Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, 7 days dedicated to shining a light on all thing’s mental health and wellbeing. While mental health is undoubtedly far less of a taboo subject than 50 years ago, the term ‘Mental Wellbeing’ can still confuse people, so what, exactly, is mental health? Mental health is not an all-or-nothing concept. Rather than something a person does or does not have, mental health is something that everyone will experience in a continuous pendulum that can swing up and down throughout life. The fact that mental health is not a fixed situation is only a positive; it means that you can take charge of your own mental health and move it up the scale toward a place of psychological and emotional wellness.

So what does good mental health look like? Oddly, it isn’t living life without problems, feeling positive and happy 100% of the time, or life always being perfect… Achieving that is impossible; we are human, after all. Besides, living in this constant state of ‘Disney Fairy-tale’ would get dull, really quickly. We need challenges in our lives to flourish, so bring on the struggles!

Practising good mental wellbeing is about self-awareness, recognising when things just aren’t feeling just right, and knowing how or what you can do to improve them. So we have put together 10 ways to boost your mental wellbeing — a little list of strategies to put in your wellness toolbox for when you might need them.

Express yourself

Being able to express your feelings via another medium is often a great outlet. It could be something that you are already passionate about, like painting, drawing, or music. But it doesn’t always have to be creative. Maybe reading fantasy fiction is right up your street, or you’re passionate about films; whatever it is, it’s your way of being expressive!
If you don’t have a passion, then challenge your mind and learn a new skill. Learning enhances our self-confidence and broadens our horizons. Take up a hobby or discover something new like knitting, gardening, or even poetry. There are thousands of online tutorials available for beginners on platforms like YouTube and local community-based groups that are covid safe to get involved with. If you suffer from the anxiety of a new situation, why not try something like OnlineChoir. It’s a great way to combat isolation, boredom, or loneliness, all from your own home’s safety, comfort, and convenience!

Time to ‘Tap Out’

We all know that feeling when you’re so utterly immersed in problems that you’re are struggling to know what direction to go in. Don’t panic; it’s OK to ‘tap out. Tapping out doest necessarily mean going on a long weekend to a meditation retreat to get some serious ‘you time’; take some time and slow down; pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and the world around you. Allow yourself some time to switch off from whatever is bothering you and go and do something completely different; it could even be your new hobby! When you are ready to pick it back up, it should feel more manageable. Tapping out and distracting yourself is not a cop-out but can be a fantastic way to stop overthinking a problem.

Think about the other pressures that may be influencing you. Taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news and social media. Try stepping outside for 10 minutes; take a few deep breaths of fresh air; you will be surprised at how much it will energise your body and mind. If you are limited to an indoor space, try mindfulness. Settling your thoughts through 10-minutes of daily meditation using apps like Calm or meditation videos on YouTube can give you the headspace you really need.

It’s OK not to be OK!

When you feel low or anxious, it is easy to think negatively about yourself; it can be difficult to muster the courage to reach out and seek support from others. Taking the leap and approaching your trusted circle of friends, family, colleagues or even housemates to talk to will really help.

But what happens if you don’t have that support circle? There are hundreds of charities, with volunteers ready and waiting at the end of the phone to lend their ears and offer advice. The Samaritans are a UK based charity that you can call any time of day or night about anything troubling you, no matter how large or small the issue feels. Whatever you’re going through, you can call the Samaritans for free any time, from any phone, on 116 123.

Food to improve your mood

Fluctuations in blood sugar levels are linked to changes in mood and energy. Sticking to a regular meal pattern maintains blood sugar levels. Not eating at regular intervals can make you feel tired, irritable, anxious and cause poor concentration.

Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Well, it’s certainly a way of making sure you feel energised and ready for the day. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, avoid junk foods, eat plenty of fruit and veg, and drink lots of water. Some ingredients are known to facilitate the release of dopamine, the ‘pleasure hormone’. Check out Tom Kerridge’s Dopamine Diet, packed with stay-happy recipes.

Keep on Movin’

Physical activity helps release endorphins which can improve your mood. When you feel low, you tend to stop doing the things that can improve your mood without realising it. Making sure you do some physical exercise, even if you don’t feel like it at first, can give you quick results in improving your mood.

