from walking the dog or watching the birds, to working in the garden, or reading a book. Examples of positive impacts on mental health may include:

  • Routine – giving yourself time structures and goals
  • How you see yourself (positive thinking, seeing yourself as worthy and worthwhile)
  • Working towards re-employment, and knowing you are doing everything you can to help yourself

Continuing with a daily routine is extremely important to maintain purpose within your life. Is there something you can introduce that will give you reason to set an alarm clock? It doesn’t need to be big changes, small things can help. Does an elderly neighbour need help walking their dog?

As your confidence grows, consider other things you have always wanted to do. Does a local charity need volunteers? Is there a course you have always wanted to study (whether online or in person)? The Stay Nimble Learning Hub has many free, short courses on offer for you to do at home. This is also a good time to update your CV and practice interview techniques in preparation for responding to jobs that arise.

Giving yourself new purpose will have a positive impact on the way you view yourself, which will benefit your thought process and your ability to move forward.

Remember, it is also important to eat and sleep well in order to be able to physically and mentally deal with each day. There are many forms of simple exercise that can help you relax – including mindfulness, muscle relaxation, yoga and Pilates – which can be carried out at home or in groups. YouTube is a great source for accessing short videos explaining muscle relaxation, while the NHS websites also offer advice.

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