What is it?

Self-help refers to anything that you can do to help yourself. There are a wide range of options, from structured and guided approaches to small and simple lifestyle changes.

Why do it?

When to try self-help strategies

It is important to realise when self-help is not sufficient or appropriate. If you are really struggling with your mental health challenges and/or have been recommended medication or therapy treatments by your doctor, self-help alone is unlikely to be sufficient. Further, if you go through a patch of feeling particularly unwell with your condition you shouldn’t push yourself too hard with this.

There are, however, many circumstances in which self-help is a very good idea. These include:

Self-help strategies

Challenge Exercise effects
For stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety
  • Exercise lowers long-term levels of our stress hormone, cortisol, whilst triggering the release of feel-good chemicals called endorphins

  • Exercise relieves agitation, irritability and muscle tension

  • It also promotes a focus on your body rather than mind, acting in a way like a form of meditation and providing calmness and clarity

For low mood and depression
Low mood and depression
  • Exercise can help recovery from depression and prevents reoccurrence in the long-term. This is due to the release feel-good chemicals called endorphins during and after exercise, as well as the psychological power of achievement

  • Regular exercise boosts self-esteem and raises general mood. These effects are immediate, and can become long-lasting if exercise becomes part of your lifestyle

For difficulty sleeping
Low mood and depression
  • Exercise improves sleep quality and can even help to overcome chronic insomnia. This is because exercise:

    • Leads to a drop in body temperature and the stress hormone cortisol a few hours after you finish – which your brain associates with sleep

    • Reduces stress and anxiety, which can otherwise stop you from sleeping

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Challenge Nutrition effects
For low mood, depression or mood swings
Low mood, depression or mood swings
  • Eating high-sugar foods is often followed soon after by a big crash in blood sugar levels, making us feel lethargic and low. A low sugar, high protein diet can help us maintain a more stable mood by stabilising our blood sugar levels

  • Too much caffeine, alcohol or nicotine can worsen agitated or low mood and interfere with sleep. This can leave you vulnerable to mood swings and irritability

  • Eating healthily can help to keep our weight in check. Feeling like we are looking after ourselves can give our self-esteem and mood a huge boost.

For stress
  • The stress hormone, cortisol, is very closely linked with our diet; cortisol causes blood sugar levels to increase and then decrease very quickly. This causes many of the negative effects of stress on our physical and mental health. We can reduce this blood sugar “spike” with a low sugar, high protein diet, and making sure we don’t skip meals

  • Eat oats for breakfast. They cause your brain to make more serotonin, a chemical that creates a soothing, feel-good effect on our mood. Also, foods high in vitamin C, such as berries and oranges, have been shown to reduce levels of stress hormones

For difficulty sleeping
Difficulty sleeping
  • Eat foods high in tryptophan, including chicken and turkey, milk and dairy, nuts and seeds. This substance boosts our production of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin

  • Drink chamomile tea before bed. There is evidence that this promotes sleep

  • Don’t eat too much chocolate before bed – this is a secret source of caffeine!

  • Avoid spicy or fatty foods in the evening, as they can cause heartburn. The discomfort may stop you from drifting off to sleep

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Sleep habits
Challenge Sleep effects
For mood swings/mood disorders
Mood swings/mood disorders
  • Sleep plays a large role in mood regulation. If you have been diagnosed with a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar, or experience large mood swings, difficulty sleeping can be both a trigger and a symptom of mood-related issues

For stress
  • A lack of sleep reduces stress tolerance. Tiredness can decrease focus, creativity, concentration and therefore productivity, making any workload feel unmanageable.

  • In return, stress is a very common cause of sleep problems

For general mental health
General mental health
  • Repeated nights of not enough sleep can leave us vulnerable to all sorts of mental health challenges, including depressed mood, anxiety and burnout

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Steer clear of recreational drugs and too much alcohol
Challenge Drug and alcohol effects
For mood swings/mood disorders
Mood swings/mood disorders
  • Recreational drugs and alcohol can trigger or worsen low (or manic, if affected by bipolar disorder) mood

  • Stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines can trigger manic episodes, while the after-effects often involve depressive symptoms

  • Alcohol is strongly linked to depressive symptoms

For anxiety
  • Stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines (speed) can cause feelings of anxiety and panic, and long-term use can cause anxiety disorders

  • Ecstasy can exacerbate anxiety and lead to panic, and the after effects often involve strong feelings of anxiety

  • Cannabis can cause paranoia and anxiety

For sleep
  • Most recreational drugs interfere with sleep

  • Whilst alcohol can help you to fall asleep initially, drinking even just a small amount can significantly reduce sleep quality. Many people find themselves awake and restless in the early hours of the morning.

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Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness is a popular type of meditation. It is all about bringing our attention to the present moment, rather than stressing about the future or past. It also trains us to notice things, including our environment, thoughts and emotions, in a non-judgemental way

Challenge Mindfulness effects
For mood swings/mood disorders
Mood swings/mood disorders
  • Mindfulness has been shown to be as effective as the best medication for treatment of mild or moderate depression.

  • It increases positive emotion, and is very effective at maintaining wellness in the long term post-recovery

For stress or anxiety
Stress or anxiety
  • Studies show that by accepting negative thoughts rather than trying to suppress them (as mindfulness trains you to do), anxiety is significantly reduced

  • Mindfulness promotes a relaxed state, helping us to view the world in a calmer and more realistic light

  • Mindfulness meditation involves deep breathing. Breathing exercises such as this can instantly lower levels of stress hormones

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