We’re all super-busy, right? Working, caring for others, trying to fit in the big shop between taking the kids to ballet and football, maki...

Three ways to look after your mental health when you don’t have much time

By February 21, 2019

We’re all super-busy, right? Working, caring for others, trying to fit in the big shop between taking the kids to ballet and football, making sure everyone has lunch for tomorrow and that there’s enough toothpaste to go around. Time is precious. But what happens when you’re also struggling with depression, or anxiety, or another mental health difficulty? How are you supposed to look after yourself when you just don’t seem to have the time? I’m going to talk about three ways to do just that in this blog post.

Accept that you’re not a superhero

Honestly, I think that this is the hardest thing on the list to actually do. We’re so convinced that everyone else can work harder, longer, faster and smarter than we do that we push ourselves to extremes to prove a point. Everyone thinks that everyone else has it all figured out. Nobody actually does. Those people who paint picture-perfect views of their lives on social media are probably struggling as well, but when you have a mental health difficulty you’re likely to focus on what you think you’re failing at rather than what’s reality. One of the best things you can do for your own mental health is to accept that you don’t have to be perfect – you just have to be good enough. And “good enough” is accepting that sometimes the kids might forget their PE kit, or there might not be enough cereal. Sometimes, you might have a panic attack in a supermarket and leave without the milk, or leave with nothing at all. Sometimes you might not be able to concentrate at work. It’s okay, and it has to be okay – you will survive it, and so will your loved ones.

Carve out space for you
I know, I know, you’re busy and you’re reading this blog post to find out how to cheat time and be even more busy, but here’s the thing: you only have 24 hours in a day, the same as everyone else. You need to focus on your mental health because you can’t drink from an empty cup – meaning, you can’t look after other people if you’re not looking after yourself. By finding some space for yourself even if it’s only ten minutes a day, and really prioritising it, you’re showing the people around you that you value your own mental health. If you have children, you’re teaching them to value their own mental health. And that’s really important. Start by taking ten minutes on an evening to wind down properly from the day before going to bed, and see where that takes you.

Practice what works

It’s a boring answer, but the things that work are basic and practical. They include things like learning how to use relaxation techniques to manage your anxiety, having a good sleep routine, making lists and being organised, and if needed, taking time to see a therapist. When you’re struggling to find time to look after yourself, it can feel like it’s not a good time to start practicing things that are new, and if you start too quickly you’re likely to get overwhelmed very quickly and feel even worse. But if you really need to do something new, like start meditating, start for two minutes at a time and build it up slowly. If you need to change your sleep routine, start by drinking less caffeine, and then by going to bed slightly earlier.  Change is possible, but you need to go slow. By prioritising your own mental health, accepting that life is difficult and you can’t do everything, and starting out small, you can make things easier for yourself.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog and big thanks to Vicki for letting me write it – if you like what you’ve read, check out my other blogs on my website.

My name is Dr Sarah Blackshaw; I’m a clinical psychologist working in Manchester, UK. I work in the area of physical health, with a special interest in chronic pain. Outside of work, I’m a keen runner, a terrible karaoke enthusiast, and President of my local WI.

Twitter: @academiablues

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