Previous post discussed what is the meaning of mental health? What are the variables involved in mental health. This posts discusses 11 simple techniques and practices to improve mental health.
1) Physical Exercise
Our bodies and minds are mutually dependent. Our physical health does impact our mental health and vice versa. Getting 30 minutes of physical activity every day is a good way to start building up good mental health. On the days that you are having a difficult time, just 15 minutes of stretching can be uplifting. A ten minute mindful walk may reduce anxiety. Improving physical health does improve mental health.
Especially aerobic exercises have been found to be effective in improving mood states and reduce state anxiety (situational anxiety e.g. public speaking). Like everything in life, excessive dependence on physical activity to alter mood state and reducing anxiety may prove detrimental.
Having a routine brings a sense of purpose to your day and harbours productivity. It is important to remember that we have to give ourselves space for flexibility with our schedule. Sometimes unexpected things pop up, sometimes you just can't follow the schedule and this is where behavioural adjustment comes into play. A schedule is supposed to help you cope with the many demands of the day and help you make efficient use of your time. However, not everyone works best with a schedule and might get more anxious when not able to stick to the schedule. A done list is an alternative for these people.
3) To-do list
Making to-do list before you go to bed have been shown to improve sleep and reduce anxiety. The process of ticking off the tasks as you complete them can again bring a sense of purpose and improve productivity. If you have a big task ahead of you, break it down in chunks to make it less daunting and check-off each task as you complete them. It reduces the pressure and gives you evidence that you have actually gotten work done and also motivates you to finish up the rest. ( This blog is completed by checking off a long to-do list)
4) Done lists
A lot of people find to-do lists more anxiety provoking than reassuring and might lead to procrastination because you don't want to face the unchecked items on the list. An option for people who want to get things done, feel good about their day and feel productive is to have a 'done list'. As the name suggest you simply write the things you have done during the day. Often times we do more during the day than we realise and the acknowledgement of all that we have accomplished in a day can provide satisfaction and foster further productivity.
5) Diet & Nutrition
Nutritional psychiatry is investigating the relationship between dietary patterns and mental health. Research evidence supports that inclusion of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes in diet can be associated with good mental health. It should be noted that if you are struggling with severe mental health issues a good diet may reduce the symptoms but without professional help and therapy the changes won't be long lasting.
6) Time for Relationship
Social interactions with friends, family, spouses, partners, children and even co-workers can help in improving mental health. All human beings seek connection, affection, love, camaraderie. The amount or quantity of social interaction that one needs to thrive may vary from person to person but it is never absent.
A good night sleep is very important to how we function during the day. It can Impact our productivity, comprehension, consciousness and mental health. If you have ever been sleep deprived you know how difficult it can be to concentrate during the day and get on with everyday work. Sleep deprivation can alter mood, reduce productivity, it can even make you feel disturbed and 'out of it'. It should be stressed here that taking naps during the day does not compensate for the loss of night sleep.
If you have difficulty sleeping at night there's a few things that can be done to improve sleep quality and reducing sleep anxiety. Future posts will discuss those techniques.
8) Journal Keeping
Keeping a journal can be very therapeutic and help in alleviating anxiety and promoting mental health. You can keep a journal of thoughts, schedules, routines, mood, sleep patterns, exercise, feelings, daily situations, gratitude etc. It is a very flexible form of keeping track of your mental health and to some extent gives you an insight to your inner-self and let's you be your own counsellor. The simple idea is that when things are put down in black and white it puts a little distance between you and the issue that is bothering you and that provides objectivity enabling you to analyse in a more rational and effective way. You can keep a physical journal or have a digital journal, there's options for everyone.
9) Talking about Difficulties
Confide in a friend and talk about your problems. Most of the times we think," I don't want to be a bother""they have problems of their own, they don't want to listen to me" and keep our feelings and thoughts within us and carry on. If something has been nagging at you, altering your mood, affecting your mental health negatively for a prolonged period (more than a day) just find a friend/family member/colleague who is trustworthy and willing to lend an ear.
Talk to them about your thoughts and feelings and you will come out feeling a lot lighter and better. Processing emotions and thoughts with another person can prove therapeutic and beneficial for mental health.
10) Volunteer/Helping Others
Giving back to community or helping people out can also be beneficial in improving mental health. It brings a sense of belonging and doing something larger than yourself. It could be something simple as helping a person carry heavy bags at train station or helping someone cross the road safely or even just being that trustworthy friend who is willing to listen. It doesn't have to be huge act, simple acts of kindness without any expectation of reciprocity can improve our self-esteem and mental health.
Volunteering at an organisation is a good way of feeling connected and meeting like minded people it can be helpful in reducing loneliness. Loneliness is a big issue which hampers good mental health. (There are a lots of online volunteering opportunities available, since we have to stay indoors during lockdown/quarantine).
11) Seeking Help
Find a good mental health professional and seek their help if you are feeling too overwhelmed with the demands of life, want to improve yourself, want to reduce anxiety, want to break out of depression, or you have thoughts about self-harm/suicide or if you want to work on improving any aspect of your mental health. Go on and find a mental health professional.
There's no shame in seeking professional help to be mentally healthy, it doesn't make you a weakling, it doesn't mean that you are 'abnormal'. It just means that you need help to cope with your thoughts, feelings, moods or life situations, just like you would need help with improving any aspect of your physical health.
Please take the brave step of reaching out and asking for help.
There are numerous ways to improve mental health, the techniques shared here are just a select few. The Individual differences between us determine which techniques work best for us, what works for one person may not work for another. It is up to you to pick and choose what works for you. This list is meant to give you options to choose the effective way of coping with issues and enhancing mental health.
Owen, L., & Corfe, B. (2017). The role of diet and nutrition on mental health and wellbeing.Proceedings of the Nutrition Society,76(4), 425-426.
Raglin, J. S. (1990). Exercise and mental health.Sports Medicine,9(6), 323-329.