About helping yourself
Self-help is an important part of recovery for anyone who has concerns about their mental health and wellbeing. You don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder to benefit. Life as a current or former serving member can be filled with many challenges. If these challenges are not addressed they can lead to problems that may impact on mental health and wellbeing. This section describes some simple strategies and healthy habits that, along with the support of family and friends, can go a long way to help you meet these challenges and better manage your life.
Many of the habits and strategies below are basic common sense, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Getting the basics right will go a long way to helping you cope.
Don’t try to do everything at once. When you have read the following sections, you may wish to stop for a while and work out a ‘plan of action’. Consider these questions:
- Which of these issues sound particularly relevant for you?
- Which strategies are you prepared to try?
We suggest that you select only one or two to begin with. Come up with a plan to work on them, one at a time, and set yourself some realistic goals for the next week. At the end of the week, review your progress; modify your goals if necessary and/or try some additional strategies for the following week. Over time, you will gradually develop a range of coping strategies and changes to your lifestyle that will help you to feel more in control of your symptoms and get more out of life.
Eat healthy meals. This sounds so simple, but how many of us actually do it? A poor diet will increase your stress levels which makes even small problems harder to deal with. If you’re not sure what you should be eating, talk to your general practitioner or a dietician.
When you’re struggling a bit, it’s easy to focus on all the problems you’ve got to deal with and stop doing the things that you used to find enjoyable. But even though you might not feel like getting involved in hobbies or other activities, being active is important for both your mental and physical health.
Exercise is also vital in effectively managing stress. Exercise helps you to relax by burning up those chemicals (like adrenalin) that are hyping you up. Half an hour of vigorous exercise most days will greatly improve your fitness and sense of wellbeing.
Problems often seem much bigger and harder to deal with when you’re tired, so getting a good night’s sleep is important in helping you overcome the challenges you’re facing. There are a lot of reasons for not sleeping well. You might be lying in bed worrying, or have developed some bad habits like having too much caffeine late in the day. The first step in getting better sleep is to identify why you’re not sleeping well. A good way to do that is to keep a sleep diary for a week or two. This might help you identify your bad sleep habits and what you need to change. Just before going to bed, record the activities of the day and evening, and anything you ate or drank in the hours before going to bed.
Setting goals and solving problems
Regular practice of the High Res tools will help you develop flexible resilience skills. On the High Res website and app you can develop a Personal Resilience Plan which records your goals and helps you track your progress. You can also use the Performance Training section in the High Res app to set goals around when you want to practice the tools.
Try the Problem Solving tool on the High Res website to help you work through problems and help you put the best solution into action.
The way we think about ourselves and the things that happen to us affects how we feel and act. People under stress often develop thinking habits that make them feel even worse about things. Unhelpful thoughts are those that make you feel distressed or have trouble getting along with other people. They make it more difficult to deal with your situation by making you feel overwhelmed or hopeless. It sounds strange but people often don’t think about how they’re thinking, so unhelpful thinking just keeps happening automatically. The good news is that with a bit of practice, you can teach yourself to replace unhelpful thoughts with helpful ones – thoughts that help you deal with the situation and improve your mood.
When we’re not travelling so well, certain situations can trigger distressing reactions that affect our mood, health, decision making, our ability to get things done, and our relationships with other people. Learning skills to manage these reactions can improve self-confidence, relationships, and health, and reduce our reliance on unhelpful ways of coping, like drinking too much or avoiding situations that make us anxious, stressed, or angry.
Simple ways of coping with distressing reactions include calming yourself with slow, deep breaths, and putting your thoughts and feelings into words by writing about whatever is concerning you. You can also learn to identify the situations that trigger your distress, and practice skills that will help you cope before, during, and after you face those situations.
Having people around you to support you through tough times is really important, but it’s easy to pull away from everyone when you’re not feeling great. You might feel like your friends and family don’t understand what you’re going through, or that hanging out with the guys from your old unit brings back too many bad memories. Everyone needs time to themselves now and then, but being isolated for too long isn’t good for you. It might feel strange to start with but you can build up your social connections, so that you have a few different people or groups that you can turn to for different types of support.
Self help for people with a mental health disorder
If you have been diagnosed with a mental health problem you might also find online treatment that is tailored for your particular mental health problem helpful. If you decide to do one of these online treatments we would recommend that you discuss it with your GP or other mental health professional.
- Having a mental health problem is not a sign of weakness.