Good mental well-being is something we can proactively boost and maintain in the same way we look after our physical health and fitness
Some people seem to be born happy, while others are more likely to fret, but no one is immune to a dark day or a hard few weeks. The onset of winter, money worries, career concerns, ill health, and disagreements with family or friends can all lower your mood and disrupt your life, so strengthening your mental resilience is as important as building up your physical strength.
Staying on top of your mental health and well-being helps you cope with the everyday stresses of life and deal better with bigger challenges that may crop up and impact your state of mind. Over time, maintaining mental well-being can also reduce our risk of physical health problems. We can make small but significant changes to our everyday life to help give us a boost.
Find your feel-good
It helps to have time in the day just for you, to do something to recharge your batteries and calm any concerns, giving you a focus with nothing else crowding your mind. It could be time alone to think and plan, or changing your mindset to see walking the dog as precious time outdoors, rather than a chore. Perhaps carving out 10 minutes to meditate or to play that dust-covered musical instrument. Some people find great satisfaction in writing down their thoughts in a journal. Or maybe it’s about taking the time to make yourself something delicious to eat.
Try a range of things until you find what makes you feel better and then give yourself time every day to do it. When you’re busy and life is full of commitments and responsibilities, it’s tempting to think you simply don’t have time to do something purely for yourself, but investing in your mental health benefits you – and those around you – in so many ways.
The NHS site Better Health Every Mind Matters (nhs.uk/every-mind-matters) is a great place to start. It’s easy to follow and full of free resources to help you tackle common mental health problems, such as anxiety, low mood, stress and trouble sleeping, as well as tips and strategies for maintaining good mental wellbeing.
Move it, move it
We all know exercise is good for us and getting out in the fresh air has great benefits. But we also all know that taking that first step out the door to do some exercise isn’t easy. The best way to make an everyday habit stick and for you to reap the benefits is to aim for a form of exercise you actually enjoy doing.
It’s always good to keep your steps up, and walking is a great daily habit to foster. But consider adding extra fun to your daily routine by giving dancing or hula-hooping a go, or skipping in the garden. Burning off nervous energy can help calm anxiety and stress and some activities lend themselves to a good laugh – often at yourself – which adds a whole new layer of enjoyment. Rope a friend in, too, and you can chat while you move.
The NHS Active 10 app tracks every step you take and can make you feel accomplished and motivated, as well as giving you tips to help boost your activity.
The NHS Couch to 5K app is a very natural next step for anyone considering running. It’s tailored to absolute beginners and is a great programme for all levels of fitness, where you gradually work towards running 5km in just nine weeks.
Too wound up to wind down?
Good sleep can transform how you feel mentally and physically, but poor sleep can become a self-perpetuating nightmare, as you worry about dropping off, count the hours left till the alarm goes off and then panic about being tired and unable to function. Every concern is massively magnified in the middle of the night, but it’s hard to stay calm when tossing and turning.
Instead, get out of bed and do something else. Avoid screens, but reading a book, listening to relaxing music or making yourself a herbal tea can help calm your mind and ease you back to sleep. The Better Health-Every Mind Matters website has lots more tips for improving your sleep along with an email programme to help you set and maintain good bedtime habits.
Having something to look forward to can do us the world of good, especially as winter is coming. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or expensive. You could organise a walk and a coffee with a friend. Put a date in your diary to visit that free art exhibition you’ve had your eye on. Or round up a few friends to watch a local sporting event. By putting a few things in your diary you can shake up your routine and get a boost from doing different activities and spending time with people.
Get it out
Sometimes, the hardest place to be is inside your own head. If you’ve always enjoyed good mental health, feeling low or anxious can make you feel inadequate or embarrassed, but talking to someone you trust will help.
Talking about our feelings and any worries we have is hugely important to our mental well-being. But we can get out of the habit easily, because life is busy, which can make challenges seem even harder. Make talking to your partner, friends, family or colleagues about any worries or concerns you might have as part of your everyday life. It’s good to talk.
Some people find mental health hard to talk about, which can make you feel even more alone, with that crushing sense of being the only person to feel this way.
If you are struggling to cope with anxiety or depression, NHS Talking Therapies could help. You can be referred by your GP or refer yourself directly via nhs.uk/talk. This service offers free and effective support, in person, by video, over the phone or as an online course.
It’s important to look after your mental health. For advice and practical tips, go to nhs.uk/every-mind-matters