Self help strategies

People spoke about a variety of different things that they could do for themselves to improve their mental health. These included activities that actually helped to deal with problems when they were becoming unwell, as well as ways of managing their life on a day-to-day basis that, along with medicine for example, helped them to stay well. Social activities were very important for some. Many people spoke about the benefits of joining groups which had a mental health focus. You can read about that here: Mental Health Community Support Services and Peer Support.

For most people, self-help strategies were about managing the ups and downs of life and keeping themselves ‘on an even keel’. Quite a few people said doing ordinary things (listening to music, watching movies, having a hobby) they enjoyed helped them. Ann found listening to audio books was a way of ‘self-soothing’. When David found he couldn’t cope when he was on holiday with some friends, he withdrew and absorbed himself in a book and ‘just focused on the fantasy world of the book as a way of coping’.

Quick Links

Self-care and exercise
Avoidance and pacing
Other self-help strategies

Taylor said it was important to look after yourself and give yourself a treat every now and then.

Self-care and exercise

People spoke about the importance of taking care of themselves, which involved everything from eating well, and relaxing, to giving themselves little treats. Ann mentioned a ‘sensory modulation’ technique that she found helpful – a ‘hand massage with some nice smelling hand cream’. Charlie described how regulating her diet has helped her. She allows herself to eat anything on Fridays but watches what she eats for the rest of the week. Charlie said it takes away the ‘guilt’ and improves her self-esteem. Anna described how basic self-care like having a shower was important for her because when she has a ‘depressive episode’ she ‘just can’t’ be bothered doing that.

Exercise was particularly helpful for a few people. Helen does ‘keep fit once a week’ and goes out for a walk with a friend every other day. Carlo said he was ‘the fittest and healthiest physically’ he’s ever been and had ‘needed to do that to manage [his] symptoms’. Niall said he was prone to anxiety and depression, and going to the gym and playing tennis helped keep his ‘serotonin levels up’ which was good for him.

Susana said walking and cycling cleared her head and made her feel more positive.

Avoidance and pacing

Self-help could mean doing some things or not doing other things. People mentioned becoming aware of when they needed to avoid certain situations that could exacerbate their symptoms. Ann for example said she found TV ‘too chaotic’. This was part of people being more ‘clued up’ about themselves and knowing what worked for them.

Carlo recognised that what he sees and hears affects his mood and has become more selective about what he watches on TV.

For most people, it was important to avoid situations of stress or anxiety that would aggravate them and make them feel unwell. Luana described how she kept her stress levels low. She said, ‘I adjust my life accordingly’ and ‘don’t get into situations where I feel like things are out of control again’. For Allen, it was important to pace himself. He said trying to go ‘100 per cent’ was ‘where it all starts to break down’. He tries not to push himself and deliberately avoids leading a life that would be stressful or makes him feel anxious. He advises others to ‘just pitch yourself at 20 per cent below what you can actually do’.

David said long term goals can seem ‘unattainable’ and ‘overwhelming’. He finds breaking goals down and celebrating ‘small successes’ helpful.

Other self-help strategies

People spoke about other things which made a difference for them, many of which were of a personal nature. These could be things that helped them to cope with emotional swings or gave them comfort or relief from when they felt unwell. Tanai said having cats and dogs around her stopped her being angry because she loves animals and doesn’t want them to be afraid of her. She explained that ‘once I’ve made myself calm down I can think about why I was angry and usually it was something ridiculous and I’m over it’. Carlo talked about the importance of physical contact for him: ‘a 20 second hug releases so many of the body’s natural hormones and chemicals to help you feel better and you feel more connected’. Niall likes music and has sung in a few choirs which he said ‘helped in [his] recovery’.

Maria said she enjoyed writing about mental illness. She has written articles, which she calls her ‘consumer writings’ about recovery, one of which was published as a book for people with severe mental health problems. Maria also writes affirmations that she sends to friends when they are having a bad week. Cindy won a prize for a poem she wrote. She said it was ‘very therapeutic to write about how you feel and what’s going on in your life’.

Niall discovered that he could write ‘pretty good poetry’ when he attended a support service that offered creative writing classes.

A few people spoke about specific help they received from attending church or from their spiritual beliefs. This could be practical help like talking to a minister or priest, or it could be finding comfort in religion or spirituality. Carlo was brought up as a Catholic and found having a faith helped him, although it didn’t give him particular tools during his breakdown and recovery. Evan mentioned his involvement in a Greek Orthodox church. He said the priest, who has known him since he was a child, had experienced some hardship himself so he ‘understands’.

Charlie derived a lot of strength from her spiritual beliefs.

A few people spoke about trying alternative therapies, like Alice who said, ‘I dabble in complementary stuff’. Carlo talked about trying kinesiology, which he said uses muscle testing and ‘taps into the subconscious’, which he found ‘really helped’. He also practices yoga and meditation. A few others also spoke about practicing mindfulness and meditation. David described trying not to get caught up in his thoughts: ‘imagining sort of a distance mentally from those thoughts’.

Practicing meditation or mindfulness has been helpful for Ann. She described what it involves.

Anna explained how creating quiet time helped her to manage her tendency to ‘overthink things’.

A few people mentioned using techniques like ‘positive self-talk’ to help them manage symptoms. Tanai described how she does a ‘reality check’ when she feels ‘symptoms of psychosis’. She does this by grounding her senses with a strong sensation, like holding on to ice tightly and reminding herself what is ‘real’.

Jenny talked about someone she knew who controlled the voices ‘in her head’ by ‘negotiating’ with them.