Maintaining mental health can be difficult at the best of times, but when life becomes that little bit too overwhelming it can get a whole lot worse. As someone who suffers from many a mental issue (bar the fact that I’m a writer so, naturally, fictional characters whisper in my ear on a daily basis), I’ve discovered that the trick to maintaining mental health isn’t by dealing with it when stress arises, but through every day practices. Here are my top five tips:
- Set a routine!
It’s often believed that routine is the silent killer but it’s actually one of the best ways to maintain your mental health throughout the year. Planning out your day, however loosely, helps to minimise stress and encourage good habits. Getting your eight hours of sleep per night regulates moods and help you stay focused. It’s a good idea to set a time for bedtime and wake-up every morning. Be sure to stick to it though – it’ll be difficult to begin with but it will be worthwhile in the end. Make sure to schedule in time in the morning to have a breakfast, too, as it sets you up with the energy you need to tackle the day. Finally, slip in relaxation slots for you to watch television with your family, curl up in bed with a good book, to meditate and journal.
- Get some fresh air!
One of my favourite things to do is walk through London. It doesn’t matter what the weather, I could walk from Oxford Street through Soho to Trafalgar Square, round to Westminster and then all the way down the River Thames to St. Paul’s everyday if I could. There’s nothing more energising than being able to escape from technology for a few hours and getting some fresh air; a cup of coffee to warm you up in the winter or a cold iced tea to cool you down in the summer. It gives you a chance to reflect on recent events, to make plans for the future and time to just be. Sunlight also helps to increase the production of serotonin in your body which helps reduce depression, regulate anxiety and increases your happiness.
- Give back!
Back in November, I met a veteran selling poppies. He was wheelchair bound, had been sitting outside in the cold for the better part of four hours, ignored by everyone, and had only sold three poppies (one of which was to me). Yet he was the happiest man I had met in months. It was rare, he told me, that people would stop and talk in our day and age, but his morning had been made by a passing businessman who had bought him a cup of tea. Small acts of kindness don’t only affect the receiver; they affect the giver too. Not only does it give you a sense of purpose and makes you feel better about yourself, but seeing how fortunate you are in comparison to others makes you grateful for what you have. We don’t all have the financial means to donate, but taking the time to declutter and donating old, unused goods to charity is a double win!
I used to hate journaling. At the beginning of every year I would start a new journal with the intention of writing in it every day and would barely make it a month before I gave up. In fact, 2017 was the very first year I ever finished a journal and my mental health became better for it. I found writing down all my thoughts and feelings, both large and small, good and bad, not only stopped the negative from festering, but also helped me deal with the pressures that came into my life in a more strategic way. I was able to recognise patterns and, when a similar situation came around, I could find a solution for whatever the problem was. It takes some practice, but it really does reduce the pressure.
- Practice Gratitude!
Scientists have proven that those who regularly practice gratitude, who take the time to note and reflect upon the things they are thankful for every day, live happier and more fulfilling lives. The idea is to list three things that you are grateful for before going to bed each night. It doesn’t matter how big or small, as long as you’re grateful for something: for your favourite television show character surviving a gruesome death; for getting out of bed in the morning even though you didn’t want to; for the laughter you shared with your best friend; for the twenty minutes of sunshine that appeared in an otherwise stormy day. Like journaling, this is a task that requires a lot of practice, but it gets easier the more you do it and eventually you’ll find that your grateful for having started in the first place.