This article supplements the one that appeared in the Bulletin on 27 June. Here we give you five additional tips for taking care of your mental health.
- Make the most of the positive moments of your day
Human beings tend to focus their attention on the problems that need solving. This can lead to feelings of unhappiness or stress and prevent us from appreciating what’s going well.
It may take some time to change this habit, but adopting a more positive outlook on life can contribute to our well-being.
Try this exercise to help you to focus on the positive:
Take a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. In the first column write down the difficulties or problems you’ve encountered during the day. In the second column write down all the positive experiences you’ve had during the day. It could be a smile, birdsong, constructive feedback from a colleague, a job well done or a delicious meal. The challenge is to write down at least three positive things to offset each difficulty or problem.
- Practise gratitude
Human beings don’t value these positive things very much, if at all, as they are used to taking them for granted. However, neuroscience shows that practising gratitude (saying thank you, for example, or remembering something that someone has done for us or that we’ve done for them) gives us a deep sense of well-being.
In the same spirit as the previous exercise, take a few minutes each evening to review the events of the day. Since you woke up, what has happened to help or inspire you or make you happy? Take the time to say thank you. Each day, try to find at least one thing for which you feel grateful and observe how this has a positive influence on your state of mind.
- Develop your self-esteem
Research tells us that our self-esteem affects the way we evaluate a potentially stressful situation. The higher our self-esteem, the lower the degree of stress we experience.
Self-esteem is a resource that we can use to keep stress in check and it also helps to counteract negative emotional states of mind such as depression and anxiety*.
Self-esteem is the ability to accept ourselves, like ourselves and believe in our own worth, regardless of our successes and failures, our position or our achievements.
We can develop self-esteem at any time in our lives. Here are two small exercises to get you started:
- Identify your own inner dialogue: what do you tell yourself when you make a mistake? How do you relate your latest failure? Is your inner dialogue positive or negative?
If it’s rather negative, try to replace it with words that bring a sense of support, confidence, understanding or courage. Speak to yourself as if you were talking to your best friend!
- All the experiences we have, whether good or bad, teach us many things. Think of a situation you experienced that makes you feel uncomfortable. Try to “rewrite” the situation, giving it a new meaning, one that you would be a little more comfortable with. Use this process to identify what the situation has brought you.
- Listen to your emotions
It’s sometimes difficult to recognise our emotions. Unconsciously, emotions influence our state of mind, our thoughts, our actions and our relationship with ourselves and others.
Some emotions, such as fear, sadness and anger, are considered to be “negative” because of the unpleasant feelings they produce. It’s possible that we try to suppress them because we don’t know how to manage them. But the more we try to hide our emotions, the more significant they become. It’s essential to let them out, but you can choose the right time to do so.
We can also discuss our emotions with those around us, a person we trust or a good listener, or else write them down or express them in a drawing.
- Take a mental break
We have about 6000 thoughts each day! The brain is not able to distinguish between what is real, what is imaginary and what is possible. Simply by thinking of something we activate our physiological alert system (the sympathetic nervous system), which tries to provide a response to the situation.
Give yourself a mental break. Give your brain and your body a moment of relaxation and well-being by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system).
Try to find a quiet moment in the day. The best times are first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. Ten minutes are all you need! Try putting on some relaxing music or lighting a candle. Place your hand on your chest to keep your attention focussed. Breathe gently, taking the time to savour the moment. Pay attention to how the air moves in and out of your lungs, as this will help your mind to settle into the present moment. If a thought crops up, don’t worry. Just bring your attention back to your breathing.
Being able to put our minds on pause is a preventive mental health strategy.
Let’s not forget that our mental health is crucial to our overall health.
If you feel that you would benefit from talking professional or personal matters through with a professional, don’t hesitate to contact us. The Medical Service offers all members of the personnel (MPE and MPA) first-line psychological counselling. Appointments with our psychologists, Katia Schenkel and Sébastien Tubau, are free of charge and strictly confidential: https://hse.cern/content/psychologist.
* Moksnes, U. K., Moljord, I. E. O., Espnes, G. A., & Byrne, D. G. (2010). The Association between Stress and Emotional States in Adolescents: The Role of Gender and Self-Esteem. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 430-435.