7 Proven Keys to Improving Your Mental Health
By Melli O’Brien
How to Train Your Brain for Happiness
Did you know that one in five people these days is affected by mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression? These days many of us are also struggling with stress and overwhelm as the pace and demands of life increase.
I believe now more than ever we all need to commit to making our mental health a priority.
Here ere are seven proven tips that will improve your mental health and boost your wellbeing.
1. EXERCISE REGULARLY
It’s well known that exercise is important for keeping our bodies healthy, but did you know that exercise is also vital for good mental health? Research shows that people who exercise regularly have better mental health, reduced risk of developing mental illness and greater emotional wellbeing.
HOW EXERCISE BOOSTS YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Exercise increases your energy levels both mentally and physically
Exercise helps you sleep better, and good sleep helps regulate your emotions
Exercise can improve confidence and self-esteem as you achieve a healthy goal and take care of yourself
Exercise changes hormones and chemicals in the brain in mood boosting ways including an ‘endorphin rush’ that increases feelings of calm and happiness as well as improving focus and memory
Physical activity can be an outlet for irritation, frustration and bad moods
Exercise is a powerful way to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness. For example, research suggests exercise can be as effective as medication or speaking to a psychologist for overcoming mild depression
Keeping physically active doesn’t have to mean working out at the gym - it can be simply going for a walk in the park. Experts advise that at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week is ideal. If you’re not currently exercising why not start small with a goal that feels immediately achievable – like 5 to 10 minutes a day? Start small and you can build up from there. This is often the best way to form new habits.
2. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness (a form of meditative awareness) involves training our attention and learning to have a more wise and skillful relationship with our own mind. Mindfulness teaches us to unhook from unhelpful and unproductive thought patterns and behaviours. It involves learning to steady our awareness in the present moment rather than getting lost in our heads worrying, ruminating about problems or locked into self-criticism or negative judgements.
RESEARCH SHOWS THAT MINDFULNESS…
Reduces stress, depression and anxiety
Increases stress resilience
Brings feelings of peace and inner calm
Improves overall sense of wellbeing and life satisfaction
3. EAT A HEALTHY DIET
What we eat affects how we feel. If you’ve ever watched how quickly sugar can have an effect on the mood of small children (and adults too) or if you’ve ever felt dull and tired after a heavy lunch of carbs you’ll have seen and felt the effects of the foods we choose to eat.
But it’s not just sugar and heavy carbs. All kinds of foods can also have short-term as well as long-lasting effects on your mental health. Your body needs a mix of nutrients and minerals to function well, so making sure you’re eating a good diet is truly vital for mental health.
A HEALTHY DIET INCLUDES
A variety of fresh vegetables and fruits
Nuts and seeds
A good source of protein, from either fish meats (from good sources) or plant-based
Regular water consumption 6- 8 glasses per day
Potentially dairy, grains and complex carbohydrates like beans, lentils, pumpkin etc.
TRY TO LIMIT
How much caffeine you drink
How much sugar is in your diet
Taking in a lot of intoxicants
Things you are intolerant or allergic to
4. DRINK IN MODERATION
Many people who overindulge in drinking alcohol (or other substances) commonly do it to change their mood. Although it may numb or overcome a difficult feeling for a while, the effects are short-lived. Alcohol doesn’t deal with the causes of difficult feelings or solve our problems. It makes them worse. There are much healthier ways of dealing with difficult feelings including the other ones listed in this post.
Occasional drinking in moderation is quite healthy and enjoyable for most people. As a useful guide to drinking in moderation, keep in mind that the daily alcohol limit recommended by alcohol.gov.au is no more than two standard drinks per day.
5. PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION
Do you have a harsh inner critic? It’s common to beat ourselves up and berate ourselves but research shows this habit of self-criticism comes at a price: It makes us lose confidence, feel unhappy with our lives and even leads to depression and anxiety.
Self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves more kindly and studies show it makes us happier and gives us better overall emotional wellbeing (as well as a whole host of other benefits too).
In a report published by three German psychologists, which examined 79 studies on the link between self-compassion and well-being, they reached this conclusion: People who are kinder to themselves tend to be happier.
Kristin Neff, who has been a pioneer in the study of self-compassion says, “With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.”
You can try some exercises to learn greater self-compassion as well as some guided meditations here.
6. KEEP IN TOUCH
We humans are social animals. We crave to feel connected and supported and to feel valued by others. Studies have shown that social connection is a vital key to good mental health.
Good social connection has even been linked to having a longer life. In one study on an elderly population people with strong social and community ties were two to three times less likely to die during the nine-year study.
Sometimes social connection can be a heart-to-heart talk over coffee but sometimes it can be a short phone call, or an email or message. Make sure to make time to connect with the loved ones in your life on a regular basis.
If you feel your current social life isn’t giving you enough connection, you can take steps to form new ones such as
Enrol in a class or hobby that interests you. You’ll be able to connect with others who share a common interest as well as getting out there and trying something new.
Join a book club, hiking club or other group such a knitting, meditation groups, fitness groups, community gardens or mothers groups.
Try volunteer work. Not only will you bond with other volunteers and recipients but helping others gives you that warm fuzzy feeling too.
Reach out and connect to people. Ask people out for coffees, dinners or to events like movies or bands. Try to get out and meet new people.
7. DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE
What activities do you love doing just for the fun of it? You know the ones you really lose yourself in? Take some time each day to do things you love and just enjoy yourself.
It could be engaging in a hobby like music, art, gardening or going hiking or riding a bike. It could be just having a cup of tea in the sun. Take some time each week (or even each day) to just enjoy life and let go of all your cares and worries for a while. Research also shows that it improves confidence and self esteem as well as improving our overall sense of wellbeing.