This year has been a struggle for so many of us. It’s time to boost your mental health and make a decision to change your outlook for the remainder of this year by putting your mental health first.
Can you relate?
- You wake up feeling exhausted.
- You go through your life on autopilot.
- You scroll social media or binge-watch Netflix till falling asleep late at night.
- You wait for vacations or weekends to feel better.
- Your work and family life take up all your time.
- Relaxation means watching mindless TV or being stuck on your phone. It lets you escape a life you don’t enjoy.
- Being in a bad mood once in a while is okay. But if that’s your constant reality, then chances are, you are neglecting your mental health. If you aren’t enjoying life, even its small and ordinary moments, it means you aren’t taking care of yourself.
- You don’t exercise or eat healthy only when you are ill, right? Being mentally unwell isn’t the only time when you need to care for your mental health.
The key to incorporating good mental health habits
You know the benefits of rising early, exercising, etc. But you have other priorities. You’re overwhelmed to add yet another task to your to-do list. I get it. Here I’ll give some fun and easy tips that won’t take a tonne of your time.
But before you incorporate any habit, you need a strong “why”. Even if someone’s morning yoga looks attractive on Instagram, you need a solid reason to do it long-term. Write your reasons before you include any of these habits and revisit them from time to time.
Also, remember: doing something consistently for 5 minutes a day is more effective than doing it for an hour once in a while.
Start small. Consistency is the key to building good habits.
1. Sleep to melt away your stress
“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” ˜Dr. Matthew Walker
Sleep is crucial for our physical and mental health. Diseases like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders have been linked to sleep.
Below are some small tweaks to get better sleep:
- Keep your phone outside the bedroom. Don’t look at it for an hour before bedtime.
- Use a wind-down app that tells you when you need to disconnect.
- Invest in good-quality pillows and mattresses.
- Don’t use your bed for anything besides sleeping and sex.
- Keep your room dark and use earplugs if you’re in a noisy environment.
- Eat dinner two hours before bedtime. Eat light if you cannot avoid a late dinner.
- Stop watching TV at bedtime. Read a book, journal, knit, meditate, or do some relaxing stretches, instead.
- Don’t stress about not being able to sleep. Instead, do a meditation, focus on your breathing, list things you were grateful for during the day, or repeat affirmations.
- Brain dump your thoughts in a notebook. Once your mind feels empty, sleep becomes easier.
A good night’s sleep helps keep the mind healthy. That said, mental health issues might lead to sleep disorders. Get help from a professional if you cannot sleep despite trying everything.
2. Move it, baby
“When you exercise, it increases endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline, and endocannabinoid — these are all brain chemicals associated with feeling happy, feeling confident, feeling capable, feeling less anxiety and stress, and even less physical pain.”˜Dr. Kelly McGonigal
We often think of exercise as going to the gym or doing serious sporting activities. But exercising for each of us can look different.
Small ways in which you could move more through the day:
- A morning or an evening walk.
- A 10-minute stretch between meetings.
- Get up from your desk after every hour for a 5-minute break where you stretch your legs, get tea, or move around.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Walk or cycle for short-distance errands.
- Take a fun Zumba or Pilates class one or two times a week.
- Do household chores.
3. What you eat is how you feel
“Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food.” ˜ Hippocrates
Eating healthy has a direct impact on our mental wellness. Food affects our energy levels, moods, and ability to focus or think with clarity.
Eating home-cooked, healthy, nutritious meals is ideal. But I get that you’re busy and that’s not always possible. Here are some easy ways to include more healthy meals in your day:
- Store healthy pre-cooked meals for days when you’re too tired to cook.
- Eat a nutritious meal when eating outside.
- Avoid preservative-laden and fried food.
- Keep items like nuts, granola bars, and sprouts handy for when the snacking mood strikes.
- Cut down on caffeine intake and switch to decaf, cold-pressed juices, or infusions after 3 PM.
- Stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle nearby.
4. Quieten the mind for inner peace
“Meditation means letting go of our baggage, letting go of all the pre-rehearsed stories and inner-dialogue that we’ve grown so attached to.” ˜Andy Puddicombe
Meditation helps lower stress and anxiety. It gives better clarity and focus and has a host of other benefits. I’ve been meditating for seven years now and it is one of my best tools for boosting mental health.
Sitting with your eyes closed and doing nothing feels like a waste of time for many people. But as someone said, people who think they’re too busy to meditate need it the most.
- Meditation is hard in the beginning. Start with as little as one to five minutes.
- Use apps like Insight Timer, Headspace, Calm, etc. Insight Timer has the largest free collection of meditations.
- Right after you wake up, simply close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
- If meditation feels hard, listen to affirmations (from YouTube or an app) while enjoying your morning coffee.
- Do breathing exercises for a few minutes (you’ll find them on YouTube and on phone apps).
Even 5 minutes of mindfulness will have a positive impact on your day.
5. Times spent with loved ones are precious
“What if you moved through the world as if you were easy to be loved? Because I promise you, you are easy to love.” ˜Sonalee Rashatwar
Don’t let work or family responsibilities consume your entire being. Medical professionals say that loneliness increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 30%. It can be as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
If you’re lonely, find out how you could connect more. Anything that you’re serious about pursuing needs planning.
- Block out time to catch up with friends, visit extended family, or spend the day with your partner and children.
- If you’re living alone, find local groups on Meetup or social media with common interests to catch up on.
- If you’re working remotely, plan virtual fun sessions with colleagues, if possible.
6. Do something to love
“A hobby a day keeps the doldrums away.” ˜ Phyllis McGinley
A hobby can be anything from crocheting a scarf to reading a book to going for a hike. Do something that is not work-related and enjoy the moments. Involve friends and family in your hobbies, if possible. That way, you get to spend quality time while pursuing things you love.
7. Cut back on social media
Social media is a major cause of rising mental health issues. But giving up on social media might not be an option for many of us as our work depends on it. Block time on your calendar for social media activities instead of checking your phone all the time.
8. Take it easy
Despite everything, you’ll have bad days. Everybody does. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Be gentle during times of distress.
Be ready for the days on which you feel overwhelmed. For example:
- Keep some packed meals in your fridge when you don’t feel like cooking.
- Items like dry shampoo, cleaners, and wet wipes come in handy on days you don’t feel like bathing.
- Talk to a close one who listens without judgment.
- Go to a café or a library to work or take a walk in your neighborhood.
- Take time off from work to enjoy a day of self-care.
Despite everything, you might still feel unwell. Do visit a doctor when you think you need help.
Simple and easy acts towards a more mindful, healthy living go a long way to keep us mentally fit. You can’t take care of everything at once. Pick the area you feel inclined toward and make small changes. Then move on to the next. A healthy life takes effort and planning. But it all begins with baby steps.