If you didn’t get a pass score on your ‘under-bonnet check’ within our Lifestyle MOT test, it could be that you need more guidance to help improve your overall mental wellness. Nuffield Health’s Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing, Brendan Street, and Independent Psychologist Dr Josephine Perry, have provided us with lots of tips for maintaining positive mental health and wellbeing in your day to day life.
This section of the Lifestyle MOT covered…
- Setting aside time to relax and unwind every day
- Practicing meditation or breathing exercises
- Switching off from work at the end of the day
- Allowing yourself to take a break when you need one.
- Getting outdoors, even if just for a few minutes, every day
One of the most common health statistics we see today is ‘1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem each year’. However, it’s important to note that all of us, 4 in 4, have mental health and that our needs change from day to day, week to week and year to year depending on what is going on in our lives.
Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health, explains why we need to start treating our mental health in the same way we treat our physical health.
Brendan comments: “The pace of modern living is incredibly fast and today’s “always on” culture can lead to burnout. Mindfulness is the ancient practice of being in the moment to reduce stress and encourage self-awareness and clear thinking. Research in Psychology has shown that by taking time and effort to ‘be’, to notice, or relish moments, people are able to experience improved wellbeing and improve resilience.”
If you’re struggling to make time to focus on your mental wellbeing, try these five simple techniques to boost your mental fitness;
- Make sleep a priority
Sleep is essential for good wellbeing. It acts as the mains-reset for the mind. It helps you process all that you have learned the day before and is essential for good brain and body function the following day.
Prioritise sleep quality by adopting a consistent bedtime routine that ensures you get the right length of sleep to rejuvenate your mind and body each night.
- Drink less caffeine
The effects of caffeine take around 8 hours to wear off. Therefore a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard to fall asleep at night. Alcohol may help you get off to sleep but it robs you of REM sleep (which has a restorative function) and keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep. Reducing caffeinated and alcoholic drinks may help reduce the stress placed on your body and improve sleep and recovery.
- Be kind
Another good way to improve your mental wellbeing is to do something kind for someone else. It may be something small but this can have a significant impact on the other person’s sense of wellbeing and positivity as well as your own. Research has shown that carrying out one act of kindness per week has a positive effect on your mental health.
- Exercise regularly
Performing light exercise, ideally outdoors, can also be really beneficial in helping maintain your levels of resilience and positive mood. This can be anything you choose as long as you find interesting, fun and challenging. It should make you aware that you are breathing a bit harder than usual but you should still be able to talk. Exercising with a friend can make this more fun and rewarding.
- Be aware of ‘pressure points’
Write down ‘pressure points’ in a typical day and purposefully perform the six-breath test: Sit quietly and breathe at a rate of around five seconds in, five seconds out for six breaths, focusing on your heart or feeling of breathing. This can help bring the function of the brain in sync with the heart and body and prepare yourself by increasing your level of coherence and focus.
Dr Josephine Parry, who is registered with the Health Care Professions Council and is a Chartered Member of the British Psychological Society (BPS), as well as a member of the Association of Applied Sports Psychologists (AASP), adds her top tips:
Some of the people I see as a performance psychologist who struggle the most in life are those who have perfectionist tendencies. They continually set themselves up to fail by setting goals or targets that are impossible to hit, which can then cause stress. Instead of working harder and harder to achieve something that can never be achieved, it can help to step back and take a moment of quiet reflection. Deep breathing is one of the most effective ways to lower stress in your body as all the things that happen when you’re stressed such fast breathing, high blood pressure and increased heart rate will all decrease as you take the time to focus on your breathing instead of any stress points.
- Give Yourself a Break
It has been estimated that we have well over 50,000 thoughts a day. Some of these are great thoughts, some negative or unhelpful and some can be scary or intrusive. At times we can get overwhelmed with the sheer number of thoughts if we have a lot going on at work or at home, and this can impact our feelings of self-worth and value. Mindfulness practice to learn how to notice our thoughts and distance ourselves from them can be a good way to get some perspective. So instead of becoming overwhelmed with the number of ‘spinning plates’ you have to manage, ensure you are giving yourself small breaks throughout the day to focus on happier thoughts. These short breaks can allow you to return to any problematic or stressful thoughts with a new perspective that will allow you to move forward with your day.
- Get outdoors
Lots of scientific studies have discovered that spending time exercising outdoors not only gives us a massive boost to our general mental wellbeing but that, for some mental health issues, it can be as effective as a pill or psychological therapies. Three debilitating mental health issues – stress, depression and anxiety – have been studied, and researchers have found that highly active individuals (especially those doing aerobic exercise like running or cycling) have lower stress rates compared to those who have low activity levels. To improve your mental wellbeing, try to complete 30-35 minutes of low intensity aerobic exercise, three to five days per week for at least 12 weeks.
- Don’t just power through
When we have lots going on, it can feel like the best way forward is to power on through so we can get more done in the day. But this is a false economy as we end up feeling tired, less capable and have reduced tolerance for day-to-day pressures. Finding time in your day to relax and unwind is so important for feeling good. It doesn’t necessarily have to be hours and hours; we all have our own specific requirements, but we do know the small personal ways we can find to help ourselves unwind and focus on matters away from any stress points.
- Try to find the positives
Our brains give three times more weight to bad experiences than good. It helps us to react quicker to threats but, as most threats are to our ego rather than physical survival, this negativity can cause us stress and misery.
So, go hunting for positivity. Keep a note of all your successes and great feedback and store them in a jar. Dip into it whenever you feel down for a reminder of all the positive things you’ve achieved. It will also motivate you to carry on and continue to replicate the good stuff.
- Get to know yourself really well
This isn’t an opportunity to beat yourself up. Consider all your amazing points as well as the ones you need to work on. Consider what triggers you to feel stressed or wound up, what bad and good habits you have, what your preferences are in life and how much time you are devoting to these different areas of your life. The greater our self-awareness the better we can shape our lives in ways which suit us; improving our wellbeing and our happiness even when faced with stressful situations.
- Become a puzzle solver
When we start to feel overwhelmed with life and think there is too much to handle, we need to become a detective. If we think of each issue that is going on in our lives as ‘just another puzzle to solve’, we feel less under threat and more like we have opportunities. Meticulously note down for a week what is annoying or bothering you and then theme each point into areas such as home life, work, environment, health and fitness, finances or relationships. You can then pick a theme a week to tackle to see what you can improve or where you can make changes. A simple change such as ensuring you don’t check any work emails outside of your working hours can make a huge difference.