How to look after your mental health in a difficult living environment

If you have a difficult relationship with the people you live with, self-isolation may be extra difficult. Lily, 23, shares her tips for looking after your mental health in a stressful living environment.

Self-isolating and staying at home may be especially hard to cope with if you have a difficult relationship with the people you live with, whether they are family, friends or housemates. Having been in a difficult living situation myself, I would like to share some tips for managing that have helped me.

1. Pick your battles

If you are constantly running around trying to please everyone, you will start to wear yourself out. When I was going through a difficult time last year, it took me a while to realise that I was doing this and destroying myself in the process. I had to learn to pick my battles and decide what was worth my time and what my mind was able to take, because it’s not helpful to try to please other people if it damages your mental health.

Here are some things I find it helpful to consider when deciding whether to speak up in a potentially difficult environment:

a) Is this the right time to speak up (e.g are they tired from work, do they have the time or are they chasing a deadline)? Will they be receptive enough to hear me out?

b) Do I need someone to assist me? Is this an aggressive situation? Will I feel better if someone steps in, or do I just need someone to be there as support?

After speaking up, I find it helpful to ask myself whether the situation has changed as a result. Have we discussed how things could change? If the situation does not improve, I remind myself that I have the choice and the right to put my foot down and re-affirm my position.

2. Establish your boundaries to protect your wellbeing

On top of the worldwide pandemic going on, I have personally been juggling exam stress as well as navigating relationships that are toxic for my mental health. The accumulation of these things has definitely caused a spike in my anxiety.

What I’ve learnt this past year is the importance of caring for your own wellbeing. You are allowed to protect your mind. You are allowed to protect your space. I was always taught to take the high road, but I was not firm in establishing how much I could handle. For example, being present in a conversation that touches on an uncomfortable topic. I would usually stay throughout, even when I knew I wanted to withdraw myself from it. After such conversations, I would either be in anger or in tears over how trapped I felt. I was more concerned about respecting the environment, rather than respecting myself. But it’s not just ok, it’s important to respect yourself and set boundaries.

Recently I implemented ways to establish my limits respectfully such as excusing myself from the dining table if it gets too much, asking for time alone when I need it, setting some time aside for my hobbies or to rest.

3. Form 'safe spaces' you can go to

Writing is my safe space: something that allows me to express myself honestly, allowing me to invest any pent-up emotion I have into my craft. This ‘safe space’ may not solve your struggles. However, it does bring relief and comfort - even if it is just for a little while.

You can create your own ‘safe space’, and it can come in many forms – it doesn’t have to be a physical space. It can be through creative outlets such as writing, painting, or videography. It can also be through spending time with loved ones, therapy, going for a walk or drive, or physical activities like sports.

4. Be kind to yourself

Finally, I want to emphasise the importance of being kind to yourself and being patient with yourself. If you are in an environment that is difficult for you mentally, it is ok to take time to relax by yourself, or to not be as productive as you’d like.

When our patience runs out, it is understandable to lash out. We should acknowledge our mistake and make an effort to learn from it but there is no reason to beat yourself up over and over again in regret. Learn from your faults, but don’t wallow in self-hatred.


Author: Lily, 23

Where to get help

If you are struggling with your mental health, take a look at our find help page for tips and suggestions of where you can get help.

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