It is not revolutionary to say that 2020 has not been a good year. A worldwide pandemic, financial crash, and generous scattering of natural disasters have, among other things, made this an unusually strenuous year for most people. And with suicide rates increasing for the last two years, looking after our mental health has never been more important. This article will give you a detailed look at ten simple ways to improve your mental health.
1. Talk about it. This doesn’t have to be an intense heart-to-heart (although it can be), just a simple “ugh, today has been rough” to a friend or family member can help prevent unhealthy internalisation of feelings. And if it feels weird at first – don’t give up! Many people, especially men, have been conditioned to believe that talking about (or even just admitting to) their feelings is a sign of weakness or not being “manly” enough. This isn’t true, and the sooner you can break out of those beliefs the better your mental health will be.
2. Keep active. The NHS recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise a week – that’s a brisk, half-hour walk every weekday. If you can’t manage that much some days, even 10 minutes can have noticeable benefits to your mental health. Even if you don’t live in beautiful countryside, you can always find somewhere nearby to walk to like a park, a local landmark, or just a weird-looking building. Getting a member of your household to go with you can also help you stick to walking regularly.
3. Eat well. This doesn’t mean go on a diet, just try to stick to consistent, balanced meals without too much unhealthy snacking. When you’re feeling low it’s easy to eat too much, too little, or poor-quality food because it’s easier and it tastes nice. Try taking the time out to cook for yourself sometimes – you can find out what you like, and make adjustments that make it healthy but still tasty, even within a tight budget. If you tend to snack on things like sweets and crisps, try finding alternatives like nuts, seeds, dried fruit and lentil or chickpea crisps.
4. Limit alcohol intake. Of course, there is nothing wrong with enjoying your favourite beer or wine, but try to keep an eye on how much you are drinking. Set limits for yourself on how many nights a week you can drink, and how much you can have in an evening – and stick to it! Try making yourself drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink, or finding new favourite drinks out of the large selection of non-alcoholic beer, cider, wine and spirits available. Remember whatever effect alcohol has on your mood will only be temporary, and you may feel worse later. (This also applies to nicotine and other recreational substances.)
5. Keep in touch. It may be difficult to feel connected to people in the current situation, but a quick call or even text conversation can have a very positive impact on your mental health. If you struggle to find stuff to talk about, try finding a game you can play online together or use the Teleparty Chrome extension to stream a film or TV show that you can watch together.
6. Ask for help. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Ask your partner to help you with your chores if it’s been a rough day. Ask your friend to grab your favourite drink or snack from the shop. Ask the people who care about you for advice if you’re questioning your actions or decisions. Use the help services at your school, university or workplace. Or for more specific concerns about things like finances, check out online resources like Citizens Advice. Asking for little things like this can sometimes stop life from too overwhelming before you get to the point of needing serious help. But if you are at that point, there are still so many ways to get the help you need. Talk to your GP about counselling. Look into options for online therapy. If the situation is urgent, call a hotline. There is always someone who can help.
7. Take a break. Breaks are important, especially if your job or studies require you to spend hours sitting still in front of a computer every day. This may be easy to miss when working from home because the usual distractions of co-workers stopping by your desk, or getting up to make a round of teas and coffees, are no longer there. Try keeping an eye on the time, and take at least 5 minutes away from your desk every hour. Walk around the house, get a drink and a snack, chat with a member of your household, show some love to your pets, or just do a quick chore if you’re worried about productivity. The important thing is to stand up, get a slight change of scenery, and give your eyes a break from the screen (so don’t just go on your phone).
8. Find a hobby. What do you like to do? Do more of that. If you can’t really think of anything, find something! Rediscover something you enjoyed when you were younger, or try something you always wanted to do. If you’re still at a loss for ideas, ask people who know you what they think you’d like, and pick something they suggest to try. Maybe they’ll enjoy teaching you about one of their hobbies, or you could learn something new together. The first thing you try may not become a passion, but you can always try something else. And don’t worry if you keep getting bored and switching to a new hobby, or you find something that doesn’t feel particularly productive. Just doing something will be good for your mental health, and it for people who tend to feel guilty if they aren’t constantly achieving something it can help break that unhealthy thought processes.
9. Think positive. As cringey and useless as that advice seems on its own, there are practical ways to actually help you achieve that goal. Try to recognise and address unhealthy thought patterns. Do you beat yourself up over small mistakes? Or keep comparing yourselves to those around you? Or allow yourself to get overwhelmed by negative emotions unnecessarily? Identify these issues and make a conscious effort to stop those thought processes as they begin. Try researching self-help CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) online, you can find lots of advice and materials on how to break these patterns.
10. Be caring. One of the best ways to improve your own mental wellbeing is to care for someone or something else. Keep an eye on those around you, and offer your support if they need it – maybe even share these tips with them! But remember to set boundaries to protect your own emotional wellbeing. If someone you care about is struggling a lot, it may have a negative impact on your own mental health if you take on too much responsibility for their wellbeing. Remind them that you care for them, give any advice you feel you can, then encourage them to get the help they need from another friend of family member, or a professional. And you may find that some caring responsibility is beneficial to you, even if taking care of another person is too much. Depending on your financial and emotional resources, consider getting a plant, fish, or other pet to take care of. But remember not to take on more than you can handle, and if keeping a cactus alive is all you can expect of yourself right now, don’t go and adopt that puppy.
It is worth noting that if your thoughts or feelings are causing you concern, you should talk to your doctor. Mental health issues are never too insignificant to share with your GP, and they will not judge or dismiss you. They will be able to talk you through your options, refer you to a more specialist service if appropriate, and put a plan in place in case things get worse. You will not be pushed down any treatment route that you are not comfortable with.
If you would rather not talk to your doctor, visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/ for a comprehensive list of mental health charities and hotlines, including those that specialise in helping different types of people or different conditions. There is also a search tool to find your local NHS urgent mental health hotline.
If you feel someone’s life is in immediate danger, including your own, call 999. A mental health emergency is just as serious as a physical one – you will not be wasting anyone’s time.