Since the global COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in the focus on mental health and wellbeing. While mental health has always been important, the realisation that increased stress, anxiety and uncertainty can negatively impact anyone’s mental health has led to more open conversations around mental wellbeing than ever before.
While stigmas do still exist around mental health issues, more and more, people are recognising that it’s just as important to look after ourselves mentally as it is to focus on physical health.
Here are five ways to boost your mental health:
Every other tip on this list begins with this one: treat yourself with respect and kindness and value your time. If you don’t value yourself and know that you are worth it, you won’t put the time and energy into looking after your body, eating well, practicing mindfulness or even volunteering.
Here are a few ways that you can prove to yourself that you value yourself:
Make time for your hobbies: Whether you love gardening or playing Sudoku, make sure you spend some time each day on your favourite pass times or hobbies.
Take a break: Did you know that a change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health? Even stepping away for a few minutes is enough to de-stress you. Taking a break may mean being very active or not doing very much at all. The key is to step away from normal day-to-day activities.
Listen to your body: It will tell you what you need, whether that’s food, a good walk or better sleep. It’s easy to start feeling frazzled when we aren’t paying attention to how we are feeling mentally and physically.
Break up the monotony: Routines make us more efficient but we also need to shake things up a little. Each week, find something new to add to your life – whether it’s switching up your jogging route or trying something new over the weekend.
Take care of your body
Taking care of yourself physically can improve your mental health. This includes what you eat, how much you exercise, how well you sleep and how much alcohol you consume.
What we eat impact how we feel. This can be both positive and negative. Caffeine and sugar, for example, can give you an immediate boost when you need it. Too much sugar though and your sugar levels will have unnatural spikes and dips. Ultimately, your brain needs a mix of nutrients to stay healthy and function well, just like any other organ in your body.
A healthy balanced diet includes:
- Wholegrain cereals or bread
- Dairy products
- Nuts and seeds
- Lean protein
- Oily fish
- A variety of fruit and vegetables
- Plenty of water.
It’s important to keep active. Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you sleep better, concentrate and feel better thanks to the endorphins and other chemicals that are released.
The great news is that exercising doesn’t only include going to the gym or participating in a sport. Walking, housework and gardening also count – as long as your body is moving. Experts say most people should do about 30 minutes’ exercise at least five days a week, so make a physical activity that you enjoy a part of your day.
Although many people consume alcohol to temporarily change their mood, cope with stress or deal with anxiety or loneliness, drinking is not a good way to manage difficult feelings. The effect is only temporary and when the drink wears off, withdrawal symptoms affect your brain and the rest of your body. This leads to higher alcohol consumption, which can negatively impact moods long-term and have a physical impact on your body.
Sleep is as important to our mental health as what we eat and how active we are. Sleep lets our bodies repair themselves and gives our brains a chance to process information and consolidate our memories. This is particularly important of we are experiencing heightened anxiety. Poor sleep is also linked to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and physical problems like a weakened immune system and
Focus on personal connections
Support networks are important. People with strong social or family connections are generally healthier than those who don’t. Friends and family can help you feel cared for and included, and they are also an important ear when it comes to sharing your feelings and experiences. They can help you deal with the stresses of life and give you valuable viewpoints on situations that may fifer from your own. The key is to maintain these connections. Regularly touch base with the people in your life who are important to you. Set up time to see each other and stay in touch electronically.
However, be aware that not all relationships are healthy. If being around someone is damaging your mental health, take a break from them or walk away completely.
Become a volunteer
Humans are social and caring for each other is hardwired into our DNA. This is why we will always feel better when there are people we care about in our lives and we maintain those relationships, but volunteering at a charity and helping local communities is also a good way to boost mental health.
The reason is simple: when you volunteer your time and energy to help someone else, you’ll naturally feel good about yourself. Helping others can be incredibly rewarding.
Interestingly, caring for a pet can improve your wellbeing too because of the strong bonds that people can form with animals, and volunteering at an animal shelter can also be very rewarding.
Focus on dealing with stress
Stress is a part of life and a little bit of stress can make us more efficient and productive. The problem is when we become overwhelmed by stress.
The good news is that there are many ways to deal with stress, but most of them come down to mindfulness:
Practice good coping skills: What does your mind and body need to feel more relaxed? Is it yoga or nature walks, journaling or Tai Chi? It might take you time to figure out what you need, so experiment with different techniques.
Quiet your mind: Research shows that meditation may help you feel calm and far more able to handle the day-to-day stresses of life.
Practice gratitude: It is very difficult to think stressed, negative thoughts when you are focusing on positive reasons to feel grateful for – our minds cannot simultaneously be negative and positive. Change the way you think about stress: Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal ran fascinating studies that showed that people who believed stress was bad were far more likely to feel the negative effects of stress than people who were as stressed, but viewed stress as a good, positive thing. In other words, how you think about stress matters.