The rush of a fast-paced city like London is whirlwind – until it leaves you winded. An important part of keeping the balance between work, socialising, relationships and fitness is mental health – and too often, we let it slip to the wayside. This winter at The Collective, we’re hosting Self-Care Sundays, a weekly reminder to treat ourselves to reflection, attention and love. This weekend, we’re experiencing mental maintenance with Self Space, a contemporary mental health service based in Shoreditch that are on a mission to revolutionise the way we access, think and feel about mental health support. Leading up to our workshop, lead practitioner Chance Marshall shares the importance of mental maintenance, and gives us six mindfulness tips for the busy Londoner.
1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In a world which can sometimes be challenging, frightening, overwhelming, complex and hard to navigate, it’s not surprising that sometimes we don’t feel okay. Everyday mental maintenance is an essential part of surviving.
– Chance Marshall, Self Space
1. Connect with (all of) your emotions
Normal, natural emotions are too often seen as good or bad. And being positive has become a new form of moral correctness. A natural response to painful experiences is to avoid thinking about them, but research tells us that when feelings and emotions are ignored, they amplify. The only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves. Allow yourself to feel without judgement and without rushing to your emotional exits.
2. Connect with your body
As we tend to avoid difficult emotions, they can later manifest as physical problems. Emotions like anger and stress can cause clenching of the jaw, so release your jaw, massage your face muscles and try yawning. Worry or anxiety can cause you to knit your brow without realising, so release your forehead by raising and lowering your eyebrows 2-4 times while inhaling/exhaling deeply. To release tension in the shoulders, inhale and lift your shoulders to your ears. As you exhale, draw your shoulders down and back, guiding the shoulder blades towards each other and downwards. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing experiences of the past and of the present, while actively steering us in the right direction for self-care.
3. Connect with nature
47% of London is green space. Seek it out and rest in it. It is not about spending hours outdoors or wandering in wilderness. It’s as simple as a walk in the park, or noticing that tree. Virtually any form of connection to the natural world heightens our overall well-being. When we extend ourselves beyond focusing primarily on our own needs, worries, regrets or desires for the future, we become less anxious and more present in the moment.
4. Connect with your breath
Slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. Try this simple breathing exercise. It will help you relax, feel grounded, reduce tension and alleviate anxiety.
Step 1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
Step 2. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
Step 3. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
Step 4. Breathe out through your mouth. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out.
Step 5. Repeat this 5-10 times, notice how you feel after.
5. Connect with others
More than 9 million people in the UK – almost 20% of the population – say they are always or often lonely (British Red Cross and Co-Op, 2016). The thing about loneliness is that it makes us feel as if no one else feels like we do, when in reality, millions of other people around us are feeling the same. Almost all of us have felt lonely at one point or another. Reach out to others, reach friends, reach out to family and stay connected. If you can, call or meet up instead of texting, be curious about others, let go of expectations and don’t isolate yourself.
Being able to feel safe with other people is one of the single most important aspects of maintaining good mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.
6. Disconnect from tech
Disconnecting from tech will not only help you to achieve all of the above, but a digital detox goes a long way in allowing us the time to return to ourselves. Setting boundaries around screen time can really help sustain us; try turning of notifications for any work email accounts post-working hours. Researchers have found that unplugging after work can make a huge difference in your quality of life, mental health, and happiness. They found that when people disconnected from work related tasks, such as checking their work email after hours, they reported feeling fresher and better recharged when beginning work the following day. As an added challenge, try committing to not look at your phone for the first hour of the morning or the last hour before sleep. Time away from social media can help disrupt patterns of comparing yourself to others, help you sleep and curb your FOMO.
Chance Marshall and Self Space will deliver their workshop, ‘Self-Care Sundays: Mental Maintenance’, this weekend at 2pm, Sunday 17th February at The Collective Old Oak. Members can head to the app to sign up.