Mental Health Mantra’s


The leaves not yet out, mud everywhere you go.  Frosty mornings gone.  Sunny mornings not yet come. Give me blizzards and frozen pipes, but not this nothing time, not this waiting room of the world.’

CS Lewis thoughts on January come to mind as we approach 2021 and this very particular January. We are not short of advice and information on how to live well in these uncertain times but hope and motivation may be less plentiful after the enormous difficulties of 2020.

With this in mind, I turn to a piece of work I did back in 2020 for World Mental Health Day. Struck by the plethora of advice for maintaining mental health in lockdown, I wanted to know what worked – how people were getting through the day, every day. There are plenty – and they come with an invitation to see if you can find one that works for you.

Our Mental Health Mantras

The following gems were offered in response to my question, ‘What do you actually do?’  I wanted to find out what each of us say to ourselves to get through the day; how we stay sane in a world which feels quite mad at times. Maybe we heard it from a therapist, or read it on a cereal packet – it doesn’t really matter. These are things people have discovered for themselves and are willing to offer to others.

They are offered by friends, colleagues, people offering and receiving care at The Retreat, the Adult ADHD UK group and the wider world. I am grateful for the generosity with which people shared their experience, and for the hope they instil in the human spirit.

Sean said, ‘Cover the four basics – exercise, eat, sleep and drink water.  If you cover the basics you’ve won half the battle. If you start with exercise, the others all fall into place.’

Sara said, ‘Do something you enjoy every day.  Get outside if you can and open a window if you can’t.’

Rosalie said, ‘Let failures be part of the process, not the end of the process. Reflect, reset, regroup; what you set out to do was too much or not the right thing, right now.’

Jenn said, ‘When I notice I’m worrying, I say that’s about the future. I say, ‘this is now, I look around at what I can see and orientate myself to the present time and place. I breathe and say, this is now. Live in the moment.’

Amy said, ‘My go to reminder is about being ‘good enough’ (Winnicott’s phrase), the theme of many a discussion with a therapist! Mainly about parenting but can be applied to anything: ‘It’s ok not to be perfect. I am ‘good enough’. I will fail, I will make mistakes, I will have off days and that is ok. I am good enough.’

Louise said, ‘Be kind to yourself.’

Oliver Burkeman said, ‘There will always be too much to do – and the realisation is liberating.’

Elaine said, ‘If you don’t like where you are, move.  You are not a tree.’

Sue said, ‘Take time to connect with nature and watch as she works her magic.’

Louise said, ‘Write down a list of all the things you’re grateful for, then on the days where life is tough, refer back to your list. Also, get a dog (or a horse). Everyone should have one.  They are the best form of therapy in so many ways.’

Vanessa said, ‘Stop worrying about things you have zero control over. It can be so hard, I’ve really struggled over recent years but letting go and not putting so much pressure on myself definitely helps.  Still a work in progress.’

Peter said, ’Get a blood test for vitamin D.’

Vikki said, ‘You are allowed to leave – a situation, a job you’re not happy in, a relationship. You can have strong boundaries and you don’t have to stay in anything you don’t feel comfortable in or with.’

Victoria said, ‘This storm will pass.’

Katie said, ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect as long as it’s good enough.  I now live by this rule after years of trying to be perfect.’

Sara said, ‘Be the person you needed when you were younger. Analysis paralysis – don’t let over thinking stuff stop you from doing stuff.’

Vicky said, ‘Be kind to yourself and live in the moment.’

Elaine said, ‘Gratitude is the antidote to grief.’

Helen said, ‘I am who I am & I make no apology.’

Kate said, ‘F”%k everyone and eat the damn pasta.’

Libby said, ‘Awareness, gratitude, recognition of your value.  I am enough.’

Erik said, ‘If I laugh at myself first it seems to matter less if others do. I am ridiculous.’

Nicola said, ‘Be you own best friend.’

Katrina said, ‘Self-care is not selfish, it’s necessary to function well.’

Anne said, ‘Love yourself.’

Rachael said, ‘Talk to yourself as you would a friend – with kindness and understanding.’

Catherine said, ‘The work may not be finished but the working day is. And always extend the most generous explanation of a situation – that often helps me not lose it with people! And of course, it helps with empathy. Stay curious. And try not to do ‘shoulds – just the needs and wants.’

Kevin said, ’Having a good therapist, and for me that’s CBT, and of course, the Primal Scream motto – love the life you live and live the life you love. And constantly reasoning things, from the most trivial to life changing and believing that unless there are existential reasons preventing it, you can do everything if you put your mind to it.’

