I think it’s safe to say that collective mental health in the UK and around the world is quite poor for this generation and the one after us. The bad economy, the car crash politics, the intolerable devastating events going on at home and abroad- along with all the personal problems we face at work, at home, in our families, amongst the perils of social media and in society- well they all make for pretty poor reading. And they impact on one’s mental health.
I suffer from anxiety and bouts of depression, which are things that make life so much harder to manage, especially when raising a little boy alone.
However throughout a recent course of cognitive behavioural therapy I underwent to tackle my crippling emetophobia and associated anxiety, I picked up some really useful tips that I wanted to share. Simple mindfulness based exercises you can do wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. Plus a couple more things I try and do when things get too much.
A few words about Mindfulness first…
Mindfulness is a technique for quietening the mind, so to speak, which originates from Buddhism. It’s a practise that helps you ‘be in the moment’ and it works wonders for quietening negative thoughts and bringing yourself into the present.
It’s about making a concerted effort to reconnect with your body, your present- what is happening in this present moment in your surroundings. So for example, you can use mindfulness to combat stress- by closing your eyes, thinking about where you are, how your body feels where you are right now, what you can hear or smell and surrounding your mind with only thoughts of that.
This technique is intended to increase your awareness of your own body, thoughts and feelings, it can help you manage physical symptoms of ill health, stress or other, manage negative or unhelpful thoughts and feelings, etc. It also helps you learn to appreciate yourself, be kinder to yourself and appreciate the present moment rather than worrying about things you can’t control. It’s a tremendously powerful technique to learn, but once you’ve practised a few times, you can start to really feel a difference.
For further reading about this, I recommend:
7 Mental Health Boosting Activities You Can Try Right Now
So if you’re struggling with anxiety, a phobia, depression, negative thoughts or are just feeling overwhelmed, you can try these activities to give your mind, soul and body a metaphorical hug….
1. Go outside and sit down somewhere and just breathe.
Literally walking outside to take a breather is something that most people have been told to do during moments of stress, anger or distress. But telling yourself to do it every once and a while is incredibly effective.
Physically getting up and going outside for a moment, closing your eyes and breathing in the outside air can clear the mind with immediate effect.
2. Take a Walk
When you just start walking, once you’re outside, you breathe in more fresh air and your heart rate increases. Walk for as long as you want, wherever you want (as long as it’s safe to do so). You might find that once you’ve started, you will just want to keep going.
3. Do something nice for someone
It could be a simple gesture of kindness or it could be reaching out to a friend or relative and doing something important for them. Whatever you choose, you will find that this gives you (and them) a real lift. We are social creatures and in places where surveys and data report higher levels of happiness are usually attributed to a strong sense of community. So helping a neighbour with their garden, or visiting an elderly person and spending the day with them, or just reaching out to a friend you know has been through a difficult time and taking them out for a slice of cake – these acts of kindness do you good and they do untold good to the recipient.
4. Start learning something new
You could get a new book, sign up for a class or start teaching yourself a new skill. The confidence and sense of achievement to be gained from learning at any age are immeasurable. You could join a book club or creative writing course, you could learn to make sushi or to knit – from just YouTube tutorials. Once you put your mind to learning something, you are feeding the mind and soul in so many ways and can do wonders for boosting your mental health.
5. Do something active
Go for a brisk walk, jog, dance around your home to your favourite music or even start doing some star jumps. I sometimes force myself to do break into action when I can’t seem to drag my body off the sofa and drag my mind out of a depressive zone. By forcing my body to go through the motions and just get moving, the adrenaline and endorphins start to work their magic and I start to really enjoy it. Even if it’s just 1-2 minutes of movement, just get moving, It can breathe new life into your blood and bones, and blow away the cobwebs in the recesses of your mind.
6. Make a list of things you have got done, at the end of the day
Rather than starting the day with a to-do list that remains on your mind all day, stressing you out if you’re not getting enough of it done, write a have-done list.
Tick each thing off with a sense of pride and achievement. You can put anything on the list; from getting out of bed, to going into a shop or cleaning the hob or washing up a coffee cup. Include anything you want on that list and enjoy the feeling as you work your way down, ticking things off.
7. Have an early night
Sleep is such a healer. I always find that when I’m going through a bad phase, it’s usually in conjunction with a spate of bad sleep- whether the sleep kicks off the depression or the depression kicks off the bad sleep, who knows.
If you’re someone who always goes to bed too late and wishes in the morning they’d gone to sleep earlier, make tonight the night you do. Give yourself a bedtime routine; bath, pyjamas, book. Keep away from screens and keep the lights low until you get into bed and are ready to sleep. I often use guided meditation tracks (you can find loads of free ones on YouTube and Spotify – try a playlist here) or a soothing audiobook at bedtime. I like to hear a voice in the dark, telling me a story or helping me relax – it’s not for everyone but give it a try if you haven’t yet. It might surprise you.
Close your eyes in the dark, lie in a comfortable position and feel each part of your body relax, one by one. Even if you don’t fall asleep right away, you are teaching yourself to relax and your body is resting this way.
Additional mental health boosting ideas: