As a psychodermatologist part of my job is to recognise my patients’ emotional struggles and enhance their mental wellbeing. This can be achieved (at least partly) through some simple measures that we can all practice in our daily lives, and some of them can even form part of your skincare routine!
Manage your environment
Create a feeling of positivity around you using scents that you like (e.g. candles, diffusers, room/pillow sprays), or music and textures (e.g. soft blankets/throws/pillow or cushion covers). This does not have to be limited to your personal space, you can also make small changes to your workspace (e.g. a small diffuser on your desk, a soft chair cover, listening to music using earphones if you find this helpful). Spend some time de-cluttering your surroundings and optimising them for the intended activity, be that sleep or work. I have found managing my immediate environment helps me to focus and make the most out of my daily activities. My evening skincare routine is incomplete without a calming room spray, relaxing music and sitting on a soft throw whilst I perform my facial massage. Research shows that a stressful environment (e.g. noise, lack of comfort and privacy) can affect mental health and wellness. Your physical environment is as important as your mental state!
What makes you happy?
Think about a few things that make you happy. If it’s an activity try to incorporate this into the beginning of your day (as you are more likely to do it!) or build into your timetable so you can look forward to it. This can be a simple thing, for example, taking 10 minutes to have your morning coffee, taking a walk, calling your loved ones, meditation, or savouring a snack. These types of positive activities make you more alert, restore balance and elevate mood. Taking part in a creative activity (e.g. writing in a journal) can also improve your outlook and build a sense of control and calm.
Accept your negative emotions
Allow yourself to experience negative emotions but do think about why you feel that way. It is much easier to accept you feel a certain way rather than ignore or reject that emotion. Work out why, what caused that feeling, and most importantly, what makes it better (especially if it is a negative emotion, like feeling sad). This is known as emotional acceptance. Once you have achieved this acceptance, you can understand the emotion better and learn how to manage it. The rest of your time can then be spent engaging in more positive activities and experiencing life the way you want to.
Engage in self-dialogue
Remind yourself what you are thankful for and say positive things about yourself. By engaging in self-dialogue to combat negative thoughts, you can reframe your thinking. Some exampled of positive affirmations (a form of self-dialogue that challenges negative thoughts) are:
‘I am true to myself’
‘I respect myself’
‘I am worthy’
You can engage in self-dialogue at any time in your day. I go through affirmations during my morning and evening skincare routine. I find that the rhythmic sense of cleansing, then applying products is a calming activity and perfectly suited to self-dialogue. When I am cleansing my face I remind myself that I am removing all the build-up of the day/night, whilst applying products I tell myself that I am worthy of this time of self-love and attention, when I apply makeup I take note of the positive natural features I possess and am thankful for them, if I am massaging my face I chant the affirmations to myself (even just touching/massaging can promote ‘feel good’ hormones in the body). It might sound a bit far-fetched, but self-dialogue for me promotes a sense of calm and it is time I set aside purely for myself. Nobody around you needs to know what you are talking about in your mind!
Deal with negative thoughts
Negative thoughts are normal and happen to everyone. However, a negative thought (‘I am ugly’) can lead to negative emotions (e.g. sadness) and behaviour (e.g. crying). Not all negative thoughts are going to promote negative behaviour. The ones that tend to recur, or make you feel anxious, sad, tearful or unable to do the things you want in life are the ones that need to be dealt with. When you experience a negative thought that is persistent it is important to challenge its validity, this can limit the damage the thought causes. The best way to do this will vary between people but some helpful questions to ask yourself in response to negative thoughts are:
‘How true is this negative thought?’
‘Does this thought add to my life or day in any way?’
‘If one my loved ones told me they were feeling like this about themselves, what would I say to them?’
‘Am I able to accept this negative thought/emotion and move on?’
‘Can I add a positive angle to this thought?’
Answering these questions can help to start to reframe the thought or put it into better context. Growing up I always felt unattractive, this persistent thought would challenge me every time I looked in the mirror. Gradually I started to question the validity of the thought (‘what proof is there that I am ugly?, does thinking that I am ugly make my day better or worse? who am I to say that me or anyone else is unattractive?’) and found I was able to overcome it. Breaking the cycle of negative thoughts is difficult. It will not be possible immediately. By practicing recognition of negative thoughts, accepting the associated emotions and reframing your thinking (as above), you will eventually be able to deal with them effectively and live your best life.
Recognising negative influences
Everyone has them. Think carefully, there will be that ‘friend’ who always manages to make you feel worse about yourself, a social media account you follow where everything looks so perfect you start comparing your life to that person’s, the colleague who always manages to get a ‘dig’ in. Most people are quite oblivious of how draining these influences can be. To reduce their impact or stop them altogether, first you must find them. Start to take notice of how people that you interact with, or the activities that you engage with, make you feel. If talking to ‘X’ makes you feel tired or empty or bored, it’s a sign that they may be projecting negativity onto you. If an hour spent trawling social media makes you feel low, maybe you are not ‘following’ the right people. Start to phase these people or activities out and replace them with more positive ones. Rather than sit on your phone for 40mins talking to the friend who never asks how you are, think about going on a brisk walk instead, that’s good for both your mind and body!
By engaging in positive measures to improve your mental health you are opening the gateway to an abundance of ‘feel good’ factors, for example:
The real test of mental wellbeing comes in times of stress or adversity. People with a more positive mindset are better able to cope with these situations, remain productive and recover from them (otherwise known as ‘resilience’).
Healthy mind, healthy skin!
Please follow the link to watch me talk about mental health and wellbeing with Julia Kendrick (Kendrick PR)
If you are suffering from persistent negative thoughts, or feel like you need to talk to someone straight away about the way that you are feeling, then you might like to get in contact with Mind, Samaritans or Changing Faces, who may be able to help.
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