This week has been #MentalHealthAwarnessWeek, and I’ve tried to use this to prompt me to consider at least one thing each day that I can do to support my mental health. Approaching it day by day was really effective. Rather than making one big unrealistic resolution, like exercising every single day or only eating healthy food, I was honest about what each day held, and thought in advance about what will be most helpful and achievable. I also started posting what I was going to do on Twitter, and that meant I felt I had to make it happen!
This is how it went:
First day, so went big. 5 minute beginner yoga video first thing – fell over several times, realised how inflexible I am! Fruit smoothie for breakfast. Positive attitude at work, tried to be nice to everyone. Took healthy lunch and nutritious snacks. Drank enough water. Read a book. Shared with a colleague about a recent tough time. Supported another. Took a relaxing bath. Early night. This was starting well!
Tuesdays can be hectic for me so I knew it wasn’t going to be the mental health extravaganza of Monday. But this week I had two other vets in the building, so I made a resolution I was going to 1) take my lunch break and eat a nourishing meal which I’d prepared in advance, and 2) use it to go for a run, distance and speed entirely optional. I prioritised this goal throughout the morning, working efficiently to make it happen, and I was glad I did! I came back refreshed and energised, in a far better mood than when I’d left. You never know what’s in store for you as a vet so taking opportunities to have a break is even more important. At the end of my shift a collapsed dog was rushed in, and I ended up in theatre doing an emergency splenectomy until 11:30pm. How glad was I that I took that break!
Wednesdays are normally my half day, so I often try get a long run in. However, with my focus on mental health this week, I thought more carefully and honestly about what was most important. Running, and physical exercise generally, has been vital to supporting my mental health; starting running meant I was able to come off anti-depressant medication, and stay off. But sometimes you need to know when rest is more important. Having worked a 16 hour shift the day before, my half day was an opportunity to rest and recuperate rather than push myself on a long run. So I did that instead, and I was really proud of myself. It’s silly that making that decision felt like a bigger achievement than doing a long run.
Thursday this week was for having some fun. My partner had been nominated for an award and this was the night of the ceremony, so instead of my usual late night at work I took a few hours off to scrub up in a different way! Between work and running I don’t dress up that often (or brush my hair), so it was a treat to be a bit more girly. I’ve seen some fabulous advice on protecting your mental health- exercise, eat well, rest, breathing, mindfulness, talking, etc. But making time to have fun has to be a good one. We had a fabulous evening, and enjoyed a lot of lovely canapés!
Friday is a long day at work, and due to our staffing I’m not able to leave the building during my lunch break, and I work an extra hour on top of my usual shift. I didn’t really think about how I was going to tackle this, and I really struggled. I had no time for a lunch break, no access to nourishing food (poorly prepared in this department too), nowhere to be on my own for a few minutes and it was all round a stressful, hectic day. However I had read an article about breathing techniques in ‘Women’s Health’, so tried this in between a few of my consults. Deep breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which causes a slowing of your heart rate and a reductions in blood pressure. It’s prevents the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which is probably being released chronically in those of us with stressful jobs. The 4-7-8 technique involves breathing in for 4s, hold for 7 and release fully over 8. This made a noticeable difference to my rising stress levels, and I felt I communicated better with clients and colleagues as a result. Even if you only have 60 seconds spare, you can still make a difference.
That evening I also got to discharge my splenectomy patient to his incredibly grateful owners, having taken a really positive turn. That made me realise how great my job can be.
Last Saturday I volunteered as a pacer at my local parkrun which was fab, you can read about that here. I was feeling pretty low last week, particularly about my own running, but doing something to support other people made the world of difference. So this week I decided to volunteer again, this time as a Marshall. This involved me standing on a bench yelling support, clapping and keeping a track of the positions of both the buggies and the dogs! There was such a lot of positivity, and the sun brought plenty of good spirits. It was lovely to receive so many thank you’s from the runners, and I spotted some of the people I’d helped pace the week before gave them an extra cheer. I also made time after this to do my own 5k run and get my exercise back on track; not quite as fun as the parkrun, but I kept that positive vibe with me.
Today I’ve spent time with family, walked the dog, ridden the horse and I’m excited to be going to Hot Pod Yoga with a friend this evening… I’ll do a separate post on how this goes later in the week!
So overall it’s been a successful and reflective week. What I found frustrating was that I know full well what things would help me maintain both my mental and physical health, and I even have the motivation to do those things. But I often simply don’t have the time. However, the focus of the #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek campaign kept it at the forefront of my mind, even when I was really busy. It is so much easier to be honest about the time you have each day, and how you’re going to feel, and make a promise to yourself to prioritise one little thing that you know is going to help (stick it on social media if you think that’ll make you feel more motivated!). Some days for me this will simply be actually taking my (hours unpaid) lunch break, or allowing myself 60 seconds to do some breathing exercises in between consultations. Other days that are less hectic I’ve loved making time for more energising or exciting things like running, volunteering, new gym classes or social events.
Not every day of the week was as successful as it sounds when you write down the highlights, and my mental health has felt quite up and down. But even just the feeling that I was making time to think about my own self care was sometimes enough to make me feel more positively.
I realised that sometimes the bravest decision is to change your plans, and allow yourself to rest. Nowadays it’s almost a pressure to push yourself to do as may #positive things as possible – it feels on social media like the whole world is out there pumping iron, drinking smoothies and eating avocados. And that trend is fantastic, I’m completely behind it if it promotes wellbeing. But you must do what’s right for you each day; allow yourself to sack off the yoga or the long run to binge-watch a tv series if that’s what you need to do that day.
As the old saying goes: you cannot drink from an empty cup, fill yourself up. You’re worth it.