‘I can’t change the direction of the wind but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination’ Jimmy Dean
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and so I thought I would give you my top tips that I use to relieve stress, anxiety and low mood, to stop my mind from racing and to interrupt and change those negative thoughts that seem to play on a loop in my mind. On my quest to improve my own mental health, I have learned so much through NLP, mentors, scientists and spiritual leaders and hundreds of self-development books, talks, workshops, retreats and conferences and from my own intuition. I now know I have the power to change my mental state by acting on those learning experiences, and you can too.
Why does it matter? Sometimes things happen in life that lead to feelings of sadness, anger, hurt etc and it is a good thing to acknowledge and go with these feelings. However, when we get ‘stuck’ with them, they can lead to mental illness. Long term stress is not only exhausting, it downgrades the immune system and can lead to serious physical illness. These conditions also affect our relationships, work, decision making and quality of life, in all areas.
So here’s my top tips, in no particular order:
- Practice gratitude. When you wake up in the morning, think of three things you are grateful for. They can be as simple as the fact that you are alive or the feel of the sheet on your skin. Gratitude in the morning interrupts the habit of thinking negative thoughts at the start of your day. Practiced every day, you will change the neural pathways in your brain, which trigger the chemicals that create your feelings. Keeping a journal is another way of practicing gratitude. Whatever works for you.
- Meditate. Whether it’s a guided meditation, music, visualisation or whatever works for you, taking at least 30 minutes in the morning or evening to just ‘be’, quietens the mind chatter, reduces stress and helps you to feel calmer, more relaxed, sleep better and think clearer. Before I meditated, I believed I didn’t have the time. Now I get up an hour earlier to do it…and I sleep better at night so I’m less tired.
- Move more. I decided not to put exercise as that can be a turn-off for some! Also, everyone is different and it’s important to get a balance of movement that helps you feel calm, excited, invigorated, relaxed and so on. Whether it’s gym work, running, walking, dancing, swimming, gardening, yoga, tai chi or whatever, it all helps. The worst thing you can do if you’re feeling down or stressed is sit and brood on it. As humans, we’re meant to move. Listen to your body and notice what it needs.
- Be in nature. Finding a green space to walk in, listening to birdsong, noticing nature, feeling the breeze on your skin for just 15 minutes a day triggers the release of chemicals such as dopamine that lifts mood, creates calmness and lowers anxiety. These effects can last for up to seven hours. Exposing your skin to the sun for short periods (without burning of course!) also gives you much needed vitamin D, responsible for helping to combat depression.
- Eat Well. Food really is medicine. Re-connect with food that nourishes your body. Sugar and processed foods do not give your body anything useful and they actually affect moods. Refined or ‘added’ sugar and many of the the chemicals in processed foods have been linked to depression, moods swings, anxiety, brain fog, poor concentration and hormone imbalance. Instead, choose to eat more mood boosting foods such as vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds.
- Look at your life balance – what do you need more of/less of in your life? When did you last feel totally relaxed and calm? When did you last have fun, feel joy? What gave you these feelings? Fold a piece of paper in half. On one side write the things you want more of, on the other the things you want less of and plan this into your week. Replacing the ‘less ofs’ with the ‘more ofs’ means it won’t impact too much on your time.
- Mirror work for self-care. This is very powerful and can feel really uncomfortable at first but the more you practice it, the easier it will become and the benefits to your mental wellbeing are huge. Look yourself in the eye in the mirror and say a mantra that works for you and is about you. Simple ones work best for me, like ‘I love you, I forgive you’. They could even be as simple as ‘you’re doing fine’, ‘you’re safe’, ‘you’ll be OK’. Notice how you feel when you say them. The more uncomfortable you feel, the more I would do them as it indicates you don’t yet believe them. This is not self-indulgent. If we love ourselves, we improve our relationships with others.
- Connect with those that make you feel good. We are social creatures and that means we have a need to connect with other people and even pets. Have you ever noticed how some people leave you feeling drained, down or frustrated? And others make you feel at ease, happy, special and so on. We all have energy fields around us and when we are with others we share that energy. Choose to spend more time with those that give off higher vibrational energies that create positive feelings. Practicing these tips will raise your own energy vibrations too.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Screen time, caffeine, alcohol, being to hot, stressed etc. lead to poor quality and quantity of sleep. Sleep is when your body repairs itself, makes new cells and sorts out your mind. Creating a sleep routine can really help. An hour before bed begin to wind down, relax and switch off. I don’t drink caffeine after midday anymore and drink herbal teas known to promote sleep before I go to bed. You could use this time to journal, meditate, read and enjoy intimate moments with your loved ones.
- And finally, ignore well-meaning people in your life that tell you what you ‘should’ be doing. This is about what’s right for you. I’ve been careful to suggest and not dictate my tips in this post! By noticing how things make you feel, you will find your own ways. I have read, seen and listened to so many self-help ‘guru’s in my time. Some resonate with me, inspire me and others don’t. Choose those that work for and inspire you to make the changes you want in your own life.