Counselling is one of the most common forms of treatment for people struggling with mental health problems and, according to the NHS, it can be used to help people cope with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Talking therapy has been shown to help lots of people deal with their mental health issues but, unfortunately, it can be pretty difficult to access.
Research from the charity Mind shows that one in ten people have been waiting over a year to receive talking therapy treatment via the NHS and 11% of people have had to pay for treatment because the therapy they wanted was not available on the NHS. The cost of private counselling also varies hugely, depending on where you live and other factors, but can cost up to £70 per hour, an expense that is inaccessible to too many people.
If you can’t access counselling at the moment for whatever reason, you’ll be relieved to know that there are some ways you can look after your mental health at home – methods that go way past comforting self-care methods like a hot bubble bath and a face mask.
Emmy Brunner is a psychotherapist and she has spent most of her career helping women look after their mental health by themselves. Emmy believes that 90% of mental health conditions develop as a result of trauma and her practice encourages you to deal with your trauma in many different ways, in order to look after your mental health by yourself, whether you’re at a crisis point or looking to find ways to regularly look after your mind.
She defines trauma as, “any sort of life event or experience that you’ve been through that is difficult or challenging”, adding that, “we’ve all experienced trauma – that’s the nature of being human.”
“What’s really key is whether we’ve had the strategies and skills in place to be able to process and cope with trauma when it arises,” Emmy continues. “If we don’t, what happens to trauma is it becomes internalised and our experience of it becomes internalised and stuck and that’s when we get into sticky ground.”
Emmy adds that the last year, with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, has been and continues to be particularly difficult and that we shouldn’t undermine that, explaining that it’s more crucial now than ever to develop ways to manage your mental health yourself.
Here, for The Curiosity Academy readers, Emmy breaks down 11 skills and techniques to help you deal with trauma in safe and productive ways, and effectively look after your mental health.
If you, or someone you know, are worried about their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website, with NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS list of mental health helplines and organisations.
Identify Where You Might Be Being Held Back in Your Life
“So many of us are living with a persistently critical narrative internally and we sort of accept it – we don’t really challenge it,” Emmy says.
This narrative could be centred on your personal relationships, your work, or various other areas of your life and Emmy explains that it’s important to figure out where you are most critical of yourself, so you can target that area as one in which you could be nicer to yourself.
Re-evaluate How You Make Decisions
The second thing to do, Emmy advises, is figure out the reasons behind the choices you’re making and “whether they’re coming from a place of really celebrating our own skills, gifts and passions or whether some of those choices are more fear-based because, for a lot of us, that’s the case.”
Once you have identified which of your choices might be motivated by negativity, you have the groundwork in place to help you change that, which can help you feel less overwhelmed.
Identify What Your Coping Tools Are
“How do we cope and manage when things are difficult or we’re faced with something challenging?” is a question Emmy says you should ask yourself.
“Are we people who are well-resourced and able to process and cope with adversity well or do we find that we get really triggered or really highly anxious?”
Coping with your mental health struggles can be just as important as getting to the bottom of them but you can’t find new ways to cope until you understand why your current coping mechanisms might be problematic, Emmy explains.
Educate Yourself about the Impact of Trauma
The nature of trauma is that many of us don’t realise how it’s affecting our lives, or even that we are carrying it at all.
Emmy explains that it can help to educate yourself about how trauma works and the effects it may have had on you. You can do this through reading books about it and listening to talks, similarly to the way a counsellor would explain elements of psychology to you to help you understand why you feel the way you do.
Figure out What Your Core Values Are
“When we grow up, we receive messages from the people that raised us about our place in the world and information about how to navigate life,” Emmy says, explaining that this information will have shaped the way you think about the world without you even realising.
It can be helpful, then, to figure out what your core values are and where they came from. “Do they belong to you? Or have you inherited them?” is the question Emmy says you should ask yourself here. “Equally, thinking back over your life, if you recognise patterns that you found yourself in, or patterns repeating in relationships, just be curious about why you think that may have happened or where that’s come from.”
