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Move, breathe, listen to the birds

I recently learned that the month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Here in the UK the Mental Health Foundation also hosted a Mental Health Awareness week with the theme being centred around the importance of nature.

It encouraged me to reflect upon the ways I stay on top of my own mental health, ever since I realised that my mind was something I needed to look after.

We’re all a work in progress, right? So it’s likely that what we need to support ourselves at any given time might look different than it did a few years ago.

But over the years I can say that the general themes of moving my body, engaging with nature, feeding my creativity, eating mindfully, limiting tech time, and keeping a clutter-free home, have been vital to my wellbeing.

Below are just ten of the many ways that I keep my mental health in check - they all form part of my own personal toolkit that is constantly evolving. I like to write these down - even just etch the words on a piece of paper - to serve as gentle reminders.

It’s worth a bit of time and reflection to look at what you’ve put in place for your wellbeing over the years or to think how you can start building your own toolkit now. Chances are you have more tricks up your sleeve than you thought, and boy does that come as a relief when times are tough.

I MOVE - I don't mean workouts that have me over-sweating, over-doing and over-breathing.  I mean any kind of movement that makes me feel alive and helps me celebrate my body and get out of my head.  This can be the right kind of yoga for me, a random dance in my front room, a swim, a long walk in nature.  The point is to move and celebrate the moving body, which takes me out of my intellectual brain and into my movement centre.

I LISTEN TO BIRDS - I've been doing this every morning in bed for at least 20 minutes. My flat is on a busy road (the constant whir of traffic is agitating). But my bedroom backs on to our neighbours' gardens and in the morning the birds are really doing their thing.  Every day I feel awe at the range of the blackbird’s song - I give myself permission to be in this awe and start my day in the most lyrical way.  It keeps me positive about the day ahead.

I COOK EVERDAY - Cooking is a great way for me to keep my hands busy and my mind focused on one task at hand (multi-tasking is my biggest mental challenge). It's also a huge creative outlet for me.  I have gotten a Riverford delivery for the past eight years and celebrate every box like a gifted parcel of goodness.  Cooking ensures I get the goodness of whole foods in me and the nutrients I need for a happy tummy and happy brain. I'll take vegetables over vitamins any day.

I LIMIT TIME ON INSTAGRAM - I am teetering towards no Instagram - it overwhelms and overstimulates my brain - I've got to monitor my time on it carefully.  If I set myself a 15-minute time limit, then I know I won't go over that edge.  I stopped checking Facebook a few years ago and found it hugely helped my nervous system and stress levels.  I stay on top of social media consumption and keep a watchful eye on how it's affecting me. I know I'm happiest when I'm away from it and really that's reason enough to limit my time there.

I GO COLD WATER SWIMMING - At the moment this is more like cold water showering, but as soon as the weather warms up and it's safe for me to swim in the frigid Ladies Pond again, I'll be there.  It never ceases to amaze me how cold water can take me from feeling listless or fearful or sad to a totally uplifting space - especially if outdoors. It connects me to my primal need to be one with nature and something about that is endlessly life-affirming.

I BREATHE THROUGH MY NOSE - As a long time yoga student and teacher, I learned early on the benefits of nasal breathing, but recently I've been learning more about the benefits of mouth-taping at night to ensure I'm not undoing the good through snoring or sleeping with my mouth open at night.  In exercise, I only ever exert myself to the point where I can't breathe through my nose and I stop.  It's a way more efficient way to breathe and regulates your body and stress levels. Slow and low breaths through my nose take me to a peaceful place.

I JOURNAL WITH FOUNTAIN PENS - I have always loved writing, but was really missing hand-writing.  I thought my penmanship was to blame until I discovered the right paper and fountain pens. I'm learning that just enjoying the act of running a pen on paper is so therapeutic and often the most soothing, lovely advice from my inner teacher comes out in those random words. Also there is so much joy in playing with colour and fountain pen inks come in such a vast array!

I FLOWER GAZE - This spring I've taken countless walks outside and have allowed myself just to marvel at the flowers - to appreciate nature.  It always brings a sense of joy, peace and calm and allows me to step outside the mind clutter.  Occasionally I buy the odd bunch - those on IG will have seen my beloved anemones. Now that it's June, I'm stopping to smell every rose I pass - it's the most sublime, free aromatherapy and brings brightness and freshness to my most mind-cluttered days.

I KEEP CLUTTER OUT - I am such a huge believer in dusting and clearing and refreshing spaces - especially on those days when I feel stuck or down.  Often those are the days the fridge gets a refresh or the wardrobe an airing out.  A feeling of a fresh new beginning goes a long way.  Clear home often means clear mind for me.

I FILL WITH FRESH AIR - This is such a big one.  I flood my flat with it every day (even in winter when the heat is off) and get out as often as possible.  I realise city air isn't the freshest, but the air in a small flat won't ever be enough to invigorate me and put my mind at ease. Spaces need to be refreshed, air needs to move, so I keep a sense of flow at all times.


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