During times of uncertainty a lot of demands are made of our mental health. When we are dealing with the unknown we are required to be more flexible, more patient and more resilient.
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. And, when we’re faced with a serious event or challenge, then greater strain is placed on our mental health.
Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health, explains why it’s critical during times of acute stress, to start treating our mental health in the same way we treat our physical health.
Brendan comments: “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.”
To help bring some focus to 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.
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.
Performing light exercise, even indoors, can also be really beneficial in helping maintain your levels of resilience and positive mood. Some simple stretches, jogging on the spot, bouncing on a rebounder is a great way to introduce some daily exercise. There are a lot of classes available online that you can join in with to help keep you fit and give you an endorphin boost!
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 and particularly during times of increased stress. 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. 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.
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.