Mental health can be defined as a state of emotional, psychological, and social well-being. To be in prime mental health means being able to maintain healthy relationships, navigate stress, bounce back from adversity, work productively, contribute to society, and realize your own potential. With the pressures of recent times, it’s safe to say that most of the population has faced more stress than usual and a lot of people’s mental health has been challenged. Below are some gentle ideas to help focus on naturally improving your mental health. This list is by no means exhaustive, and should be taken as a general lifestyle guide only. The below ideas can often be included alongside medical, professional support, where needed. While most of these ideas are free and considered a natural approach, there should be no shame in seeking professional medical help (or medications) to look after your mental health if that is the approach that feels right to you or is recommended by a health professional! Improving mental health often takes a combined approach, so looking into holistic and allopathic methods combined can provide the best of both worlds for those in need. Here are 10 ways you could naturally try to improve your mental health…
1. Get Regular Exercise
If there was only one lifestyle improvement you were to incorporate into your life to help your mental health, exercise should be high on the agenda. While we are all well aware of the benefits regular exercise has on our physical health, the beneficial impact it has on our mental health cannot be understated. It helps to release natural “feel good” endorphins that can help boost mood, focus and cognitive ability. Exercise helps to improve circulation to the brain, especially areas like the amygdala and hippocampus — both of which have roles in controlling mood, motivation and response to stress. Most important when taking on this tip, is to choose an exercise regime or sport that you actually enjoy. If all you can manage is a gentle walk with some upbeat tunes in your ears – great! Be kind to yourself and remember that every step in the right direction helps. Listen to your body, and don’t push it past its limits – it’s the regularity of whatever exercise you do that counts more than the intensity.
2. Get Quality sleep
Another benefit of regular exercise is that it can improve sleep quality! Getting a good, restorative deep night’s sleep on the regular is paramount to supporting our mental health. Natural tips that can help ensure a deep nights sleep includ; avoiding caffeine after midday, drinking a calming herbal tea in the evening (ie. passionflower, chamomile or lemon balm), burning calming essential oils (such as chamomile, lavender, ylang ylang) and deep breathing or meditation exercises. Poor sleep can have a major impact on mood…we all know that feeling of grogginess and crankiness after a bad sleep! Practice good sleeping habits by getting enough sleep, keeping a regular bedtime (ideally by, or before 10pm) and turning off all the electronic screens in your home at least an hour before bed. Make a concerted effort to go to sleep at a regular time, and wake up at a regular time. Sleep is linked with numerous health-related consequences, both physical and mental. Not getting enough sleep can exacerbate pre-existing conditions such as depression, stress and anxiety.
3. Eat Well
A healthy diet is vital to support a healthy mind. Poor dietary choices can obviously affect your physical health, which may in turn negatively impact your mental health. Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet containing healthy fats, adequate fibre, and a wide range of nutrients can help you manage your stress and anxiety levels, improve your sleep, positively impact your ability to concentrate and help you feel better in general. Another key (often one people want to conveniently overlook!) to improving your mental well-being is cutting back on alcohol consumption and non-prescribed drug use. Alchol and substances such as marjuana and nicotine can affect the way your brain operates, harming your ability to think, feel, create, and even make decisions. They can sometimes provide short-term relief, but for long-term, sustainable results, substance use needs to be addressed. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind…so mind your body and your body will mind you!
4. Develop a Routine.
When life feels chaotic, a good routine can help create physical and mental order and stability. Routines can be placed around important mental health measures such as sleep times, meal times, exercise and downtime. For instance, you want to teach your body (and brain) to calm down prior to bedtime, so try to begin routinely relaxing at least an hour before bedtime. Shut down the computer, turn off notifications on your phone and do something calming you enjoy like reading, or taking a bath. Routinely switching off devices and disconnecting from social media is really important for our mental health. Social media can be a mentally stressful place to be, where we are tempted to compare ourselves or our lives to others. Scheduling in daily or even seasonal breaks from social media is a really good idea if you find yourself scrolling too often, or feeling a little worse for wear after seeing everyone else’s happy highlights. When it comes to routine, while having some foundational practices in place is beneficial, it is important to remember to be somewhat fluid with routine too as life doesn’t always go to plan and we need to listen to our body and work within our mental and phyical limits within any given day.