If you can identify what these patterns are, you’re in a position to change them, which is a great place to be, Emmy says.
Realise That You Don’t Have to Unpack Everything to Heal
The goal of many types of talking therapies is often to get to the bottom of why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling but Emmy says that not only is this often too difficult to do by yourself, but it can be unnecessary too. “It’s not necessarily about unpacking lots of painful material,” she says. “But more, taking a step back and being curious about what’s motivating your choices and decisions.”
“Quite often, our responses are really normal reactions to trauma,” Emmy continues. “They’re normal reactions to disappointment or grief or loss and then we get pathologized or we get diagnosed with something and that becomes the problem.”
Avoid overthinking about the way you’re feeling and why that might be a problem, is Emmy’s advice, and, instead, recognise that you’ve been through something difficult and that you just need space and time to heal. “I think that’s one of the mistakes that happen in the therapy room as well is that people will quite prematurely start to unpack very painful material and they’re not really after the resources to cope and to manage it.”
“Pulling in other behaviours and strategies to be kind and nurturing towards yourself is far, far more productive than forcing yourself to look at material that’s difficult.”
Make an Effort to Be Kinder to Yourself
Healing can be a complicated process but Emmy says the most important thing you can do to aid the process is to be kind to yourself.
“[It’s] one of the most profoundly healing things we can do because it’s the most casual thing we can do. And it’s something that we’re all really not very good at, particularly women – we can all be hypercritical of ourselves and really struggle to be kind and forgiving to ourselves, particularly if we do recognise we’ve maybe made mistakes or got things wrong.”
Try Journaling as a Regular Check-in
One benefit of counselling is that you have a weekly or fortnightly time pencilled into your diary where you have to look after yourself and hold yourself accountable for improving your mental health.
A great replacement for this practice at home that Emmy recommends is journaling. “You can keep bringing the focus back to yourself and thinking about those areas of development and making sure that you’re keeping on track.”
Experiment with Meditation
Emmy also suggests trying mediation as a way to keep yourself on track, particularly when your mental health is relatively good and you’re trying to maintain that.
“It is just singly one of the most effective things you can do to remain present and mindful and, also, challenge anxiety.”
Be Picky about Who You Share Your Feelings With
Much of the mainstream advice to people struggling with their mental health in recent years is that you should talk to those around you about how you’re feeling, but Emmy explains that this might not be productive for everyone, particularly if you are dealing with difficult trauma.
“I think what happens, particularly with family, is we so often fall into the trap of trying to get family members to agree with our perspective on things or to validate our trauma,” Emmy says. “And if their experience was different, it can really wrong-foot us and make it harder for us to validate our experience.”
Emmy suggests that, instead, you should select a few people who have enough distance from your experience to be able to support you and that, often, this isn’t family members. “Should we be going in telling our parents that they failed us or is that actually going to be really awful for them and us?”
If you don’t have people you feel comfortable talking to, you could join a therapeutic community, so you don’t have to censor the material you’re bringing because of the other people who might hear it.
Recognise How Empowering Taking Responsibility for Yourself Can Be
You might feel like not being able to access counselling is a hindrance for you, but actually, being able to build skills to help yourself look after your mental health could be an amazing opportunity. “I think it can be a massively empowering experience, to take responsibility for yourself, rather than putting yourself, in a crisis, in the hands of somebody else.”
“My goal as a therapist is to always make myself redundant,” Emmy continues. “To create a state for a person where I can support them in doing the work themselves.”
5 Things You Can Do This Week to Start Looking after Your Own Mental Health
1) Consider which areas of your life you are most critical of yourself – write them down.
2) Think about three decisions you’ve made in the past month – ask yourself if they were motivated by positive or negative thoughts?
3) Recall one difficult situation you’ve faced recently and write down the ways in which you coped with it – evaluate them to try and pinpoint what your go-to coping mechanisms are.
4) Do one kind thing for yourself today that will genuinely make you feel good about yourself.
5) Book a slot in your calendar when you can take some time to journal.