What’s In Your Mental Health First Aid Kit?

The contents of any first aid kit should be based on your needs; the only difference with a mental health first aid kit is that the items aren’t physical. Instead, they are learned strategies, so you can carry your kit with you wherever you go.

Regular first aid kits are used for treating sudden injuries quickly (“I’ve got a paper cut and need a plaster), whereas a mental health kit is more pre-emptive (“I am feeling more and more stressed; I need to get rid of some tension”). As soon as you notice those early warning signs, it’s time to refer to your first aid kit.

Take your temperature

Any good first aid kit needs a thermometer. When did you last take your emotional temperature? It’s a good idea to regularly take your emotional temperature, which ranges from 1 (I feel completely rubbish) to 10 (I feel fabulous, on top form). Keep a general note of your temperature to make sure it stays relatively level. What would it take to increase your temperature by 1 point?

Check your symptoms

Important: this table shows how different mental health conditions can share similar symptoms – it is NOT a diagnostic tool. Symptoms can range from mild to severe; if prolonged and the effects are having a negative impact on your life, contact your GP.

Warning Signs Stress Anxiety Depression
Physical
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Excessive sweating
  • Skin irritation/rashes
  • Chest pains
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Pins and needles sensation
  • Panic (attacks)
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Speaking slower than usual
  • Low sex drive
  • Aches and pains
Cognitive
  • Low concentration
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Thoughts racing
  • Indecisive
  • Regularly making mistakes
  • Low concentration
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Worrying thoughts
  • Inability to stay on task
  • Hopelessness
  • Low confidence
  • Pessimism
  • Low motivation
  • Dwelling in the past
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Indecisive
  • Hopelessness
  • Low self esteem
Behavioural
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changes in appetite
  • Poor sleep
  • Risky behaviours (eg excessive drinking)
  • Nail biting
  • Restlessness
  • Tearful/crying
  • Not achieving targets
  • Social withdrawal
  • Lack of appetite
  • Poor sleep
  • Risky behaviours (eg excessive drinking)
  • Avoidance behaviour
  • Restlessness
  • Absence
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changes in appetite
  • Poor sleep
  • Avoidance behaviour
  • Underperforming at work
  • Self-harm
  • Sedentary for long periods
Emotional
  • Tearful
  • Angry/frustrated
  • Anxious or nervous
  • Low confidence/self esteem
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Sensitive to criticism
  • Low mood
  • Tearful
  • Frustrated
  • Anxious or nervous
  • Distress/panic
  • Dread
  • Overwhelmed
  • Uneasy
  • On edge
  • Tearful
  • Persistent low mood or sadness
  • Lack of enjoyment in life

Remedies (strategies) to keep in your mental health first aid kit

These strategies, while not professional mental health interventions, are based on the latest mental health research and are available for anyone to use. Many individuals find these tools so powerful that they shine a light on their own experiences of stress.

Social Connection

We are social creatures with emotional needs for relationships and positive connections to others. We need the company of others to feel and function at our best.

  • Call a friend or loved one
  • If you don’t feel that you have anyone to call, reach out to acquaintances – an old friend, a co-worker, a neighbour
  • Get away from the TV or computer screen
  • Join – networking, social or special interest groups
  • Smile and say hello to strangers you pass

Staying Active

The mind and body are intrinsically linked. Improving your physical health automatically benefits your mental and emotional well-being. Physical activity also releases endorphins, which lift mood and add energy.

  • Aim for 30 minutes of activity most days (if it’s easier, 3 10 minute sessions can be just as effective)
  • Try rhythmic exercise that engages both arms and legs, such as walking, running, dancing
  • Include mindfulness in your workouts – focus on how your body feels as you move, the feeling of a breeze on your skin, etc.
  • Most importantly – find an activity you enjoy

Managing Stress

Not all stressors can be avoided and we need a certain amount of stress to thrive. These techniques will keep any stress in check and within healthy levels.

  • Talk to someone – this releases stress-busting hormones
  • Appeal to your senses – listen to an uplifting song, light a candle with a fragrance you find calming
  • Prioritise leisure time – walking, reading, crafts etc
  • Make time for contemplation and appreciation
  • Take up a relaxation practice – yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation
  • Understand and accept your emotions

Enjoying A Brain-Healthy Diet

A wholesome diet, low in sugar and rich in healthy fats, can give you more energy, improve sleep and mood, and help you to look and feel your best.

Foods that adversely affect mood Foods that boost mood                                              
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Trans fats
  • Foods with high levels of chemical preservatives
  • Sugary snacks
  • Refined carbs
  • Fried food
  • Fatty fish high in Omega-3s
  • Nuts
  • Avocados
  • Flaxseed
  • Beans
  • Leafy greens
  • Fresh fruit

 

Getting Quality Sleep

Getting enough sleep is a necessity, not a luxury, for mental health.

  • Take time to unwind at the end of the day
  • In the two hours before bedtime, avoid screens and devices
  • Calm the mind and prepare for sleep:
    • Take a warm bath
    • Read by a soft light
    • Listen to soothing music
    • Practise a relaxation technique
  • Stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule, even on weekends
  • Ensure your bedroom is dark, cool and quiet

Having Meaning and Purpose

Finding meaning and purpose in life is essential to brain health; it generates new cells and creates new neural pathways in the brain.

  • Engage in activities that challenge your creativity and make you feel productive – gardening, drawing, writing
  • Quality time with those that matter to you
  • Volunteering – the meaning and purpose derived from helping others or the community can enrich and expand your life

People Business are developing a “Survive and Thrive” guide to improve and enhance mental health. Drawing on learnings from the field of Positive Psychology and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), it is packed with information and activities addressing issues such as resilience, sleep, balancing calm with stress (and understanding why some stress is a good thing), energy and many more. If you are interested in purchasing this guide, please contact julie.ware@peoplebusiness.co.uk.

The self-care steps above are a great way to keep you mentally healthy, but if you find you are struggling with any of the symptoms associated with stress, anxiety and/or depression, and that those symptoms are prolonged and having a negative impact on your life, you should contact your GP. You can also find help and support from the Mental Health Foundation and via Mind.