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Mental Health Awareness Week – ExtraCare’s Wellbeing and Innovation Lead shares his coping strategies

Michael Spellman, ExtraCare’s Wellbeing and Innovation Lead shares his thoughts on coping strategies and exercises we can take to improve our mental health this Mental Health Awareness Week. 


When we think about mental health, we tend to think about something that’s completely outside of our control, Mental Health Awareness Week is good for all of us to think of those small things that we can do to make our own mental well-being a little bit easier.

If you’re ever really worried about your mental health, there’s lots of people you can talk to. You can talk to somebody you trust. If your appetite, your sleep routine, the activities of daily living, are really starting to get affected by your mental well-being, that’s a really good time to talk to your GP. But for most of us, it’s just about those everyday little things that we can do to make our lives a little bit easier.


My advice for coping with negative thinking.

I have a counselling background and one of the main pieces of advice I often find myself giving to people is that we can learn to control our own negative automatic thoughts. It’s nice to know that there is something within our control , because a lot of the time when it comes to our mental health, we feel like it’s not really up to us. We can feel like we can’t really do anything about it, but lots of us experience stress, lots of us experience quite negative thinking. More often than not, the advice we get is to ‘think positive’. It’s really hard to think positive all of the time. So that’s not a piece of advice I’m going to give you. The piece of advice I’m going to give you is not to try and think in a balanced and rational way.  

More often than not, day-to-day we blow things out of all proportion, a negative feeling comes up, or something that we’ve perceived to be a negative feeling and we allow it to become all-consuming and we start to think the absolute worst thing is going to happen to us, in those moments what I’d ask you to do is to pause and think in a more balanced way rather than letting that thought spiral. Those thoughts are often not very fact based. It’s fear-based thinking when we come up with the scariest option.  

Think about the facts. What’s really going on in this situation? This helps us arrive at a more balanced outcome, all or nothing thinking – positive or negative thinking gets us nowhere.


Any steps we can take to improve our mental health?

One of the first things that we can do for our mental health is simply going out for a walk and being a bit more connected with nature. It’s a big part of what we are designed for, it could be something as simple as a walk that lunchtime so you’re not always indoor staring at a screen.

We need time to think, and nature can really give us that. We’re not taking too much information in, we’re just enjoying the environment around us. If we’re struggling with things like negative automatic thoughts, being around nature and having a bit of a clearer mind can really help.

Also, when we’re outdoors, we’re not being stimulated by much. Our brain hasn’t got to put up with as much stuff, that’s when we start to feel overwhelmed and it’s hard to pause and think in a healthy and balanced way when our mind is busy and cluttered, particularly in workplaces.


An exercise to try this week?

My challenge is to you is tomorrow, when you’re making that first cup of tea or coffee in the morning, stand next to the kettle and watch it boil. Don’t think about what you did yesterday, and don’t think about what you’ve got to do next.

This is a mindfulness exercise, which we often think of as requiring hours of meditation, but we can practise mindfulness in lots of everyday tasks. Washing up, making a bed, just focus on that one task. When we learn how to do that it helps our brain and our mind to feel a lot clearer, and it puts us in a much better position to challenge the difficult stuff that comes our way with some fact-based thinking. Our brain needs a rest from time to time, so give it one.


For more from Michael take a look at the video below.

For more information on wellbeing visit ExtraCare’s Wellbeing Page

Michael Spellman discusses top tips for your mental health.