Testing out 3 mental health strategies

Last week was mental health awareness week, a subject close to my heart. It’s even a big part of why I started this blog in the first place. I’ve found stitching to be incredibly beneficial for my mental health. So I’m keen to share that power with as many people as I can!

During the week I decided to experiment with a few different things that might be good to add to my mental health toolbox.

I tried new things related to these 3 strategies:

  • Stitching in nature
  • Breathing
  • Napping

So how did I get on?

Stitching in nature

The theme for this year’s mental health awareness week was nature.

The pandemic has really brought into focus for me how restorative nature can be. Especially since I live in a city and have to make a bit of an effort to experience it.

For the week, I decided to try something new and realised I’ve never stitched in nature.

A lot of my designs are inspired by nature, so I already have that link between stitching and nature. But would I find extra benefit from doing my stitching in nature?

Resistance

Once I’d made the decision, I then felt a bit of resistance!

Part of this was the idea of stitching in public since I don’t have my own outdoor space. I’m sure no-one else would really care, but sometimes I can’t help get a little self conscious!

Plus there was the practicality of what did I need to take with me and making sure nothing got damaged. I’m so used to my at home stitching set up with everything I might need to hand!

Once I got to it though, this really wasn’t hard to figure out. I went with a simple project that would easily fit in my bag and didn’t need many materials. The last thing I wanted was for a gust of wind to scatter all my supplies!

So I took my walrus design along to my local park one evening and found a nice spot in a quiet walled garden.

Foreground shows a walrus embroidery being stitched, in the background is the walled garden.

While it was lovely to be stitching to the soundtrack of the evening birdsong, I couldn’t shake a slight restlessness.

After working and sitting most of the day, I really wanted to be walking around rather than more sitting.

So my stitching outing didn’t last long!

Reflections

Having thought more about it, I think the stitching in nature is more likely to work for me at the weekend. I’m imagining walking to some nice gardens and then settling in there for a while with my embroidery. Unfortunately this weekend was pretty wet, so I’ve not been able to try that just yet!

I also think that if I had a garden, I’d find the outdoor stitching more appealing as it would be so much more convenient. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to go on a break over the summer, staying somewhere with a garden. So that will be a good opportunity to take a small embroidery project with me.

But for now, I think I’ll stick to using nature as inspiration for my embroidery designs.

Breathing

For a few months now, I’ve been enjoying drawing for play with Sketch Appeal. Another creative activity that I’ve found to be great for my mental health!

For mental health awareness week, Dulcie arranged a guest host – Tom from Draw Breath.

Tom took us through a series of exercises that used drawing to help us get in tune with our breathing. With the aim of making the benefits of meditation more accessible.

I’ve tried a few types of meditation previously, but there were bits I struggled with or felt I didn’t quite “get”. Tom’s explanations and exercises were excellent and helped me to connect the dots. Both literally and figuratively!

I think the way he’s created simple drawing exercises as a way to explore meditation is really quite genius!

If you’re curious to give it a go yourself, Tom’s written a whole Draw Breath book which is now on my wish list! There are also plenty of free resources on his website to give it a try. I’m working my way through his guided meditations.

At the end of the session, Tom also introduced us to the concept of coherent breathing and took us through a guided breathing exercise.

I’m still diving into the science of it, but it seems there’s evidence for some pretty impressive health benefits! If nothing else, I felt wonderfully calm and centred at the end of the exercise.

So I’m building a habit of 20 minutes of coherent breathing into my day. My aim is to do this for 4 more weeks to see if I feel the benefits.

Napping

I’ve got to admit, this one took me by surprise!

During a catch up with my friend Emma, who also happens to be a sleep expert, she suggested I try napping.

For a bit of context…

I’ve been dealing with long covid for a year now and while I’m improving, my energy and fatigue are still not ideal. As I’m normally quite an active person, this has impacting my mental health.

If I could, I’ve generally resisted napping as I didn’t want to risk harming my night time sleep. However, Emma was able to give me a couple of pointers to avoid that being an issue.

So I’ve been blocking out some nap time. I don’t yet always manage to sleep, but I can at least use breathing exercises to get into a deeply relaxed state.

It’s early days, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results!

My energy levels are definitely getting better in the afternoon and evenings. And I’m still tired at my usual bedtime.

I’ve also noticed that I’m much less likely to crave sugary treats on the days that I nap. It makes sense really. I’d already noticed that I’m much more likely to reach for the chocolate on days I feel more tired. And while I know that the temporary energy hit is likely to cause a crash later, it can be hard to resist!

I’m still figuring out the best way to incorporate naps into my day. But as I’ve already felt some benefits I’m going to keep going.

I’m not expecting the naps to be a permanent change. The goal is to use them to help my long covid recovery.

But I do hope that getting better at listening to my body’s needs (and acting on them!) will be a permanent change. Plus there’s plenty of evidence to link getting enough sleep with improved mental health.

Wrapping up

Whenever I do an experiment, I like to take a little time to reflect on what I’ve learnt. So, here are my main takeaways from this mental health awareness week:

  • Mental health and physical health are really very closely intertwined. So don’t neglect either!
  • Sometimes you need to slow down in order to achieve your goals.

Nothing ground breaking there. But I for one find regular reminders of these things very helpful!

Do you have any good strategies for managing your mental health?

For more posts about how stitching has helped my mental health, check out:

How embroidery has helped my mental health

How to use embroidery to ease anxiety

Can 15 minutes of stitching a day make you more productive?

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2 thoughts on “Testing out 3 mental health strategies

  1. I enjoyed this post. I completely recognised your anxiety about stitching in public as I experienced that when I joined an embroidery group and when I have been to workshops, a worry about my ability. Now when I am in that situation I take a simple small project with me. I also find it hard to sew outside, the light can be challenging especially in a bright day when you end up with strange shadows.

    I’m going to check out the sketching you refer to and I was interested in what your friend said about napping. I try to avoid sleeping during the day as I worry I won’t sleep at night but my work can be demanding and I find myself wide awake with an over stimulated mind so I might give it a go.

    1. Hi Helen, glad you enjoyed the post! It’s funny what we can get anxious about isn’t it. Ah yes, bright sunshine and harsh shadows would definitely make stitching challenging. I’ve gotten quite used to my controllable light set up at home!
      That’s been my exact worry about napping. If I can fit a nap in around lunchtime my night sleep tends to be ok. If it’s getting into the afternoon and I didn’t manage a nap, then I find taking some time out for a guided meditation or visualisation can be a really good alternative to a nap. One of the best pieces of advice I was given when I was having a lot of trouble sleeping because my mind was on overdrive was to make sure I had some time during the day for my mind to process everything that was going on before I went to bed. e.g. things like stitching and walking work for me.
      Maybe I’ll see you on a future Sketch Appeal drawing session! 🙂

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