Journaling can be a great way to get out and work through thoughts that can keep playing on repeat in our mind. Journaling could mean writing a traditional diary, or perhaps it could be a gratitude diary, where you write 5 things down daily that you are grateful for. Or perhaps you could incorporate goals into your journal, or affirmations for your day. What you write is up to you, but this act of considered focus and reflective appreciation can be beneficial for your outlook and for cultivating gratitude while assisting with processing thoughts by releasing stress and frustrations on paper. Sometimes the process of writing down thoughts and feelings can help provide clarity and direction.
6. Take up Yoga
Yoga is synonymous with good health and relaxation, but why? Obviously, it is a good form of physical activity, but it is also a discipline that helps to unite body and mind for physical and mental health benefits. The yogic philosophy teaches that body, mind and spirit are all interconnected. So for example, a posture that stretches the back, may also help to offer room for deeper breathing, which in turn helps lower stress levels and alleviate anxiety. Yoga also focuses on breathing techniques to help manage stress. Meditation and mindfulness are also practices observed in yoga, and these can both help work on managing a healthy stress response in the body. Something as simple as taking deep, slow and considered breaths and can do amazing things to our brain and therefore our stress response. Learning breathwork techniques and applications reminds us that we have an ability to physiologically calm ourselves. Whenever you intentionally bring your attention to your breath and slow it down, you’re helping your body and mind. It’s a simple tool that you can use and it gives you back a feeling of power and control.
7. Learn to Say No
This one is harder than it sounds for most people! Whether it is at work, at home, or with friends, learn to say no to taking on extra responsibilities and commitments to avoid overload and burnout. Learn to prioritize what’s important and actively choose to firm in declining additional things that could cause your phsysical or mental health to tip into the negative side. Having too many things on our plate is a surefire way to overload our body and mind!
8. Seek the Sun
Make sure to spend some time outdoors in natural sunlight, every day. While we all need to be sun smart and avoid over-exposure, getting some natural exposure to sunlight helps to elevate your serotonin levels, a hormone which can help boost our mood, increase feelings of calm and improve focus. It is a natural and vital source of Vitamin D, a vitamin that plays an important role in regulating mood and decreasing the risk of depression. Around 20 minutes of sunshine, while avoiding the harsher rays around the middle of the day, is ideal. Incidental exposure such as walking in the morning, winding the window down in the car on the way to work or having your morning cuppa outside are ideal ways to incorporate short bursts of sunshine while avoiding overexposure. The simple act of soaking up short bursts of reinvigorating rays can be an instant mood booster for many!
9. Connect with Family and Friends
When we are feeling stressed or down, it’s natural to want to withdraw. However, connecting with others is an important part of living a balanced life. While you may not feel like heading out to be the life of the party when you’re feeling low, seek out connections in a way that feels right for you for where you’re at. Maybe it is just texting a friend, perhaps calling an old friend for a chat, or maybe all you have the mental energy for is meeting a family member for a movie to limit chit-chat, but still provide you with the benefits of connection. Socialising with genuine friends and supportive family members can help to stave off feelings of loneliness or isolation.
10. Ask for Help
Last but most definitely not least, please ask for help if you need it Always try and tell a trusted friend and family member how you are feeling, even if it is just a short-term period of feeling “blah” or “the blues”. Seeking help for your mental health and well-being shows strength and should never be seen as a weakness. You may just want to confide in a trusted family member or friend to let them know how you are feeling, or perhaps you feel it is time to talk to a professional to seek further help and support. You don’t need to struggle alone. Open a line of honest communication with the right people, and know that emotional and physical support is always availabe should you be suffering a circumstatial period of stress or low mood, or navigating a chronic mental illness like depression or anxiety. Mental health ups and downs are normal as we ride the rollercoaster of life, but it is so vital to know that you can ask for help at any stage of your journey and that seeking professional help is always encouraged.
September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. Immediate help is always available. You can contact Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or Lifeline’s Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0508 828 865 Website: https://www.lifeline.org.nz/
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