We all know the importance of staying physically healthy, but looking after your mental health is just as important.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in six people experience a mental health issue every week. Mental health problems have also been identified as one of the main causes of the world’s overall disease burden.
To spread awareness about the importance of mental health, the MHF is holding Mental Health Awareness Week from 8-14 May, highlighting the stories of those who struggle with conditions such as depression and anxiety while seeking to uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health.
It’s vital that we all take steps to look after our minds as well as our bodies but this needn’t require a drastic life transformation – everyone can improve their mental health by introducing small, positive changes to their daily routine. From hitting the gym to limiting your time on social media, follow our 10 steps to improve your wellbeing:
1. Use a journal
Tracking your thoughts regularly via a journal, diary or blog can be beneficial to mental health. The process of getting your feelings onto the page may be therapeutic in itself, and documenting your emotional ups and downs will also prove useful when it comes to identifying external factors that bring about negative thoughts, helping you to minimise the risk of emotional disruption.
Not much of a wordsmith? Try using a bullet journal instead – these allow you to rapidly track your thoughts by using a simple system of bullet points and notes.
2. Drink lots of water
During a bad mental health day, we can end up neglecting the simplest acts of self-care. By forgetting to look after ourselves, we risk a knock-on effect on our emotional wellbeing.
A dehydrated brain is more likely to malfunction than a hydrated one. The human brain is made up of 75% water, so not drinking enough can quickly impact your mood. Aim for at least two litres a day to prevent your thinker from getting thirsty.
3. Get creative
Creative forms of expression like music, art and drama can be a life-affirming and enjoyable escape from mental health problems. Allow your emotions to escape through these outlets, and you’ll avoid bottling up negative thoughts that might otherwise be detrimental to your wellbeing.
Joining a class or workshop that allows you to get creative may also lead to new positive relationships forming. A strong support network of friends and peers can be invaluable when you’re feeling down, especially if they share your hobbies and passions.
4. Work out
The link between exercise and mental health is well-documented. This year, Heads Together was selected as charity of the year for the London Marathon. The campaign - started by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry - aims to end stigma around mental health, and its partnership with the annual running event was a way to showcase the positive effects that a regular exercise routine can have on tackling long term mental health problems.
Of course, you don’t have to run a marathon to overcome mental health struggles! Any type of physical exertion can help to release endorphins and give your mood a boost. Try to find an activity or sport that you enjoy, and you’ll be more likely to keep your emotional health in tip-top condition.
5. Tidy up
Ever heard the expression “cluttered space, cluttered mind”? It’s got some truth behind it. Scientists have found that a messy living space can have a negative impact on human ability to focus and process information rationally. This can result in a confused, jumbled headspace – a perilous breeding ground for negative emotions.
Take control of mental messiness by physically cleaning your home. The sense of satisfaction you’ll feel when you’ve successfully tidied a disorganised room can be an instant mood booster. In the process, you’ll also create an uncluttered and serene environment in which to unwind.
6. Read a book
Literature has always been a popular form of escapism. For those with mental health problems, a regular reading routine can be a healthy coping mechanism.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a non-fiction fan or prefer to lose yourself in a piece of immersive fiction: the simple act of processing information whilst turning pages will help to promote inner peace and distract you from negative thoughts.
7. Listen to music
Music has a way of seeping into our self-conscious and affecting our moods. Some songs make us smile, whilst others force us to reflect on the past and think deeply about our personal issues. Cardiff-based mental health charity Heads Above The Waves uses music as a talking point for mental health, encouraging those suffering from depression and similar conditions to embrace the positive messages of their favourite songs.
“Whether it’s a song where the lyrics speak to you, something cheesy you can have a dance to, or even an instrumental piece that gets you every time, music can have a huge impact on your mood,” says founder Si Martin. “Make yourself a playlist, throw on a CD, or even tune into the radio. Turn it up and sing along, or put your headphones in and get away from the world for a while.”
8. Try a mental health app...
Most of us have a smartphone in our pocket. From keeping in touch with friends to playing addictive games, there’s a smartphone app for everything - including mental health.
Apps such as Headspace and Happify aim to improve the mental wellbeing of their users, providing everything from guided meditation to happiness-boosting games and interactive graphs that help you to track your mood.
9. … and know when to switch off
Websites and apps aplenty can educate and equip us with positive mental health approaches but, sometimes, our digital reliance can have negative consequences for our psyches. Social media is a notorious trigger for mental disruption, with poor self-esteem and loneliness being two of the most common side-effects.
If scrolling through your timeline and browsing hashtags is getting you down, it makes sense to unplug. Switch off your data, put the laptop away and do something offline that makes you feel good. You may be surprised at how relieved you feel once the weight of the digital world has been lifted from your shoulders.
10. Be kind to yourself
Perhaps the most important step towards mental wellbeing is committing to acts of self-kindness. When we forget to treat ourselves with generosity and self-respect, our moods are bound to take a hit.
The methods above will help you to outline the external factors that affect your mental health. Once you understand these, it’s your responsibility to do more of the things that make you happy while limiting negative habits to a minimum.