Mental health is being discussed more and more in the mainstream in recent years, and the discussion has widened so that it’s not only for people who have “serious problems.” More and more people are beginning to realise that you don’t need to have a diagnosed mental health condition in order to prioritise taking care of your mental health. In fact, much as we all need to look after our physical health, mental health is something everyone needs to be aware of. Actually, the two are linked.
Taking care of your mental health is not only about taking big steps, making huge life changes or filling a prescription (though there is nothing wrong with any of those either). Rather, I have found that the best way to take care of my mental health is to ensure I do the small things, day in and day out. You know, the kind of boring things that don’t sound like a rock n roll lifestyle.
In the same way that you take care of your physical health on an ongoing basis by trying to make sure you eat more vegetables rather than just eating a head of broccoli once a week (I’m assuming here of course), taking care of your mental health is about the small, daily actions that you take.
Here are some small things which could help to improve your mental health:
Make a daily gratitude list
Each evening before bed, I post a list of 5 things from my day that I’m grateful for on my social media. Doing this once doesn’t really make a lot of difference – but over time, getting into that habit of noting down the good things about your life, the reasons you have to be grateful, can make a difference. I’ve read articles where people have said this will definitely change your life – which I don’t think is necessarily true. But focusing on the good rather than the bad can help to train your brain into doing this throughout the day.
Commit to a daily act of self care – and stick to it
When we make a promise or commitment to ourselves, and stick to it, we are subtly telling ourselves: You’re worth the effort. Your daily act of self care could be something as simple as committing to floss your teeth every night before bed; it could be moving your body X number of times per week. I have several things I do daily which fall into this category, and I find that whatever the action, it’s the act of realising I’ve kept that promise to myself, as much as the thing itself, that helps me to feel good.
Added bonus tip: use a bullet journal, calendar or habit tracking app to keep track of the days you keep your promise. Seeing all those days ticked off over time makes you feel good!
Challenge yourself to minimal spending
I have in the past been known to go in for the whole “retail therapy” thing, buying things I don’t necessarily need in order to feel better. When my dad died, I bought 3 coats. Unsurprisingly, owning 3 coats did not help me to feel better; I was just significantly out of pocket, which added to my stress. We often feel like a bit of shopping therapy might help us to feel better, but honestly I have found that over time what feels better is not spending money. Getting to the end of the month and finding that I have spent less on clothes, books or whatever is a good feeling. It also helps to alleviate my anxiety if I know my rent is covered! This is not about going without, so much as recognising that when we feel that urge to buy something, we are perhaps trying to soothe something a little deeper. If we can stop before we hit “add to cart” and perhaps sit with our discomfort instead, over time we will find it easier to cope with things.
Practice self compassion
Now, I know I said that daily gratitude was not necessarily the life changer some people would have you believe – but this one really is. I’ll explain by asking you that question so beloved of self help gurus the world over: Would you speak to your child or your best friend in the same way you speak to yourself? We all tend to agree that while we may call ourselves all the names under the sun for accidentally knocking over a glass of water, if our friend did it we would probably just get a cloth and clear it up. We might even tell them: Accidents happen, don’t worry about it. Similarly, if your friend as having a hard time with work or their personal life, you probably wouldn’t tell them to just buck their ideas up and get on with it. In fact, you might say something like: That’s really a bad situation, you should make sure you take some time to care for yourself. Self compassion means saying these things to yourself, too. Being kind to yourself. Monitoring that mean voice in your head and correcting it with kind words. This is a constant battle that requires constant vigilance – but it is worth it, I promise.
I am a big fan of sleep. By which I mean: I prioritise my sleep over almost everything else. I go to bed really early, because I know that I tend to wake up early – and I like to make sure I get at least 7.5-8 hours. I find that if I’ve had a good sleep I feel better about things. And if I’ve slept badly, everything seems a bit rubbish. I mean, I can cope with a day or two of poor sleep but if it builds up day on day, it really affects my mental health. It’s not very cool to go to bed early, but I’m afraid I’m way past the point of being cool. I’d rather be happy.
I could quote studies at you about how great meditation and/or mindfulness are for you – and you would probably be quite bored. Instead I will say this: often our minds go off on a tangent about something, and we don’t realise that it is within our control to stop that. We also often don’t realise that we are capable of being in control of how we react to the world around us. Meditation can help us to find this control. Viktor Frankl said: Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. For me, meditation helps me to find that space. You don’t need to sit in the lotus position for several hours per day; as little as ten minutes can make a difference. The key is that like many things on this list, the effect is cumulative. You need to do it regularly, and then you begin to notice the benefits in your daily life.