The aim of Mental Health Awareness Week is to get people talking about how they're feeling and remove the stigma that surrounds the topic. Following a year spent in lockdown due to the global pandemic, Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 may well be one of the most important ones yet.
The theme for this year is so aptly “Nature”. After a year where the great outdoors has been a universal leveller, a shared escape, and a source of much-needed joy, Mother Nature is increasingly celebrated as one of the most effective ways to support and improve mental health.
But we recognise that the positive impact of nature is only one piece of a very complex puzzle when it comes to mental health. And even with quality time in nature, there are times when you just don’t feel okay. And that’s ok.
If you’ve been feeling more anxious than usual recently, you’re not alone. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health concern each year, but it can still feel like the loneliest journey. The bravest thing that anybody can do is ask for help, which is why we continue to support mental health charity, CALM. To date, the APOTHEM community has raised enough to fund close to 1000 potentially lifesaving calls through sales of our dedicated charity collection.
As well as organisations like CALM that you can reach out to for support, we’ve also compiled some useful techniques that can help improve mental wellbeing all year round.
1. Spend Quality Time in Nature.
Nature has the power to make us happier. Fact. When we understand that we are actually wired to be outside, every moment connecting with nature starts to feel even more powerful. Our sensory system evolved in the natural world, and when we're in nature - really tuning in with all of our senses, not just powering through from A to B, or on phone calls - our brains become more relaxed, our blood pressure lowers, and our cortisol levels balance out. As little as 20 minutes a day could be enough to lower stress hormone levels.
From cultivating a garden to forest walks or feeling the force of the ocean at the beach, nature is the one place to always come back to ground, reconnect, and boost your mood.
2. Engage In Regular Exercise.
Looking after your body also happens to be one of the most effective ways of looking after your mind. Of course, not everyone relishes the idea of dusting off their trainers and heading out for long-distance runs or putting themselves under the tension of weights. The good news is that any form of exercise, including walking, swimming or yoga can significantly relieve feelings of stress and anxiety.
Exercise has a range of effects on the human mind and body that help alleviate stress and anxiety. It boosts your production of endorphins, a hormone that causes feelings of happiness. At the same time, exercise decreases your body’s production of adrenaline and cortisol: hormones that cause stress. What’s more, exercise can help improve sleeping patterns, which is a stress reliever in and of itself.
3. Focus on Getting Enough Quality Sleep.
The importance of sleep for mental health is becoming much more widely researched and it is now thought that there is a bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health, in which sleeping problems may be both a cause and consequence of mental health problems. This cycle can lead to a mutually reinforcing dynamic of fatigue, frustration, and anxiety.
Fortunately, there are some measures you can take to help improve sleep patterns. For starters, avoid drinking alcohol in excess. While a glass of wine a day may be touted to keep the doctor away, too much is more likely to seriously impinge on your quality of sleep. One of our favourite wearable health-tech brands, OURA, took a deeper dive into how alcohol impacts sleep and now we’re even more excited to explore some of these non-alcoholic spirit alternatives.
It’s also important to avoid using any electronic device too close to bedtime. Computers, phones, tablets, and anything else with a screen can make it harder for you to nod off due to the negative effect of the blue light on melatonin production. Meditation, regular exercise and avoiding caffeine can all go a long way towards helping you enjoy better quality sleep.
4. Introduce CBD Into Your Wellbeing Routine.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is believed to have qualities that help alleviate stress and anxious feelings. In one of the more recent clinical tests, 79% of the participants reported decreased feelings of anxiety after a month of taking CBD.
It is thought that this is due to the effect that CBD may have on our brain’s regulation of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is the human body’s main stress hormone, and it affects mood as well as feelings of motivation and fear.
CBD products come in many forms, including CBD oils, vapours, creams, and capsules. You can learn more about the benefits of CBD to determine whether it could be an effective method for you to de-stress.
5. Connect With Others (At Your Own Pace).
Being around people can lift us up and gives us a chance to both offer and receive emotional support and share our experiences. Coming out of lockdown though, you may feel torn between wanting to make the most of the newfound freedom and seeing all the people you’ve missed, and just wanting to retreat and catch your breath as we all adapt to a more social world again.
Be mindful that social burnout is a real possibility, and it’s ok to say no to some invitations and take more time to reconnect at your own pace. Being careful with your time will be better for your mind, body and relationships in the long run.
6. Listen to Calm, Relaxing Music.
An accessible way of lowering stress levels and boosting your mood is listening to music. Some research studies suggest that music, as a form of therapy can be highly effective for anxiety relief. So, the next time you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, put on a relaxing song and take a few minutes for yourself. This small act can make a world of difference.
7. Use Aromatherapy For A More Relaxing Environment.
Aromatherapy uses essential oils to promote wellbeing and helps with both emotional and physical health, with reported benefits of managing stress and anxiety levels, boosting immunity, and so much more. With aromatherapy, our olfactory system transmits the ‘signal’ of the scent to the limbic and hypothalamus areas of the brain. This causes the brain to produce hormones like serotonin and endorphins, making us feel more relaxed.
APOTHEM’s product range has been expertly formulated with aromatherapy and botanical experts to bring together a blend of plant extracts that are designed to work with each other and with our bodies, including therapeutic essential oil blends. For instance, UNPLUG CBD Bath Salts are formulated with Rosemary and Mint essential oils to not only help relieve aches and pains but to create a balancing aroma that helps calm and balance the mind as you soak away the day.
If you find that you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out when you’re in a certain space or room, essential oils can help create a more calming environment. Using an essential oil diffuser, oil burner or a quality scented candle is a great way to experience the benefits of aromatherapy every day.
8. Practice Mindfulness Meditation.
There are well-established links between mindfulness meditation and stress reduction in multiple scientific studies.
Mindfulness refers to the practice of remaining anchored to the present moment. It’s a useful way to avoid getting lost in thoughts that could cause stress or anxiety. The practice of mindfulness meditation is easy to get into and there are many guided mediation courses available to choose from, including some of our favourites on the apps Headspace, Insight Timer and Buddhify.
9. Prioritise Downtime.
One of the blessings of lockdown was more time for ourselves, and the thought of losing that, however we spent it, can be worrying for many people. It’s important to continue to book time in for you, like you would a meeting with anybody else. Take a long hot bath or invite yourself to just sit. Maybe with a book, or with your favourite podcast. Embrace doing nothing and know that it's okay to take your time to readjust.
10. Be Mindful About Caffeine Intake.
While caffeine can focus our attention and improve cognitive functions, as a stimulant it can also start to cause anxiety in higher doses. Different people have different tolerances for caffeine so carefully monitoring your own caffeine intake and feelings is a good practice to establish how much feels too much, and also track any correlation with sleep disruptions. As an alternative, try switching in some herbal teas (we’re fans of the flavours and ethos of Kib Tea), some of which are even known to have anxiety-reducing properties such as Chamomile.
Supporting Positive Mental Health
Wherever you’re at right now, take a moment to recognise it and the journey you've been on to get here. Mental Health Awareness Week is not about overhauling your life or eliminating all anxious thoughts in a week, but rather taking it as a little nudge of motivation to focus on working on good mental health each and every day.
Whether you decide to get outside for more walks, explore CBD products, prioritise better sleep, or reach out to someone to talk about how you feel, explore what works for you to nurture your wellbeing.