5 tips to enjoy better mental health
“How Can we begin to Enjoy Better Mental health” – This is something we have heard quite a lot recently. Its 2020, and what a year it’s been – COVID restrictions might still feel new, but they’re far from normal. Whether it’s feeling all ‘zoomed out’ after working from home with small children underfoot. Or missing our friends and family.
The shorter, darker days are closing in and we’re probably going to spend even more time at home. The pandemic has turned our lives upside down. Sometimes it’s not the big events that push us off-kilter. It’s the little stressors in daily life.
On the bright side, we’ve made it to November. Many neighbourhoods are coming together to support people who are shielding or struggling financially. And while this year has been a challenge for many, there are lots of good things to look forward to. This is why this is the perfect moment to check in on our mental health and wellbeing.
Investing a few moments to check in with how you’re feeling will pay off. And we have some great tips on how to enjoy better mental wellbeing this winter. Let’s dive straight in with 5 tips to enjoy better mental health.
1) Start as you mean to go on
Are you sitting comfortably? Take a deep breath, all the way down to your diaphragm. Hold for a few seconds and breathe out slowly. Pause a little and breathe in again. Listen to the sound of your breath. Feel it filling your chest and your belly area. Feel the air leaving your mouth or nostrils.
Mindfulness means staying aware of the present. Some people think meditation means emptying your mind. Have you ever tried this? Spoiler alert: it’s not possible. Our brains are always thinking, always going – it’s how they help to keep us alive. But getting too caught up in our thoughts can be unhealthy. By bringing the focus to physical sensations, like our breath, mindfulness meditation helps us to take a break from thought spirals.
Here’s a metaphor: Picture a busy motorway with cars driving by at high speeds. This could symbolise our thoughts when we’re stressed. We can’t stop them, but we can step back from the motorway. Maybe there is a leafy green tree just a few yards away. We could go there to in the shade. Observing our thoughts from afar gives us a new perspective and the space to reflect on the situation.
There are many types of mindfulness meditation. If you’re new to this exercise, you might like to start with a guided version. There are lots of free recordings to choose from on the MindPanda website. We also have an informative and inspiring collection of videos to share. Whatever your level of experience, there’s something for everyone to help you Enjoy Better Mental Health.
2) Healthy body, healthy mind
It’s a cold, rainy day. You’re curled up on the sofa with a good book/movie and some snacks. Doesn’t it sound like just the ticket? Even if this is the third day in a row. Taking care of our physical health is important for our mental wellbeing too. So grab an orange and your exercise gear – let’s look at what the scientists have to say.
The amount of sleep you need is personal, but the NHS recommends 7-8 hours per night. The side effects of not enough shuteye? Brain fog, grumpiness and a greater risk of medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. When people with anxiety or depression were asked about their sleeping habits, it turned out that most of them slept for less than 6 hours a night.
So that’s the bad news. The good news is that you can turn things around. What should you do if you need more sleep? Your bedtime routine is a good place to start. Think about whether you:
- Get to bed at roughly the same time every day
- Have a ‘wind-down’ routine to help you relax
- Have a comfortable place to sleep – quiet, dark and a good temperature
- Keep your phone away from your bed
Mindfulness tip: why not try out a body scan meditation before you fall asleep? It’s a perfect relaxation technique.
The trend towards meat-free eating accelerated during lockdown. In the UK, there were 45 million views of videos with “vegan” or “vegetarian” in the title. Apparently, there is an appetite for mindful eating, as people think about what that meal means for the world.
Eating well can make for healthy living too – mentally and physically. Studies have found that people who eat lots of fruit and veg (like in the Mediterranean diet) have higher levels of wellbeing.
Here are a few things to think about when it comes to diet and mental health:
- Eat at regular intervals and choose foods that release energy slowly. It’ll keep your blood sugar levels steady and make it easier to avoid snacking. Not to mention, that it’ll put you in a better mood.
- Staying hydrated is important too. Why not start your day with a big glass of water? You’ll be surprised at what an effect it has on concentration.
- Manage your caffeine and alcohol intake. Caffeine gives you a quick burst of energy, but can then make you feel anxious or depressed.
- Get your five portions of fruit or veg a day, but don’t forget about protein. Protein contains amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings. It also helps you to feel fuller for longer.
Mindfulness tip: why not try mindful eating? Start by eating away from screens and distractions. Concentrate fully on the tastes, smells and textures of your food, as well as how your body responds to the meal. It’s been shown to help with weight loss and emotional eating.
