Self Space on How to Take Care of Your Mental Health

Therapist and founder of Self Space Jodie Cariss shares the ways that Londoners can tackle stress, low mood and feelings of loneliness.

As much as we love it, London is brutal. The people are rude, the weather is crap and everything is too expensive – it’s a notoriously bleak cocktail. And aside from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects around 2 million people across the UK during the colder months according to the NHS, 68% of Londoners experience symptoms of poor mental health year-round, according to a 2021 study conducted by crisis support charity Hestia.

Thankfully, awareness of the issues surrounding mental health continues to grow and so does the prevalence of the resources and services needed to help tackle them. One of these is Self Space, the world’s first on-demand mental health service, and we spoke to founder Jodie Cariss about some ways us Londoners can take care of our minds…

Can you describe what you do at Self Space?

I’m the founder of Self Space, which is a contemporary mental health service. We work with businesses like Google, Oatly, and Huel to name a few and individuals. We have three lovely spaces where you can come and see a therapist in person as well as offering online therapy, as well as around 100 therapists and an education team who run talks and workshops. As one of the two founders, my role is to manage the business, the strategic planning and to oversee the clinical work and the clinical team, I also have my own clients. I’m an ideas person and there isn’t much at Self Space that I don’t have some input in (the team might argue that’s not always a good thing!)

How would you say life in London affects people’s mental health?

London can be hectic in terms of pace, there can be a general sense that everyone’s doing better than we are – more successful, popular, busy – which is something we wrongly associate with success or doing well. There is a fair amount of competition in London and dropping the mask to reveal our true selves can feel intimidating at least and impossible at worst, which means we can find ourselves lonely. Cultivating a community in London is so important for a sense of belonging and connection and this can sometimes feel like work. Also, the cost of things can inhibit how we relate to the world, so finding a way to create meaning without bankrupting yourself is also so important for mental health. 

What are five things you’d recommend Londoners do to look after their mental well-being?

1: Find ways to relax and do nothing and try to avoid the hustle culture. Busy doesn’t mean better or good or popular – reframe that idea for yourself. 

2: Think of a sustainable approach – not feast or famine. Everything in moderation. 

3: Take time every day to check in with yourself. Ask ‘how I am doing?’ and ‘what do I need?’. 

4: Don’t just say ‘I’m fine’ when people ask how you are. Try once a day at least to meaningfully connect with someone.

5: Move your body. It reminds us how incredible we are. Look at this body and what it can do! 

6: (We’re rebels) Keep micro-commitments to yourself as an act of self-love (the gym, coffee on your own, a walk, messaging a friend, watering the plant!)

What are your tips for people who are struggling at work?

1: Do you find value in what you do? If not, can you find it? Is it serving your life? If not, can you consider a move? What fear do you meet at that thought? 

2: What conversation might need to be had with your managers or peers in order for you to feel better within your workplace? 

3: Keep a good morning routine and make sure you are getting enough sleep.

4: What about a side hustle, or something creative you could begin to enhance your sense of self?

5: Remember you aren’t a tree, you can move! (even if it feels terrifying)

Do you have any tips or insights specifically related to stress? Especially with the return to work and the pressure of the cost of living crisis.

Spot the signs

There are two major types of stress: stress that’s beneficial and motivating — good stress — and stress that causes overwhelm and leads to burnout — bad stress.

Stress is an inevitable part of life and is key for survival, but too much stress can be detrimental. For bad stress, watch out for: an inability to concentrate or complete tasks/ getting ill more often with colds/  body aches/ headaches/  irritability/ trouble falling asleep or staying awake/ changes in appetite/ more anger or anxiety than usual.

Listen to your body and breathe

Regularly notice sensations in your body and take stock of where you are holding tension. Notice how anger and stress cause you to clench your jaw and fists. Notice how worry or anxiety can cause you to knit your brow, raise your shoulders and your gut to feel out of sorts. 

Slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body and connect with ourselves.

Investigate busyness

Because of the value placed on achievement and productivity, some of us are struck with guilt if we feel like we’re not doing enough. A lot of us, however, make ourselves busy because we’re trying to avoid so-called negative emotions.

When we get off the hamster wheel of busy-ness, we’re forced to notice what comes up for us when we’re not busy. Question: how uncomfortable am I with feelings of boredom? What am I distracting myself from?

Make space for the unfashionable things

Approach your sleep like a responsible adult, drink water and get plenty of sunlight. We’re basically houseplants with more complicated emotions. Remember that rest is a basic human need and not something you need to earn through overworking. Say no to stuff you don’t want to do. Be in touch with your limitations. Disconnect from tech and switch off all notifications. Look at and be in nature.

Dare to set boundaries

Setting boundaries is fuck!ng hard work, but they are essential to healthy relationships. We don’t set them because we fear what others will think of us, we fear missing opportunities, we fear rejection, and we fear confrontation. We cannot expect people to place value on our work if we do not demonstrate that we value ourselves enough to hold uncomfortable boundaries. 

Start by defining what is most important to you, buy more time, and practice saying no.

Aim for good enough

This sounds terribly unaspiring, but when Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott introduced the idea of the “good enough” parent (the parent who allows space for imperfection and for failure and does not hate themselves for it) he saw the mental health of parents improve dramatically. We can take this idea into our relationships and our work. The good enough employee, the good enough partner.

Do you have any tips or insights specifically related to loneliness in the city?

There’s a lot of this in my book How to Grow Through What You Go Through. In terms of tips, here’s a list of texts you can send to people when you’re stuck for words and need to connect:

  • Hey. If you feel like doing something, I’m around this week. Let’s grab a coffee or have a phone catch up.
  • Have you watched (TV show/movie)? I’ve heard it’s great. Shall we watch it together with a takeaway?
  • Have you heard (artists) new album? I’ve been loving it, what have you been listening to?
  • I saw this dog and it made me think of you (insert picture of dog)
  • I’m watching the footy tonight if you want to come round?
  • Do you remember that time when we (input story)? I was thinking about that today. Let’s hang out soon, when are you free?
  • I’ve just finished (book name) and now I’ve got a reading hangover. What have you read recently, anything you’d recommend?
  • Snog, marry, bin – Monster Munch Pickled Onion, Pringles Sour Cream and Chive, Sweet Chilli Sensations.

What are your tips for people who spend a lot of time on/ work in social media? How can they counter the negative effects constantly scrolling can have?

Ask these questions: 

  • What am I looking for? 
  • How is it making me feel?
  • What am I gaining from this? 
  • Is it preventing me from doing something else? 
  • Does it motivate or paralyze me? 
  • What feelings is this bringing up for me? 
  • Can I unfollow accounts that make me feel like crap?
  • Can I limit my time or put some healthy boundaries in place i.e. not in bed, not when I’m with friends, don’t follow people I fancy (as in not celebs but those who you might unhealthily obsess over)?

What would you say to someone who’s considering therapy but may still be feeling unsure about the experience? What’s the experience like at Self Space?

Think about it as a space to talk, think and reflect on your life and who you are. A place to have fun, have support and get a kick up the arse when you need it. Think about it as an essential part of your mental maintenance, just like going to the gym. Try not to make it a massive deal, it’s a good conversation with a qualified person, sometimes it’ll be beautiful, sometimes terrifying, sometimes energizing and all things in between, but your therapist has unequivocally got your back and the relationship can support you to grow and strive in all areas of your life. Do it!