10 tips for good mental health

Many of us put effort into our physical health and wellbeing by maintaining healthy eating habits and exercising our bodies, but what are we doing to ensure good mental health?

In this fast-paced, modern world, anxiety and depression are on the rise. Research has shown that at least 50% of Australians will, at some time in their life, be affected by a mental health condition, and, according to Headspace, more than 75% of mental health issues develop before a person turns 25.

So, for our benefit (and for those of us with children - for theirs too) let's ensure we all have some regular practices in place to prevent, or, where a mental health condition might already exist, improve our mental health.

Here are 10 suggestions:

  1. Regular exercise and healthy eating: Let's be honest. Some of us aren't really doing enough in the exercise and healthy eating departments. We might belong to the gym, but how often do we go? (Note to self!) Make it a rule: if you have a gym membership, diarise your exercise times at least a month in advance. Block out the time and treat it as an important appointment with yourself that's not negotiable. Get a Personal Trainer to support you or go to classes if working out on your own isn't working for you. Similarly, plan your meals a week ahead and ensure you have the ingredients you need. Choose fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy snacks (not chocolate or sugar-laden ones) to maintain your energy levels throughout the day.

  2. Get a good night's sleep – aim for at least 8 hours each night: According to research by the Australian Government Department of Health, for every hour of sleep we miss each night, there is 14% increased risk of unpleasant emotions or feelings that affect day-to-day functioning, a 38% increase in the chance of feeling sad and hopeless and a 42% increase in chance of having thoughts of suicide. Very short sleepers (less than 5 hours each night) are more likely to experience long-term mental health issues than people who get enough sleep. If you're having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep here are a few things you can try: aim to get to bed and wake up at the same time each day to help your body get into a routine; turn off screens (TV, phone, laptop) at least 30 minutes before bed time; try not to worry about insomnia - the fact that your physical body and muscles have the opportunity to rest is helpful in itself; do a meditation before sleep or take a warm shower to help your body relax.

  3. Engage in any form of spiritual practice you enjoy: There are many varied practices used throughout the world to help us disconnect from the outer world and re-connect with our own inner worlds, such as meditation, yoga and chanting. Listening to beautiful music can have a soothing effect on our nervous system and reduce the effect of stress hormones. I like to diffuse or wear Young Living essential oils - frankincense, white angelica and peace and calming - when I am doing any of these activities.

  4. Immerse yourself in nature – the Japanese call it 'Shinrin-Yoku' or forest-bathing: This 'ecotherapy' practice emerged in the 1980s in Japan to calm the nervous system, overcome stress and 'kiroshi' (death from overwork). It involves moving slowly and mindfully through a forest and connecting with nature using your senses. Forest bathing has been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure and stress levels, as well as provide cardiac and pulmonary benefits.

  5. Spend time at the beach: Aside from taking in the beauty of the colours of the ocean, did you know that it produces an abundance of negative ions? Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress and boost our daytime energy. So, if you are close-by, take some time out to walk along the beach or swim in the ocean.

  6. Stay connected with people who are good for your mental health: Spend time with those people who uplift you and support your wellbeing and limit your exposure to people who drain your energy or only love and support you if you fit in their box.

  7. Create small goals and enlist support in achieving them: Having a sense of achievement is a great way to increase self-esteem and move beyond our comfort zone. It helps us to see what we are capable of and to expand our minds. Mentors and coaches are always willing and available to support you in your efforts to move beyond your comfort zone.

  8. Get into a state of flow: Whenever possible, find ways to get into a state of immersion in an activity so that you can feel the sense of relaxation and flow that comes from the experience. This often happens with a hobby, where you can lose yourself in the activity, a creative pursuit or can come from participation in a sport, running or even a long walk.

  9. Be kind to yourself and start to define yourself by a vision of your desired future: Look for what's good in your life and focus your attention on that. Notice how much value you bring to the world and acknowledge yourself for all that's good that you have created. According to Dr Joe Dispenza, our thoughts can make us sick and they can also make us well. Try this exercise he recommends to shift into a better state of mind. Close your eyes and disconnect from your outer environment. Put your energy into the present moment and free yourself from any thought or emotion that is keeping you in your past. This will allow you to relax into the moment and create new circuits in your brain. Imagine what you'd like to create in your future. Become comfortable in the unknown and choose the thoughts you'd like to fire and wire into your brain and start mentally rehearsing and creating your future self in your mind.

  10. Keep learning, keep growing: Spend time expanding your mind with new ideas and gaining new knowledge and insights. You can watch inspiring TED talks, research or study a subject of interest, read, watch documentaries, travel. When you learn something new and exciting, implement it or share it with someone who would benefit from knowing it. This will strengthen your neuro-pathways and help create positive brain chemistry.

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