Sally said, ‘Be kindest to yourself.’

Stine said, ‘Sometimes it’s ok to let others take responsibility. And go and have a drink and dance to Rage Against The Machine.’

Sarah said, ‘Sometimes people’s choices have no implications for me. Said to me by you when I was a very new, very insecure mum, looking at what everybody else was doing and thinking the way they parented had to mean something for the way I parent.  I don’t think I knew what mental health looked like when we met! Now I would say boring things like: take regular exercise outside, believe in something bigger than yourself, be willing to stop and say, ‘I’ve done enough, and yes, get help when you need it, including therapy.’

Claire said, ‘You are not a robot – you may have thoughts and emotions you can’t explain and may make mistakes. It’s all part of not being a robot…it’s not about stopping negative thoughts, it’s about challenging them and sometimes the best way to do that is to take yourself out of the story and put a loved one in…what would you say to them? Give yourself the same compassion you show your loved ones.’

Beth said, ‘Don’t let your thoughts say anything different to you than you’d say to your best friend if they were in your shoes.  Be your own best friend.’

Tracy said, ‘There is always more than one way around a mountain.’

Ruby said, ‘There is more than one way to skin a cat.’

Zoe said, ‘You are the most perfect you, and that’s all you need to be.’

Zakira said, ‘Don’t dwell on it, do it.’

Catya said, ‘You’re not starting over from scratch, you’re starting over with more experience.  Unless you give up, you haven’t failed.’

Leo said, ‘The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.’

Sheila said, ‘Grow something, anything, be it a vegetable or a flower from seed to fruition.’

Corima said, ‘You are not your weaknesses.’

Linnea said, ‘Don’t underestimate the power of acknowledging how you are feeling and what you’re struggling with.  Talking to someone, journaling, mindfulness, expression through art or therapy –find whatever way works for you.’

What struck me most about what people shared was the variety of ways people talk to themselves. Some are compassionate, some are quite harsh; some are about doing, some are about being. As Linnea said, ‘find whatever way works for you.’

This is very much my experience of working at The Retreat, where we spend a lot of time thinking with our patients and as a team about finding a therapy which works for the individual, couple or group, with all the unique experience, skills and difficulties they bring. Being able to respond to individual need is one of the most satisfying things about working here.  We made some new appointments in 2020 to further broaden the range of therapies we offer, which will enable us to continue to offer something tailored to fit the people who come to us for help. For now, I hope there is something here to help you with today.

Resources for further help.

  • The Retreat (
  • KCL – Institute for Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience – Maintaining Health & Wellbeing during the Covid-19 Pandemic – videos on sleep, physical health conditions, couple relationships, parenting, anxiety, exercise, diet, alcohol, connecting, loneliness and uncertainty
  • The Depression Cure, Steve Illadri
  • 5 Ways to create an Anti-depressant brain – Nicabm (Mindfulness, compassion, play & purpose
  • The Golden Rule of Habit Change
  • British Journal of General Practice: Making Health Habitual: the psychology of ‘habit formation’ and general practice
  • GP – 1% increments
  • Every Mind Matters
  • How to Stay Sane, Philippa Perry
  • Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig
  • Mental Health 5 a day
  • Oliver Burkeman – 8 secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life – came from reader responses over
  • All In the Mind – the touch test

Make a new healthy habit

  1. Decide on a goal that you would like to achieve for your health.
  2. Choose a simple action that will get you towards your goal which you can do on a daily basis.
  3. Plan when and where you will do your chosen action. Be consistent: choose a time and place that you encounter every day of the week.
  4. Every time you encounter that time and place, do the action.
  5. It will get easier with time, and within 10 weeks you should find you are doing it automatically without even having to think about it.
  6. Congratulations, you’ve made a healthy habit!

My goal (e.g. ‘to eat more fruit and vegetables’) _________________________________________________

My plan (e.g. ‘after I have lunch at home I will have a piece of fruit’)

(When and where) ___________________________ I will ___________________________

Some people find it helpful to keep a record while they are forming a new habit. This daily tick-sheet can be used until your new habit becomes automatic. You can rate how automatic it feels at the end of each week, to watch it getting easier.

Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5Week 6Week 7Week 8Week 9Week 10
Done on >5 days, yes or no
How automatic does it feel? Rate from 1 (not at all) to 10 (completely)