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4 tips to help manage your mental health

26 September 2017
Learn how to manage your mental health

If you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed or stressed, you may find it helpful to learn how to manage your mental health. Here are four tips from our mental health expert Professor Niels Buus. 

If you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed or stressed, you may find it helpful to create a mental health safety plan. Having a mental health safety plan ready means preparing yourself to prevent or manage difficult times by asking ‘what worked before?’ and ‘what might work in the future’? You would usually put it together in good times, so the plan is ready if you need it in the bad times.

There are no rules for designing a mental health safety plan. Some people create an elaborate plan while others have a very basic one. You may prefer to write down the plan on paper or enter it into a mobile phone app, or even memorise the strategies. Some people may write a plan once and for all, while others like to continually add to or subtract from the plan as they see their situation changing. It is about what works best for you.

Here are some tips to help you create your own mental health safety plan.

1. Identify warning signs

You start creating a mental health safety plan by identifying issues that you believe could lead to feeling out of sorts or struggling with your mental health, we think of these issues as ‘warning signs’.

As an example, let’s imagine a university student named Lisa. Lisa feels anxious and stressed with the workload of her university course and pinpointed that this could precede a more significant crisis. Lisa has identified her warning sign as anxiety and feeling stressed with the workload of her university course.

2. Think about triggers

Take some time to think about what triggers your warning signs. Triggers to warning signs could be upcoming deadlines, a recent fight with a loved one, or a financial burden.

As an example, Lisa is missing out on essential learning, because she is skipping some lectures to meet her assignment deadlines. She has a feeling of stress and overwhelming anxiety because she is not managing her time well and not planning ahead for university assignments. Lisa has identified her triggers as not managing her time well and not planning ahead for university assignments.

3. Prepare a strategy

Think about strategies that might ease the stressful situation, what worked or did not work for you in the past. Write down the links between warning signs and possible strategies.

As an example, Lisa talked with some of her friends in the course to hear how they avoid feeling stressed with deadlines. Talking with her friends inspired Lisa to put together a basic set of strategies that she thought would work. One of them is marking out assignment deadlines on her calendar at the start of each semester. She also sets an alarm on her phone’s calendar one week before each assignment is due to help her with time management. Lisa’s strategy is to make more effort to plan ahead for assignments.

4. Use a support network

Ensure you have a trusted support network in place – friends, family members or professionals you can reach out to for support when necessary.

It can be valuable to discuss warning signs – like increased stress levels – as well as coping strategies, with trusted members of your network. These networks can be valuable assets in helping to support you with implementing your mental health safety plan. In this case, Lisa talked with some of her friends in her course that helped her put together a strategy. Many people find that having such strategies in place enables them to feel more at ease.

Finally, if you are in a more severe crisis, mental health professional can help you to explore potential warning signs that you may not be aware of yet and design new strategies to remedy them.

The University of Sydney's counselling and mental health support services: (02) 8627 8433 or (02) 8627 8437

If you have immediate safety concerns for yourself or others, call triple zero (000) for emergency services (fire/ambulance/police).

If you need help outside of Counselling and Psychological Services hours, the following community resources are available:

Mental Health Access Line: 1800 011 511

Lifeline (24 hours): 13 11 14