Mental health issues are one of the leading causes of ill-health, according to the World Health Organisation, with one in four people affected by mental or neurological disorders during their lifetimes.
Treatment and help is more widely available now, though more could be done surrounding the stigma and discrimination faced by many too afraid to admit they need help.
But what about the rest of us – the people not clinically depressed or suffering from a mental illness, but who are always a little drained of energy and motivation – the 75 per cent of the population just getting by?
Maybe we’re not quite enjoying work as much as we used to, or personal relationships seem more strained.
The good news is that a huge body of research over the last 20 years has shown that we have more control over our mental wellbeing than we realise.
In the same way that we can eat well and exercise to prevent physical injury and illness, we can build our mental health.
This helps us to become:
- Less susceptible to chronic stress, anxiety and depression and more likely to actually grow stronger as a result of challenges we face
- More effective communicators, stronger leaders, more effective as team members and have better relationships
- More likely to reach our personal, career and physical health goals
5 top tips for improving mental wellbeing.
Write down your ‘gratitudes’
It is easy to rush through life focusing on what we want next or the things that aren’t exactly as we hoped.
This actually reduces our capacity to see the positives in life so that we start to see more negative and miss the good bits.
Start a healthy habit by taking five minutes before you go to bed each night to write down three things you are grateful for from your day.
Think about at least one of these things and consider why you are grateful for that thing.
Ask yourself “how did it make me feel?” Write down your ‘gratitudes’ in as much detail as possible.
And remember that nothing is too small to be grateful for – a roof over your head, a smile from a stranger, a good meal… we all have something to be grateful for!
Connect with others more
Recent studies show that feeling isolated impacts our wellbeing more than ever.
A lack of social connection leads to disrupted sleep, increases in the stress in the morning as well as an increased risk of depression and a lower sense of wellbeing.
Loneliness is as much of a physical health risk as smoking.
Take time every day to connect with others – and that doesn’t mean a ‘like’ on Facebook.
Can you take a moment to chat to a cashier at the supermarket and boost both your wellbeing?
Can you take five minutes to visit a friend?
And if it is not possible to connect in person then pick up the phone and make a call rather than text.”
Stretch into it
Recent research has highlighted that incorporating stretching into our regular daily routine is just as important to health and body functioning as regular exercise.
Doing a few gentle stretches three or four times a day can help to reduce stress, prevent energy slumps, support healthier digestion and even improve sleep patterns as well as keeping the joints and spine healthy.
It doesn’t need to be anything complicated, simply reaching your arms overhead, stretching to the side or twisting is fine.”
Fuel your mind
We all think about eating more healthily for different reasons, to optimize the effects of our workout,
to lose weight or perhaps to support our digestion, but we rarely think about the fact that our food is the Fuel for our Mind.
A diet that is high in complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains and vegetables), includes essential fats (nuts, seeds and oily fish) and amino acids (found in eggs, turkey, oats and bananas) is essential to optimise our mental wellbeing.
What’s also interesting is that it is estimated that 90-95% of the bodies serotonin – a brain neurotransmitter associated with better mood – is produced in the digestive tract so it makes sense to keep a healthy gut.
Include unsweetened natural yoghurt in your daily diet and you are on the right track for a healthy mind.”
Be more mindful
Mindfulness is simply training ourselves to be in the now rather than getting caught up in our thoughts about the past or future.
It can reduce stress, enhance problem-solving skills, strengthen the immune system, support better sleep patterns and help you live longer, healthier and happier lives.
Set a timer for three minutes and sit in a comfortable place with your eyes closed.
Bring your attention to your breath and notice where you can feel it.
When your mind wanders to other things – and it will quite quickly – notice that it has wandered.
Then bring your attention back to the sensations of the breath.
The mind will soon get distracted again, notice it, and bring your attention back to the sensations of the breath.
Do this for three minutes, until your timer says it’s time to continue with your day.”