We’re not talking about running a marathon or climbing the height of Mount Everest on your stairs. Exercise has been proven to improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood. It can improve self-esteem and brain power. And it’s even been found to help with low self-esteem and social withdrawal. In fact, walking for an hour a day or running for 15 minutes can reduce the risk of depression by 26%.
Lots of us started new exercise ideas during lockdown. If your enthusiasm has waned or if you never got started at all, here are a few ideas for getting more active. If Captain Tom can do it, so can we!
- Make small changes to your routine. Take the stairs, not the lift. Walk to the shops, don’t drive. As the saying goes, every little helps.
- Try something new. There are more online classes available than ever before, so you can try new forms of exercising without leaving home.
- Get outdoors. Nature has its own healing powers and spending some time surrounded by green can have a powerful effect. Depending on the COVID restrictions in your area, going for a walk with friends or family can also be a great way to stay in touch.
Mindfulness tip: when you next go for a walk, see how many different colour leaves you can spot. Think about how many sounds you can hear. Paying attention to your surroundings can help you to stay more aware of the present.
3) Stay connected
Some of us are in crowded homes with children bouncing off the walls. Others are struggling with the lack of social connection. There is Zoom, of course, but video calls aren’t quite the same as a good face-to-face chat.
Did you know that social isolation is a key trigger for mental illness? Our relationships with family, friends, neighbours and colleagues are all important for keeping us healthy. When you’re not feeling good, it can be tempting to burrow down and spend time recuperating. But too much of a good thing can be counter-productive.
What we can do depends on the COVID restrictions in our area, but here are a few ideas that will help you to Enjoy Better Mental Health through connection during lockdown:
- Look into volunteering. There are lots of new groups that could do with a hand. You’ll benefit from the social interaction and the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from doing good.
- Slow down and pay attention to the people around you. Rather than waving at your neighbour, how about stopping for a chat?
- Get organised and schedule social calls at least once a day – online or on the phone. It might feel a little odd to start with, but will pay off in terms of connectedness.
Mindfulness tip: at MindPanda, we’re big fans of journaling. Keep a written log of your week and always include a section on things you’re grateful for. Not only will it help you to reflect on what’s working for you (and what isn’t), it will also make sure you’re tuned in to all the positive things in your life.
Want to hear about some more mindfulness research to help you Enjoy Better Mental Health? Harvard psychologists have found a positive connection between gratitude and happiness.
4) Learn something new
There must be lots of us who are heartily fed up with the sight of our sitting room walls. Learning something new can boost our mental wellbeing, boosting confidence and self-esteem. It can also be another opportunity to Enjoy Better Mental Health on the level of connection.
It might be learning mindfulness meditation, trying a new recipe or taking a different route on your walk. Even small changes in our daily routine can really shake things up. Breaking up monotony forces us to consider a new perspective – and helps to break up any negative thought patterns that might be taking hold.
There’s no end of things you could try. Here are a few of our favourite ideas for shaking things up a little:
Try drinking a big glass of water first thing in the morning for the next ten days. We’re often dehydrated after sleeping and having a drink of the clear stuff first thing can work wonders. What’s your morning routine and what could you tweak to set yourself up for a great day?
If you’re working from home, are you doing more hours than usual? It can easily happen, as boundaries between home life and work life get blurred. Talk to your colleagues to find a better balance between discussion and heads-down concentration. You could also create a stop-working trigger, like putting away your laptop (or even your desk, depending on where in the house you’re working).
Have a declutter day. With so much time at home, it’s easy for things to get misplaced. You might not want to go through the full-on Marie Kondo experience. But creating new space and maybe even adding a nice pot plant or two will give you a much nicer place to hang out. What will you change first?
Dance like no one’s watching, while you do the housework. (Maybe check that no one’s watching first.) Not only will the exercise do you good, taking a new approach to a familiar task can refresh your mind without a whole lot of preparation.
Mindfulness tip: if you’d like to learn more about mindfulness, why not try our 30 Days of Mindfulness course? With boredom-busting ideas and relaxing exercises, it’s already in use by healthcare professionals across the country.
5) Get help and give back
There’s a lot we can do to look after and enjoy better mental and physical help. But if it’s not working out, please do ask for help. Reach out to friends and family, or get in touch with your GP. It’s so much better to get help early, before you reach the end of your tether. There are lots of online organisations available too.
It looks like coronavirus is here to stay a while. With long winter months and little light ahead, making a priority of mental health is important. Many of us are struggling on some level this year, so thinking about what we can do for each other is important. Maybe it’s volunteering; maybe it’s a friendly smile and chat. If we stick together, it’ll work out better for everyone.
So what are you doing this autumn to Enjoy Better Mental Health? We’d love to hear from you. Please drop us a line in the comments below. Stay safe and stay well.