Mental health should be considered top priority when it comes to our overall health
Our mental health affects how we think, feel, act and generally cope with life. Neglecting our mental health can lead to serious mental health concerns, such as anxiety or depression, and can have an flow-on effect on everything we do. It can also affect us physically, affecting our ability to make healthy decisions and fight off chronic diseases.
In fact, neglecting our mental health can lead to serious health complications such as heart disease, high blood pressure, weakened immune system, obesity and premature death.
Put simply, our mental health should be considered of the highest concern when it comes to our overall health.
So, what are some things we can do every day to improve our mental health?
Positive affirmations are a popular technique used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which can replace a person’s existing thoughts that may be untrue and detrimental to their own mental health, with ones that affirm one’s self-worth positively. The psychological theory behind positive affirmations is outlined in the self-affirmation theory (Steele, 1988). This theory focuses on how individuals adapt to information or experiences that are threatening to their self-concept. To put it simply, this theory suggests that when a person engages in activities that will promote the values and beliefs that are key to a person’s identity, it will also assist in promoting self-integrity.
Consistency and repetition are definitely key in seeing results! Most people will definitely need to practise this on a daily basis, whether it’s through repeating a positive phrase to themselves every morning or writing it down, or even doing some mirror work where they look themselves in the eyes whilst saying it. Some people have a really low self-image, which can take a lot of time to correct, and it is normally an ongoing process.
Believing in affirmations takes time and unfortunately for most it is not an overnight thing! It is the result of weeks and months’ worth of self-work, where a person continually re-affirms what they’ve been saying to themselves. It’s a process of literally trying to train your brain into believing what you’re saying and stopping that negative inner voice.
Exercise offers so much more than a healthy body — it can be the foundation of a healthy mind too. Getting in some exercise every single day (even if it’s just a brisk 30-minute walk) can do wonders for your mental health. You’ve probably heard this (and felt the effects) of the feel-good endorphins that exercise emits, triggering a positive feeling in the brain and body. The trick with exercise is usually the first step. We can spend all day dreading doing it, but if you simply get your exercise gear on and force yourself out the door, you’re halfway there.
Some days we don’t feel like we have the energy to exercise but it really is true when people say energy creates energy. Force yourself to take that first step and you’ll be grateful that you did. If you’re finding yourself unmotivated when it comes to exercise, enlist a friend that can help keep you accountable. The added benefits of this is that you can also use that exercise time as a way to chat and catch up.
The phrase ‘mindfulness’ can at first sound a little woo woo for some people, but mindfulness doesn’t have to be an out-there activity. We’ve heard about the benefits of mindful activities like yoga and meditation, but the truth is, many activities we do throughout the day can be considered ‘mindful’ so long as you take a moment to bring yourself into the present. Things like cooking or having a bath may be part of your everyday routine and the great news is that you can make these activities mindful ones if you focus on being in the here and now. Whatever activity you’re doing, start by being fully present, rather than being overwhelmed or stressed from your thoughts or the day’s activities. Consider what you’re actually doing rather than doing it on auto-pilot, without thinking or with other distractions.
It is a chance to slow down and be more aware of what is happening and will allow you to have a clearer mind, even if only for a short time. Practising mindful activities can give a person more insight into their emotions and promote metacognitive awareness.
Stop, slow down, be present
We’re so busy rushing through most days that a lot of us get to the end of the day and realise that we haven’t taken a mere moment to just stop and smell the roses. Many people think in terms of the future or what’s next, rather than thinking about right now. Force yourself to stop periodically throughout the day, even if it’s just once. Slowing down can allow you to live more in the moment, appreciate what you have and show gratitude for even the smaller things. By slowing down you also have time to really think about your life, think about what makes you happy, and then spend your time focusing on that.
Expressing gratitude can do wonders for our souls, especially if you make it a daily habit. Gratitude is imperative for putting our lives in perspective and making us appreciate everything we have. Saying thanks to the universe or even to a complete stranger makes you feel connected and aware of the abundance in your life. This helps to be able to appreciate the smaller things, rather than always feeling like you need to seek out the bigger things. Feeling grateful for the little things brings a lot of satisfaction and sometimes we need to take some time to be mindful to actually do that.
Smiling is an act that most of the time comes naturally but if you’re having a day when it doesn’t, try to force a few smiles. A few theories suggest that seeing someone else smile can automatically activate the same areas of the brain as if we experienced that emotion for ourselves. So even if it doesn’t make you feel better, you might get a genuine smile from someone else, which could trigger one in you. Remember that emotions can be contagious so always try to emit the kinder emotions when dealing with others.
As humans, we need connection with other humans — in fact, we actually thrive on social interactions. Research shows that having a strong network of support or strong community bonds fosters both emotional and physical health and is an important component of adult life. Even small connections with other humans have been proven to improve our mood, so try to develop social connections whenever you can (even if it’s just buying a stranger or colleague coffee). You’ll be guaranteed to improve your mood with this connection.
Being generous doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money, or in some cases, spending any money. A person can be generous with their time or thoughts, so if you don’t have cash to burn on gifts, or being generous with your money, send a thank you note or offer someone your time. While some of us aren’t naturally generous, it’s a great act to practise, which will actually end up making you — and someone else — feel good.
Get more sleep
Most people enjoy the feeling after a solid night’s rest, however it’s likely they don’t prioritise it in their daily schedule. The benefits of sleep are incredibly underrated when it comes to improving your mental health, particularly if we look at what happens when someone is sleep deprived. Sleep allows our brains to process information and our bodies to repair themselves, but if we are sleep deprived it can negatively affect our mental abilities and emotional state.
Lack of sleep can render a person to feel more impatient or prone to mood swings, plus can also compromise decision-making processes and creativity. Most people will generally feel irritable and grumpy when they are sleep deprived, which obviously also has effects on relationships. Getting more sleep isn’t always an easy feat so ensure that you do everything in your power to set yourself up for it. Start practising good sleep hygiene, which involves some rules around what you do in your bedroom and how your bedroom is set up. If you can, keep your bed and bedroom strictly for sleeping and sex, which means no computers, scrolling on the phone or watching TV late at night. Ensure your room and bedding is set up for the best sleep possible, ideally in a dark space avoid of any natural or artificial light. Make sure your bed and linen is comfortable too — we spend so much time in bed, it’s worthwhile investing a little extra to make it the comfiest sleep ever.
Talk to someone
Sometimes if you’re feeling low, stressed, or generally out of sorts, being able to verbalise those feelings can do wonders. It might help to have someone there for you to vent your feelings, and it might help to have someone offer advice to manage. Seek out a loved one or friend, however if you don’t feel comfortable chatting to someone close to you, seek out the help of a professional. A professional can help arm you with the right advice and specific ways to approach things, whilst being there to work through any issues that might arise.
Services like Beyond Blue and Lifeline provide free over the phone support with trained experts. Services like Lysn provide access to psychologists via phone or video chat, which can be accessed from the comfort of your own home. These kinds of services can be available at your discretion so can really help if you are running a busy schedule as you can engage in therapy when it suits you — no matter the time.
Noosha Anzab is a psychologist at Lysn — an online psychology counseling service that provides access to qualified Australian psychologists no matter where you are.