From brushing our teeth to our morning coffee, habits make up around 40% of our daily routines. But when it comes to our mental health, a single small change can make a huge impact. Here are five habits you can try to boost your mental wellbeing.
We typically don’t give much thought to just how much our habits impact us as humans. They’re the reason we automatically put on our seatbelts when we get in the car, or brew a coffee every morning.
But contained within these seemingly small daily actions lies a lot of power. The habits we keep can give us a welcome anchor during difficult times, stabilising us as we navigate choppy seas.
Read on to find out the five habits you can start adding into your daily routine to boost your mental health.
1. Breathe in, breathe out
Take a moment. Inhale deeply through your nose, feeling the way your ribcage expands, then pause, and breathe out. Breathing is something we do unconsciously around 22,000 times each day – but it’s when we take the time to practise it and breathe deeply that we reap more of the benefits.
When we’re stressed or anxious, we tend to have a more rapid heart rate, and breathe more shallowly. But when we make an effort to breathe deeply, it stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system, which controls our bodily functions – such as metabolism and digestion – while we’re at rest. Research shows that this in turn can lead to physical and mental benefits: deep breathing has been linked to improving cognitive performance, reducing anxiety and mitigating the physiological impact of stress on our bodies.
Try this: Set aside some time each day to focus on your breathing when you know it will help you the most, such as to relax yourself before bed, or to awaken a sleepy brain in the morning. If you don’t know where to start, try some of our coaching resources on the Unmind platform – or look for some content online that helps you move into a gentle, regular practice.
2. Hit the hay
Today’s always-on culture means we’re constantly glued to our screens, whether we’re working, checking the news, or scrolling through Instagram before bed. So it’s no wonder that we’re struggling to switch off when it’s time to sleep.
Sleep is one of the most important foundations for keeping us mentally healthy – so much so, that in 2018, the CDC classed it as a national epidemic in the US. When we don’t get enough of it, we’re more likely to feel anxious, less able to focus, and we’re less able to handle life’s knocks. Lack of sleep can negatively impact our physical and mental health down the road, too.
Try this: Establishing a routine is important, especially when it comes to getting good quality rest. If you struggle to get to bed on time, focus on your nighttime routine and try to pinpoint the steps you need to take in order to start winding down an hour before you plan to turn in. Everyone will have their own individual needs, but consider things like avoiding blue-light emitting devices, settling down with a good book, or trying some meditation. If you’re still struggling, be sure to seek some support from a medical professional.
3. Know your limits
As many of us continue to live at work and work where we live, it can often feel like the boundaries between our professional and personal lives have become blurred. Suddenly, we’re finding ourselves checking those emails that creep in after-hours, or responding to one more message from a colleague. But setting boundaries – personal, professional, physical, or emotional – is a key part of keeping us mentally well. When we feel empowered to say ‘no’ to demands or obligations, we’re in a better place to look after our own self-care needs, and tackle the other tasks later on.
Try this: If you’re working from home, try marking the end of your working day with a change of scenery. This might mean moving rooms, closing your laptop, or heading out for a quick walk. If you’re struggling with a mounting to-do list, try to prioritise and tackle the most urgent tasks first.
4. Look after your physical health
We don’t need to show you a study to know that exercise and nourishing our bodies is good for us – both for our physical health, and our mental health. At the moment, some of us may be getting a little less physical activity than usual as lockdowns are restricting our opportunities for movement. That’s totally normal – but can have a knock-on impact on how stressed or anxious we might be feeling.
Exercise releases endorphins, and can positively impact our mood, reduce our stress levels, improve our self-esteem, and help cognitive function.
Try this: The best exercise you can do is the type you enjoy. Rather than launching into a new no-holds-barred fitness routine because you feel like you should, try making small changes, such as committing to a form of movement that makes you feel good each day – whether that’s walking, running, a vintage 80s Jazzercise video, or dancing around your bedroom to your favourite tunes.
5. Take time to talk
As humans, being social comes naturally with the way we’re hard-wired. We are good at forming strong bonds, and take meaning and joy from our social relationships. And sometimes, whether it’s a global pandemic, or just our lives getting in the way, we can find that it’s not as easy to stay connected.
Yet loneliness can have a knock-on impact on our physical and mental health. It can lead to increased stress, and prevent our immune system from doing its job effectively. This is why making time for meaningful, regular connections with friends, family, and colleagues is especially important. Connecting with others allows us to laugh together, share pain together, and show our empathetic sides.
Try this: Find ways to interact with your nearest and dearest that provide moments of meaningful connection to you – and schedule those in as a regular event. Depending on how you prefer to connect with others, that might be weekly Zoom quiz night, a simple phone call to open up, or teaming up to play Among Us on your computer.