HACK YOUR MENTAL HEALTH: 5 EASY STRATEGIES FOR MENTAL WELLBEING
Hitting the gym and staying hydrated are usually at the top of the list when thinking about healthy habits. But how often do we consider our mental health?
Like the proverbial ‘squeaky wheel’, it is often not until we begin to feel stressed or anxious that we prioritise our mental wellbeing.
So, if you are looking to hack your mental health, where on earth do you begin?
Well, here are five basics for beginners – backed by research.
- Hit the sack
Sleep is an essential function, allowing the body and mind to rest, repair, and recharge. Just a night or two of bad sleep has been shown to affect mental alertness, memory, and even relationships. Long-term, sleep problems can increase the risk of medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.
Experts recommend at least 7 hours of quality shut eye per night, so if you are looking to shape up your slumber habits, here are some pointers:
- Set a fixed ‘wake-up’ time. This means waking at the same time each day – even on weekends. Plan for a bedtime that allows for enough sleep, and if you must nap, do so for no longer than 20 minutes in the early afternoon.
- Begin a bedtime routine. Performing the same activities in the lead-up to bedtime can help our brains recognise when it is time to sleep. Read a good book, practice relaxation exercises, or take a warm shower. If possible, turn off screens and devices.
- Bedroom basics. Minimise light and keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature. Eliminate noise and use earplugs or white noise to dampen sounds you can’t control. Consider investing in a good-quality pillow, mattress, and bedding.
- Don’t take it lying down. If you find yourself lying awake for longer than 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something calm and relaxing in low-level light, returning to bed once you feel sleepy. Make sure to talk to your doctor if you are dealing with serious slumber struggles.
- Put a spring in your step
Exercise is one of those topics that seems to make an appearance in most health articles. But whether you love or hate it, there is no getting around the fact that exercise is critical to overall wellbeing – reducing the likelihood of medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Research has also begun to highlight the relationship between exercise and mental health –suggesting that regular exercise can reduce stress, increase positive thinking, promote healthy emotion regulation, and facilitate the management of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
When it comes to working out, experts recommend at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least five days per week, as well as two non-consecutive days of strength training.
- Mind full or mindful?
In our often too-busy lives, taking time to be mindful can seem almost counterintuitive. Nevertheless, mindfulness is an incredibly effective tool for coping with the lemons that life can throw. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment without becoming overwhelmed by what is happening around us. It’s about bringing awareness to the right now – rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
A growing body of evidence supports the use of mindfulness in managing pain, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and stress. Mindfulness does not require special skills, fancy equipment, or dramatic lifestyle changes. In fact, once you have learnt the basics, you can practice mindfulness almost anywhere.
If you are interested in giving mindfulness a go, search free guided mindfulness sessions online.
- You are what you eat
Eating a healthy diet is essential to our overall wellbeing. It ensures our body can function well and protects against diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. While the relationship between food and physical health has been studied for decades, scientists are beginning to uncover the link between diet and mental health. Much of this research confirms what many of us already know: what we eat can influence our mood, emotions, and thinking.
The Mediterranean diet is widely acknowledged as one of the healthiest diets around. Research supports the Mediterranean diet as being associated with positive mental health outcomes – such as increased emotional wellbeing, decreased depressive symptoms, and increased health-related quality of life.
The Mediterranean diet is relatively easy to follow. As a general guide for beginners:
- Eat often: vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil.
- Eat in moderation: poultry, eggs, and dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt.
- Eat rarely: red meats, processed sugar, processed meats, refined grains, and processed foods.
- Thank your lucky stars
Practicing gratitude involves a purposeful attention towards the positives of everyday life - even when negative situations or events are unfolding. Researchers examining gratitude have found it to be a game-changer when it comes to mental wellbeing, associated with improved life satisfaction, resilience, sleep quality, self-care, and self-esteem.
Researchers have also identified gratitude as being strongly and consistently associated with higher happiness levels. Grateful individuals are less likely to become depressed, practice greater self-control, and have healthier relationships with others.
To get better at counting your blessings, try:
- Gratitude journaling. A daily gratitude journal is a great way to shift focus to the positive. Aim to record five things that you are grateful for per day, and be sure to include why. When you are struggling, try reading through past entries.
- Reflect on what you take for granted. Thinking about what we take for granted is another way to nurture gratitude. These can be everyday things like running water and electricity or more personal blessings like health and family.
- Include the kids. Children can also learn gratitude through daily practice. Try going around the table at dinnertime with each person naming three things they feel grateful for from their day.
- Say thank you. While it is almost automatic to say thank you, how often do we take the time to acknowledge people in a meaningful way? Next time someone goes out of their way for you, consider writing a thank you note, getting them a small gift, or repaying them in kind.