May is Mental Health Month, which annually shines a spotlight on positive mental health practices, the experiences of those who live with mental health issues or neurodivergence, and what we can do to help people with mental ill-health in our community.
We’ve compiled a list of ways that can help build up your resilience and foster good mental health practices in your life – even doing just one can help in the long run!
Be in the present
We’ve heard a lot over the years about mindfulness and how important it is – but what exactly is it?
Simply put, mindfulness is about being present in the moment without allowing worries about the future or memories of the past to cloud our minds and make us feel overwhelmed.
You can help hone your mindfulness by having a daily 10-minute meditation at the start or end of the day. If you don’t have the time for this, or if you need to have a mindfulness moment in the middle of a hectic workday, you can check in with your senses to bring you back into the present moment. Start by slowing your breathing, and then look around your surroundings. In your head, name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This exercise not only helps with feeling overwhelmed and stressed but will also bring you back into the present moment.
Mindfulness is an exercise that you may need to do frequently to feel the effects, but it is an exercise that will help ground yourself, focus your mind, and help connect you with your surroundings.
Track your gratitude
It’s a biological fact that human beings tend to remember negative thoughts and experiences more than positive ones – it’s part of our caveman brain that helps us avoid another run in with a lion, tiger or bear. Oh my!
As a result, it’s really easy to lose track of all the things that are going right in our lives, and can lead to us feeling apathetic, low, and despondent about the future. Having a gratitude journal or app can help you track all the things that you are grateful for – the cup of tea your colleague made for you, going to your local rugby club for a Sunday match, having an hour out in the sunny garden, and so on.
You don’t have to share your grateful thoughts out loud to feel the benefits either. Studies have found that quietly counting your blessings help lower stress, help you sleep better, and improve your relationships with friends and family. Keeping a gratitude journal may not solve all the problems in life, but it can help with underlying issues that can lead to mental ill-health.
Get a good night’s sleep
We all know that missing out on our forty winks can leave us feeling grumpy and reaching for our favourite coffee mug to switch our brains on – but missing out on sleep can also lead to mental health problems too. During our sleeping hours, our body repairs itself from the day and consolidates memories made. A lack of sleep can make underlying health problems worse, and can lead to you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and frustrated, which can then exacerbate any mental health problems you are currently living with, such as anxiety or depression.
So, what is the best way to get your recommended 7-8 hours? First, set a bedtime and a waking time, and stick to these times as much as possible – and that includes the weekends!
Also make sure that your bedroom is a restful environment that is cool, dark, and quiet. Exposure to bright light and light from mobile phones should be avoided as these can keep you awake, so avoid scrolling through social media whilst in bed!
Another good routine to get into with sleep is to start a ‘wind down’ routine about an hour before your bedtime. Stop looking at your phone and start winding down away from screens – you can read a book, take a bath, write down your worries, scribble a to do list for tomorrow, meditate, listen to calming music, or whatever relaxes you away from screens. You’ll be counting those sheep in no time!
Connect with others
Learning to live after a period of lockdowns and quarantine is still a working progress for many of us – and trying to get back to some form of normalcy when it comes to social connections is a large part of that. Connecting with friends and family can help boost your mood, support you if you are struggling with something, keep you active, and keep you laughing!
If you don’t know many people in your area, why not join a local group like an amateur drama group or a crafting circle? You’ll have a new hobby and new friends – win win!
If you can’t connect with other people physically, you have a wealth of other options such as text messaging, Zoom, WhatsApp, or various social media apps to get in touch with people and keep the conversation going. You may even want to give letter writing to old friends and family members a go – move over Jane Austen!
Build a healthy life
We all know that a healthy lifestyle can help keep us physically fit, but did you know that it can also keep us mentally fit as well?
A healthy, balanced diet can help us concentrate, think clearly, make good decisions, and be more alert to our circumstances. If you want to boost your mental health through food, try to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and food rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, dark green and leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and pulses). All of these are fantastic foods for maintaining your brain functions and avoiding mood disorders, which is food for thought!
Exercise has also been shown to have a positive impact on your mood, with various studies showing that participants feel more content, awake, and calmer after being physically active as opposed to after periods of inactivity. Exercise can also help reduce stress and build our self-esteem at the same time. Whilst you may not be able to go to the gym every day of the week, the Department of Health advises that you complete 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week – that can include going for a brisk walk with the dog, going swimming, or going for a run around the block.
Ask for help
Whilst it may not feel like it sometimes, we’re all allowed to be human and need help. We can’t be superheroes all the time after all. There is nothing weak about seeking help, and is in fact the bravest thing you can do if you are feeling overwhelmed or that you can’t cope.
If you or someone you know are suffering from mental ill-health of any kind, visit Mind for help and resources of a variety of mental issues, call the Samaritans on 116 123 (open 24 hours a day) for a confidential chat, and make an appointment with your local GP.
All of us at Weave Studios wish you happy mental health this month and for the months that follow!