This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, and many blogs are sharing advice on how to cope with stress, ask for help, and look out for each other.

Mental health has been a big challenge for my family, as for so many other people. I’ll share with you some of the ways that I have handled difficult times, and though none of it is rocket science, I hope there may be one or two helpful ideas that are different from the typical tips. And you will definitely notice a theme…

  1. Connect with your body

If you check out my story of getting into fitness you’ll see that for me it was much more about mindset than anything physical. When I first got active, in a martial arts and boxing gym, I was consumed by a campaign to protect something that had huge significance for me. Training gave me not only a dose of discipline and drive, it was an awesome stress buster. I found that nothing melted away tension like pounding a heavy bag or blasting out some burpees. More recently I have found barbell strength training to be just as good.

It definitely doesn’t need to be anything as hardcore as that though – the goal is movement that you enjoy. That can be a walk, a dance, or a stretch. In the last few weeks I’ve been taking a disabled loved one to a simple Dance for Wellbeing class and I have to say, it hugely boosts my wellbeing too.

It’s good to remember that the mind/brain is in the body – and is connected to every part via our nervous system. The brain is the body!

  1. Connect with nature

Around about the same time as getting into the gym, I was feeling particularly fried one day and took a walk to the park out the back of my flat. I had my smartphone with me and took a few close-up pictures of dew drops glistening on the grass, a twisted wire fence, buds on a hedge. I noticed how dramatically this activity calmed me and filled me with a sense of absorbed wonder. Eight facebook albums later… close-up nature photography with my phone has become an essential part of my self-care.

Getting out into nature brings us back closer to the green colours, the smells, the weather that we would have been surrounded by at earlier points in human evolution. I never failed to be moved by the beauty and weirdness of the veins on a leaf or a vibrant bug. This is a totally free activity. Parks and hedgerows are accessible even in the cities, but with a short bus or train ride hills and woods are within our reach too. One of my very favourite natural spots in the West Midlands is the Wyre Forest and my husband and I chose to get married there.

For times when you can’t get outside, may I recommend the National Geographic show One Strange Rock.

  1. Connect with others

Much of the time when I’ve been looking to bolster up my own mental health, it has been so that I can support somebody else who is also struggling emotionally. Many support groups exist for mental health conditions, but did you know there are groups for those who are doing the caring too? I have attended a group for relatives of people with eating disorders, and a group for family of people with brain injury. I found them both to be a valuable place to find solidarity and empathy.

Personally, when I’m struggling with something emotionally or mentally, I always want to share it with somebody. If that option is not available immediately, writing something down to get it out of your head might be the next best thing. The internet allows us to share our feelings, anonymously if we want to, better than ever before in history.

  1. Connect with your breath

In 2013, a family member became very seriously ill, and while I was attending the hospital daily, I saw a poster for a meditation group. Meditation has been practised for centuries by humans from all kinds of belief systems. Essentially it’s a regular practice of training to focus awareness, typically on the experience of the present moment. Concentrating on the process of breathing is one way to achieve this.

I don’t follow any faith myself, but that’s not a requirement of meditation. I had read lots about the proven benefits, and I started going along. I still meditate now. It’s transformed my levels of calm and focus, how I react to things, and my outlook on the world.

To get started with some really accessible, short, guided meditations, try or Breathworks. If you like your meditation a bit more sweary, this one might be up your street.

If you don’t want to meditate sitting still, you can focus on your breath and also your footsteps while taking a slow walk.

You can eat something slowly and pay 100% attention to every aspect of its flavour and how it feels in your mouth.

Many people practise yoga for wellbeing, which combines movement with a focus on the breath. I’m currently reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, a book about trauma which explains how many people with PTSD find great relief through yoga. A great yoga resources for beginners is Down Dog app. I encourage the disabled loved one in my life to do yoga with me every now and then, and those are always golden days.

  1. Join a union

Continuing the theme of oneness… For many of us, the source of our stress and pain is our work. Often in those cases, the typical listicle on Buzzfeed advising us to have a nice bubble bath or do some slow, deep breathing, is frankly a useless cliché that completely misses the point. Is your problem something that other colleagues are experiencing too? Then your best solution is a collective one. Joining a union, not by yourself but with as many of your workmates as possible, is the best way to address common pressures like a bullying manager or an unrealistic workload.

If you’re not sure what union would be the right one for you to join, this website will help. If it’s your rented housing that’s causing you stress, you can even join a union for tenants. Not only will taking this action bring you closer to actually resolving the issue, but finding a sense of purpose and some control over our own lives is another critical way to look after our mental health. Speaking personally, nothing has played a bigger part in my own learning and growth.

Wrap up

  1. Connect with your body

Anchor your head back inside its fleshy, watery transporter and bust out some moves

  1. Connect with nature

We are part of nature and our DNA mourns our separation from it

  1. Connect with others

Sharing our struggles brings relief and slays isolation

  1. Connect with your breath

Checking in with the constant rhythm of the lungs reminds us that our problems are not the totality of our existence

  1. Join a union

Some problems don’t need a scented candle, they need a collective solution