Hi, I’m Andy Cain and I’m a trustee for Sheffield Mind.

I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder in 2011 and with Clinical Depression in 2017. I’ve had my own struggles with these over the years and am proud to call myself a mental health survivor. Currently I’m pleased to say I’m doing really well but I do know how difficult it can be to manage whatever mental health struggles we go through in life and I can promise you that there is a way forward. I believe that the battles that I have been through have helped me develop coping mechanisms, strategies and personal resilience techniques which I will be using whenever I’m struggling in the future.

I’m aware that the times we’re currently in will be difficult for lots of people in lots of different ways. Some of you will have lots of experience of managing your mental health and for some of you this may be the first time that you have ever had to think about how to manage your mental health. Wherever you are in your own mental health journey I hope that the following tips that I have learnt over my journey will help you all in some way.

Remember its ok to not be ok but that doesn’t mean things won’t be ok. 

Often the very first step in a mental health recovery journey is the hardest one to take. Admitting to ourselves, let alone others, that we’re struggling can be such a daunting task that many of us never do it. We shy away from admitting that we’re not ok but in doing so, we deny ourselves the opportunity to recover and become better. Admitting we are struggling is not a sign of failure, it’s a sign of success. Success in accepting that we are human and success in recognising within ourselves that we deserve to be well.   

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Whether its from a medical professional, a friend, a loved one, an organisation such as Sheffield Mind, a telephone helpline or online webchat (such as The Samaritans) or from anyone / anywhere else, asking for help is nothing to be afraid of and nothing to be ashamed of. If as the old saying goes, ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ then 50% of your work will be done when you do open up about whatever is on your mind. I prefer to think of it this way though, if you carry a heavy stone all day it’ll weigh you down. Wouldn’t it be a good feeling to put the stone down for a bit or to let someone else help you carry it for a while ?

When you are struggling, take things day by day.

Here’s a quote that’s given me lots of comfort over the years, ‘It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then’.  It’s from Alice In Wonderland and that quote has helped me see the light when I’ve been in some very dark places. If I was a different person yesterday then I can be a different person tomorrow right ? When tomorrow feels a long way away though, take things day by day, if needed, take things hour by hour and if needed, take things minute by minute. The Alice in Wonderland quote also helped me to come up with my inner mantra for when I’m struggling the most ‘Everyday has a midnight’ and I just have to focus on getting to there because tomorrow is a whole new day and you can have as many fresh starts as you allow yourself to have

Be you and be the best you can be at being you.

We all have expectations and standards in life but sometimes nothing is tougher than the expectations and standards we put on ourselves. Learn how not to put should’s upon yourself, how many times have we heard or thought ‘should’ statements: ‘I should be happier’, ‘I should be healthier’, I should be thinner’, ‘I should have a better job’, ‘I should have more money’, ‘I should be more like what other people expect / want from me’. There is nothing wrong with having aims, goals or ambitions but if those come at the expense of your mental health then those aims, goals and ambitions are hurting you not helping you. Remember the difference between you not being good enough and you being good enough begins with losing just one three letter word (not). To think positive is to be positive. No-one can be better at being you than you so be you and be the best you can be at being you.

Aim for contentedness rather than happiness

In life, we are conditioned to believe that happiness is what matters and happiness is what we should be achieving. Happiness is however a temporary state of mind and its not possible to be in that temporary state of mind on a permanent basis. Its easy to think that happiness and unhappiness are the only ways to be but there is a level inbetween those stages, that level is contentedness. It took me years to learn the difference between happiness and contentedness, and I very much consider that I’m still learning this, so putting this into a brief paragraph is something I find incredibly difficult but its one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learnt and its something that I would be very happy to provide more details on if anyone reading this would be interested in reading more on my thoughts on this subject.   

The Three M’s.