Try to build physical activity into your daily routine, if possible. It doesn’t have to be anything significant, like running a marathon. Why not go for a walk at lunchtime during the working week? It gives time to clear your head from the morning, which helps prepare you for the afternoon stint. It also reminds you that Monday-Friday isn’t all about work. If you aren’t used to being active, start off small and try to find something you enjoy or incorporate it into something you desire, like getting your daily coffee from your favourite coffee shop? Why not take a long walk around the block to get it?

Sleep is the best meditation

The Dalai Lama once said that “Sleep is the best meditation”. Good quality sleep makes a big difference to how we feel; in fact, sleep is vital in helping you regulate your emotions. Being sleep deprived for just one night can increase your emotional response to negative feelings by 60%, so it’s essential to get enough. It is recommended that adults (between 18-64 years) need 7-9 hours per night. However, this can also vary with the quality of your sleep. If your sleep quality is poor, you may find that you still feel tired after getting what should be considered enough. Conversely, if you’re getting good quality sleep, you may manage better with a little less.

So how can you get better sleep? Well, try a few of these:

  • Going to bed at the same time each night helps regulate your inner clock. Following an irregular sleep schedule has been linked to poor sleep quality and duration.
  • Adopting a relaxing routine before bed can help you get in the mood to sleep. For example, listening to music has been shown to help improve sleep.
  • Sleeping in a quiet, dark room at a comfortable temperature can help you sleep better. Being too active before bed, too warm, or in a noisy environment is linked to poor sleep.
  • Studies have linked caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine use to lower sleep quality. Try to avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
  • The excessive use of mobile phones, tablets and game consoles have been associated with poor sleep quality. Even exposure to bright room lights before bed may negatively affect your sleep.
  • Being inactive is associated with more inadequate sleep. Getting exercise during the day may help you sleep better at night.

The great outdoors

Nature is central to our psychological and emotional health; it’s almost impossible to achieve good mental health without a greater connection to the natural world. For most of human history, we lived as part of nature. It is only in the last five generations that so many of us have lived and worked in a context that is primarily separated from nature. A US study in the 1960s found that patients treated in hospitals with a view of nature recovered faster, and now science has started to unpack the extraordinary health benefits.

Despite this, many of us are not accessing or benefitting from nature. There really is no excuse; we live in the Garden of England after all. Have a look at resources like The National Trust to find ancient woods, dramatic clifftops, wild parklands, trails and landscaped gardens all ready for you to explore.

Kick the bad habits

Are you still smoking cigarettes? What about a glass or two of wine a couple of times more than you should each week? If you are, do what you can to cut it out. Either of these vices can give you short-term pleasure, but they do severe damage to your overall mental health. Excessive drinking can actually boost stress and may lead to depression, and smoking can increase tension. You can achieve a much better frame of mind and live a lot longer by stopping. If that’s not motivation enough to quit, you can also save quite a bit of money by ridding yourself of these habits!

The health benefits of quitting smoking are immediate. After 20 minutes, blood pressure and resting heart rate return to normal. Within 24 hours, the lungs start to clear. After three days, breathing becomes easier, and energy levels increase. In one year, the risk of a heart attack drops sharply after quitting. During 2-5 years, the chance of a stroke could fall to about the same as that of a non-smoker! – If that’s not a giant weight off your shoulders, then we don’t know what is. For help with quitting, visit your GP or local pharmacy for advice and products out there to make it easier.

Dream big

If you don’t have a clear direction in life, chances are your mind is constantly wading through the possibilities and stressing about the future. Whether it’s on a personal or professional level, try to set short, mid and long-term goals. That way, you know what you’re working toward, and it’s going to be easier to push back career or personal life dissatisfaction.

Setting life goals is an essential part of what it means to be human, and achieving them can feel rewarding or even generate a greater sense of purpose and meaning. Want some help with setting goals? Try this article to get you started from The Berkeley Well-Being Institute

Dear Diary, today’s been a good day

When you think of keeping a diary, you might picture a teenage girl writing about her crush in a journal. Or a young person trying to figure out who they are and deal with raging hormones and secondary school drama. However, keeping a diary can do buckets of good for your mental wellbeing. Sometimes the simple process of writing out your feelings and reactions to things you go through can clarify issues you didn’t consciously recognise.

Pick up an inexpensive diary from a local retailer and start writing down a few notes each day — reactions to things that happened, aspirations, or even a way of getting everything off your chest. This exercise can help you manage stress and reduce anxiety. there are even specialist products out there if you are happy to spends a little more the help you really reflect, like this Thought Diary.