Looking after your emotional and mental health

Image: Domizia Salusest | www.domiziasalusest.com

Key points

  • Eating well, a good night’s sleep, and doing exercise will improve the quality of your life.
  • Regular social contact with those important to you can boost your mental health.
  • Excessive alcohol and recreational drugs can impair your overall wellbeing.
  • It’s advisable to talk to someone and ask for help if things are hard.

There is a lot you can do to look after your own emotional wellbeing and mental health.

Take care of yourself:

  • Make sure you get enough to eat. Try to take pleasure in eating well. Sitting down and eating a meal with someone else can help you cope with stress and improve the quality of your life. Eating on the move may be necessary once in a while. But do try to slow down and eat proper meals, with a good balance of different types of food.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. This is very important to both your physical and mental health, and not getting enough sleep can trigger emotional and mental health problems. Also, try not to sleep too much: this can make you feel tired and reduce motivation to do anything else. Often, the less you do, the less you feel like doing. You can get advice and help with sleep problems; talk to your GP or HIV clinic. Sometimes, changing your daily habits can help resolve sleep problems, but in some cases cognitive behavioural therapy or medication may be needed. There are specialist sleep centres for really serious, longstanding sleep problems. Your GP could refer you to one of these.
  • Take some exercise that you enjoy. Regular physical exercise can help you manage stress and can help with the symptoms of anxiety and mild depression. It will also help you sleep soundly at night. Exercising with someone else may make it more enjoyable as well as increasing your social contact.
  • Make use of hobbies or other activities you enjoy to keep yourself busy and occupied. You could also think about developing new interests.
  • Keep regular contact with friends, family members and neighbours who are important to you. Other people can help you stay active, keep you grounded and help you deal with practical problems. Strengthening your social connections may also help prevent cognitive impairment.
  • Drinking too much alcohol and excessive use of recreational drugs can contribute to emotional and mental health problems, as well as damaging your physical health and interfering with your HIV treatment. Try to avoid these substances.
  • Try and deal with work, relationship, family, money or housing problems as soon as you notice them. Avoiding them can simply increase your levels of stress.
  • Everyone needs to take responsibility for dealing with their problems. However, sometimes this may involve asking for some help. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for a helping hand or encouragement. In fact, it’s a sign of strength that you can recognise that you need some help.
  • Allow yourself some pleasures in life. It can be difficult to give yourself time for pleasurable activities when you are going through a difficult time. Sometimes you need to replenish your energy by finding space for the good things in life. We can’t always do this by ourselves, so reach out to others to help you.

Be kind to yourself:

  • Don’t hate yourself for being who you are.
  • Don’t judge yourself harshly.
  • Remember that difficult feelings and thoughts will pass.
  • Set yourself achievable goals and standards. Reward yourself if you achieve these, and don’t punish yourself if you do not.

Talk to somebody:

  • Don’t bottle up worries or concerns.
  • Don't isolate yourself.
  • Join in with activities.
  • Try something new.

And if you are finding things hard:

  • Ask for help – there will be somebody who can help you.
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