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Tips for Improving Your Mental Well-Being
Making sure that you can maintain good mental health and well-being are an essential part of staying healthy. However, many of us are not very good about talking about how to stay healthy mentally. We tend to assume that we, and those around us, are managing—and we also like to project the image of being able to manage even when that is not strictly true. This means that we also tend to put off thinking about our mental health until we are very much ‘not OK’.
This page sets out some tips for improving your mental well-being—not when you feel bad, but all the time. Small changes on a day-to-day basis can really help to improve your mood and mental health in the long-term.
1. Look after yourself physically
Your body and mind are not separate. They are closely intertwined. What affects your mind affects your body, and vice versa.
This means that by changing how you treat your body, you can also change how you feel. For example, if you neglect yourself, you are likely to feel unloved and your self-esteem may drop.
An integrated whole
Doctors, especially psychiatrists, have long recognised the concept of ‘body and mind as a whole’. For example, integrative psychiatry is a holistic form of therapy that looks at you as a person. Integrative psychiatrists may use conventional medical approaches, such as prescribing medication. However, they may also prescribe changes to your diet and exercise, or suggest other alternative therapies to help you to relax.
You can find out more about integrative psychiatry at BetterHelp.com.
It is therefore important to look after yourself physically. The three most important things you can do are probably to make sure that you get enough sleep, do plenty of physical exercise, and eat a reasonably balanced diet.
There is more about this in our pages on sleep, the importance of exercise, and food, diet and nutrition.
2. Spend quality time with other people
Research has shown that the biggest factor in life expectancy is the number of high quality relationships we have with other people—in other words, our connections to others.
When you are feeling down, it can be tempting to shut yourself away, and avoid contact with others. However, this is the very time when it is most important to reach out.
Building habits of connection can make it easier to reach out when you need.
Make time in your day and week to spend regular time with others. Go for a walk with a friend, have a coffee with someone you love, or just spend time together doing nothing—and do this routinely. These relationships will all help to improve your mental well-being on a long-term basis. This will also mean that when you are feeling down, you will probably already have a meeting with a friend in your diary.
3. Do the things you love
One sign of low self-esteem is having problems believing that you have value. This can make it hard to spend time doing things just for you, rather than for other people—your family, your colleagues or your manager.
Take time to do something ‘just for you’ at least once a week. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Simply taking half an hour to read a book for fun, or watch a favourite TV programme that you have chosen, can be very self-affirming. If the things you love are also things that are good for you physically—going for a run, say, visiting the gym, or spending time with a friend—so much the better. However, don’t feel bad if you want to eat a bar of chocolate, or binge-watch a box set on your own. Giving yourself the freedom to make choices is important.
4. (Re-)Learn how to relax
In a recent article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, the author commented that their experience of 2020 had been that it contained the ‘shape of relaxation, but not the content’. In other words, they had spent a lot of time sitting watching television—normally an activity associated with being relaxed—but in a state of almost constant tension.
If this strikes a chord, you may need to teach yourself how to relax again.
There are many possible relaxation techniques that you could try, including aromatherapy, self-hypnosis, and mindfulness. You can also try some simple breathing exercises, or consciously relaxing each muscle group in turn.
5. Harness the power of your mind in a positive way
Our minds are incredibly powerful, and our thoughts and beliefs can actually manifest in physical effects on our bodies.
The power of your mind: the placebo effect
In clinical trials of new drugs and medications, patients are routinely given either the new drug, or an alternative that looks identical but contains no active ingredients. They will not know which they have been given.
Why are patients not receiving the active drug not simply given nothing?
Because time and again, patients show a physical effect if they are given something that they believe will help to improve their condition—even if that something is simply a sugar pill.
This is the power of the mind.
You can harness the power of your mind to help you feel better about yourself and improve your mental well-being. For example:
Research shows that people who keep a diary for just three days, in which they focus on positive experiences, experience better moods for at least three weeks afterwards. Taking time each night to think about (and write about) a positive experience during the day could therefore be very powerful. There is more about this in our page on Positive Thinking.
If you experience negative thoughts, you can consciously reframe them in a more positive way. For instance, instead of thinking that nobody has been in touch with you for days because they don’t care about you, you can tell yourself that everyone is busy, like you. You can also then decide that you should text a friend to make contact. This will help you think more positively, and will also improve your well-being by enabling you to make contact with and connect with a friend.
About the Author
Melissa has been writing content for SkillsYouNeed since 2013. She holds an MBA and previously worked as a civil servant and. Now with a young family, she is learning all about applying her skills to real life.