Meditation : If you don’t currently meditate or have never tried meditating then I can’t recommend highly enough that you try it. There are many, many different ways of meditating and the most important thing is to find a way that works for you. If you don’t feel you have the time for meditation then remember it can be done in any amount of time from just a few minutes a day and if you can’t do it everyday then you don’t have to do. The more time you can put into meditation the better the results will be but again, find a way that works for you. As for starting on meditation, there are loads of websites, apps (I’d particularly recommend HeadSpace as an app to use) and books dedicated to this subject so give it a try.

Medication : If you have been prescribed medication (and there is no shame in having been prescribed medication, I openly admit that I take prescribed anti-depressants everyday) then be sure to take it. Especially at the current time, keeping up to date on your medications is more important than ever before. If you are not on medication and feel that you should be, or if the medication you are on doesn’t appear to be helping you (remember that medications can take time to have the desired and required effect) then be sure to contact your Doctor or GP. They are there to help and they will do so. After all, its what they do. Also don’t be afraid to tell your Doctor or GP what is going on. They will listen, they are experienced and trained in doing so and they will have heard whatever you need to tell them before. The more information you give them, the better equipped they will be to help you.

Mediation :
Having those thoughts in the back of your head that tell you you’re not good enough and you should be better than you are is an annoying but very real part of life for lots of us. Knowing how to balance and manage those thoughts can be exhausting and can take away from the energy that we could be using to help us cope better with what we are going through. Learn to think of those thoughts as a voice that’s there but that doesn’t need to be constantly listened to. Learn to mediate between where you are in life and what that voice tells you. The ways you can do that will be different depending on you but find out what works for you and don’t be afraid to try different ways until you find out what ways work for you.

Learn to recognise your own triggers and learn to work with them

Through time, and if you haven’t already, you will begin to learn your own triggers and you will learn how to work with them. I’m not going to tell you this is easy because it’s not but it’s very worthwhile and its very beneficial. You will be able to recognise when you are slipping and when you are beginning to struggle and sooner you can get on top of that, the better. Personally I like to think of this like this: If the milk in my fridge is going off then I can’t leave it to go off and expect it to get fresh again because it won’t. Replace that milk with fresh stuff that won’t make you feel worse for continuing to drink it.    

Coronavirus / Covid-19

With specific regards to Coronavirus / Covid 19, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with what is happening in the world, with the information we’re receiving and with the messages we are receiving. While keeping informed and keeping safe are both hugely important, it’s also important to ensure that you do whatever you can to remain healthy physically and mentally.

One way to do that mentally is to be sure to have some non-coronavirus time for yourself everyday where you turn the news off and do something you enjoy. Watch other television shows (I find comedies work well), watch a film, phone a friend, read a book, take a walk, do some exercise or even just catch up on sleep. Whatever you do, the news will be waiting for you whenever you feel ready to pick it back up. There are lots of stories out there about people learning new skills during this time but don’t overload yourself with pressure. Getting by is enough to focus on if that’s all you feel you can do. You don’t have to learn a foreign language, become a baker or learn an instrument. Be you and do what you can and what makes you happy.  

Also, if you feel able then take the challenges I was given a few years ago and which I continue to try to do everyday. No matter how low you may feel, try to do three small things a day. If all you can do one day is make your bed, have a cuppa and eat something nice then those are still three things you’ve done. It doesn’t matter what the three things are, it doesn’t matter if you don’t manage to do all three, do whatever you can and hopefully you’ll feel better as a result of doing those things. They may even encourage or inspire you to do more things but if not, then that’s fine too. Also try not to spend longer worrying about doing something than it would take to actually do that thing. That can be a real challenge at times but it’s a great feeling when you succeed at that.  

Closing Thoughts

In closing, I really hope something on this list helps you and I would like to thank Sheffield Mind forgiving me the opportunity to share these thoughts with you. Work on developing your own coping mechanisms, strategies and personal resilience techniques and make them work for you. Good luck with your own mental health journey and if you’d like to, then please let me know how you get on via the Sheffield Mind office.

Thank you, Andy