Our partners Team Mental Health have put together this handy guide of 23 simple everyday tips you can use to improve your mental health.
Mental health is a state of wellbeing. Mental ill health reflects a deterioration in our mental health. The World Health Organisation defines mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’.
Like physical health, we all have mental health and we need to know how to protect it.
Loneliness is a significant risk factor for developing mental health problems. By reaching out and making a meaningful connection with people who share common ground, ideas and values, we can develop a sense of belonging. Having good support networks in place, through family, friends and colleagues protects our mental health.
Physical activity enhances our mental health.Take steps to try to build regular physical activity into your week. Do this in a way that’s safe & right for you. Even the smallest amount can make a difference. Evidence shows that people who exercise experience fewer days of poor mental health. The largest associations have been seen for durations of 45 minutes, 3 – 5 times per week and in team sports, cycling and gym activity.
Life can be busy, challenging and overwhelming at times. We often forget to appreciate where we are or allow ourselves time to find and feel grateful for the positives we have enjoyed. Practice being present in the moment. Take the time to notice the world around you, your own thoughts and feelings. Practicing mindfulness techniques can be a helpful way to increase self-awareness and appreciate the world around us. It’s important to do this in a way that feels right for you.
Keeping learning and stimulating ourselves mentally has been shown to protect our mental health. This doesn’t have to be a major commitment and things like picking up a good book, playing a board game or cooking a meal can all be beneficial. If busy schedules don’t allow this, simple (but slightly messy!) acts like brushing our teeth a couple of times a week with our non-dominant hand can be effective.
The smallest acts of kindness really can make a difference.Giving to others makes other people and you feel good. Research suggests that acts of giving and kindness support positive mental health by creating positive feelings and a sense of self-worth and value. They also help us connect with others. Try something as simple as holding the door, making a cup of tea, or paying a compliment.
To support positive mental and physical health, depending on our age, we all need a certain amount of sleep. The average adult requires between 7-9 hours per night.
For many of us, busy lives or health problems can lead to a poor sleep routine being established. Sleep deprivation can negatively impact our mental health. The good news is, no matter what your current sleep pattern, you can make changes by implementing a sleep hygiene routine.
Humour improves our wellbeing and reduces stress. Laughter has been shown to positively impact our mental and physical health. 1,2 Where possible, try to appreciate the lighter side of life. Maybe make time to watch a comedy on TV, listen to a funny podcast, tell a joke or remember something that made you laugh.
A healthy, balanced diet can support good physical and mental health. A Mediterranean diet rich in fibre, fruit, leafy greens and omega 3 fish oils (found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel) has been shown to support positive mental health and there is evidence to suggest that vitamin D (also found in fatty fish) and selenium (found in brazil nuts) are protective. It’s also important to try to limit the intake of highly processed foods and sugary soft drinks. Healthy diet, healthy body, healthy mind!
Contact with green space has been associated with benefits to our mental health, particularly in terms of reducing our stress levels. If you’re able to, get outside and spend some time in a park, forest, or anywhere with grass, plants or trees. If this isn’t possible, try getting an indoor plant or take 5 minutes to look at photos of nature as this too can help reduce stress levels.
Deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, yoga and tai chi are examples of relaxation techniques which have been shown to counter the physiological response induced by stress. This can have a positive impact on our physical and mental health. There are many different and helpful ways to relax and feel a sense of calm. Take the time to explore what works for you and try to build regular periods of relaxation into your weekly or daily schedule.
As our body weight is comprised of almost 60% water it makes sense that dehydration can have a significant negative impact on our mental and physical health. Dehydration can negatively impact our mood, energy levels and how alert we feel. Maximise your ability to protect your mental and physical health and carry a water bottle with you so you can stay hydrated throughout the day.
To walk in the shoes of another in order to understand and appreciate how they are feeling isn’t always easy, but it’s important to try. Empathy can be a difficult skill to master but it’s critical to building and maintaining close and healthy relationships. Feeling connected and having a sense of belonging is important for good mental health. Empathy is a skill that can be nurtured and developed through practice.
Think about someone you know who’s done something you appreciate and let them know. Pick up the phone, write a letter, send an email or message them. If you’ve not got the time to call or write, it may help to just think about someone who’s done something nice for you, and mentally thank them. Appreciation and gratitude help us focus on what we have rather than what we don’t have. They help us feel positive emotions, cope with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Unhelpful negative thoughts can lead to unhelpful, negative feelings and actions. It’s possible to influence this process and we can improve our mental health as a result. For example, try to take perspective and consider what you might say to a friend, family member or colleague thinking in the same way. Sometimes it can be difficult to replace a negative thought with a positive one and that’s okay.
If you are experiencing difficulties and finding it difficult to cope, don’t put yourself under pressure to try to carry on as normal. Let someone know and ask for help if you need it. Intervening early reduces the risk of more long-term illness developing, creates opportunity to prevent crisis situations, and restores good mental health sooner. There is always help and support available and you can speak to a health care professional to ensure the right support, in the right place, at the right time.
Whilst social media can positively influence our mental health in ways such as enabling connection with others and facilitating the provision of emotional support, it’s also been recognised that its use has also been associated with risk; especially for young people. It’s thought that spending less time on social media could positively influence our mental health by helping us feel happier and more relaxed. It frees up time to enjoy face to face connections, engage in activities we enjoy and improve our sleep patterns.
It’s not necessarily achieving goals that counts, it’s the action we take to pursue them that really matters. Having goals can support good mental health by providing us with a sense of focus, motivation, purpose and optimism. By taking the smallest steps to reach our goals, we can feel a sense of achievement, satisfaction and our self-esteem can be boosted. Research has also found that when people were optimistic and persistent in pursuing their goals, they tended to have less depression and anxiety.
Active listening is part of effective communication skills and can help us build and maintain healthy relationships which protect our mental health. It can also help us to support someone who may be experiencing difficulties. Often, we can find ourselves listening to respond. The aim of active listening is to listen to understand.
If someone does share their mental health problems with you, it’s important to know your limits.
Certain things we do can be bad for our mental and physical health. By recognising this and taking positive steps to cut down or stop we’re likely to experience a sense of achievement, pride and satisfaction which all serve to boost our self-esteem and support good mental health. We’re also likely to reduce the risk of physical illness, which in turn, can reduce the risk of us developing a mental health problem.
Saying ‘no’ can be difficult for many people. However, saying ‘no’ is an important part of setting personal boundaries and allowing us more time to focus on the things that we need or want from life. Taking on too much can lead to stress, feeling overwhelmed, neglecting the things that matter to us, and ultimately it can negatively impact our mental health. We can also feel that we need to give lengthy explanations. However, accepting that ‘no is a complete sentence,’ supports our wellbeing in the long term.
It’s not unusual to feel busy and stressed. We can feel selfish for taking time to ourselves but it’s important to remember that ‘me time’ gives our brains chance to reboot and can help problem solving, concentration and productivity. In essence, taking ‘me time’ can give us more time to dedicate to others. Ultimately, taking some time for ourselves everyday can help us feel less stressed and improve our relationships which will positively impact our mental health. Start by scheduling as little as 10 minutes every day just for you and notice how you feel.
At the end of each day think about and write down 3 good things about your day. Can you commit to doing this every day for the next week? … Or even the next year? Gratitude is associated with happiness and promotes wellbeing. It helps us to limit those negative thoughts which can become all-consuming and gives us hope. There is also evidence to suggest that gratitude may protect people from stress and depression.