World Mental Health Day has rolled around once more, and whilst raising awareness of mental health is never a bad thing, mental health is something we need to work on every day.
It’s important to build positive habits that support good mental health, as it’s all too easy to get into a downward spiral when we have poor habits that impact on our wellbeing. And the stronger we can build our mental health, the better we can cope when life throws us challenges (which it inevitably will do).
So I’m sharing some positive habits with you that are grounded in science and will make looking after your mental health an everyday part of your life.
How habits work
First let’s talk about habits. Habits are simply repeated behaviours and actions that become automatic. Meaning you don’t need to think about them much, a bit like brushing your teeth in the morning.
Habits don’t just form overnight, they need practicing and take some focusing on to begin with, but slowly overtime you end up doing them on autopilot without a second thought.
This means you can build good habits into your life quite easily if you have the intention to and are willing to repeat the actions over and over for a while until it becomes more habitual.
How long it takes to build a new habit
Studies have shown it can take around 28 – 66 days to build new habits, but it really depends how easy you find the new action and how well your environment supports it. For example, you are much more likely to go for a run in the morning if you keep your trainers ready by your bed, than if they are buried at the back of your wardrobe.
Habits to improve your mental health
I have spoken about self-care quite a bit before now which is a great way to support your own wellbeing, but I want to share some small habits you can build that will support you day-in-day-out with your emotional resilience and wellbeing.
Time and time again studies show that nature is good for our health and wellbeing, so try and get outside every day, even if it’s just to sit outside with a cup of tea for 15 minutes watching the leaves blow in the wind.
If you can get outside early in the day it can help improve your sleep (which also supports mental health) as morning light exposure helps regulate your circadian rhythm, an internal clock that helps your body function well.
Related blog post: 7 Ideas to Enjoy Nature for Better Mental Health
Consume less sugar
Many people know that sugary foods and drinks are bad for their teeth and can lead to wait gain over time, but what people often don’t know is the impact sugar has on our mood and mental bandwidth.
When you consume a large amount of sugar, your blood sugar levels increase dramatically and you may experience irritability or brain fog. Then when your blood sugar levels crash, you may feel anxious, tired, or moody which leaves you reaching for the biscuit tin again and so the cycle goes on.
Keeping your blood sugar stable with smaller meals, less snacks, and more wholefoods in your diet is a good way to support your mental health.
A couple of easy swaps are nuts instead of biscuits or crisps, and water instead of juices.
A few simple habits to cut down your sugar intake could help you feel more clear, alert, and able to face any problems that come your way.
It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of life, work, parenting, caring for others, volunteering, social media, email, and all the other demands we face on a daily basis.
The trouble is this can lead to overwhelm and burn out, or even resentment of others. But please be assured that it’s ok to put yourself first.
Say no when you need to so you don’t over commit, say yes sometimes to trying new things and adventures, and most of all, allow yourself time every day to just sit and do nothing, or enjoy an activity that you know supports your wellbeing, from art to yoga, whatever brings you joy and is just for you.
Move your body
I know that the call to exercise more gets banded about a lot these days, but there is good reason, especially when it comes to mental health.
Exercise not only releases endorphins which make you feel great, but regular physical activity can also increase your dopamine and serotonin levels. That’s 3 out of the four main ‘happy hormones’, or chemicals, that get released into your body when you do certain activities.
So as well as having physical health benefits, exercising each day, whether it’s walking, running, swimming, an exercise class, or even a 10-minute dance to your favourite songs, also supports your mental health and wellbeing.
Connect with strangers
Our busy lives have found us more disconnected from others than ever before, but it’s not making any of us happier.
I want to encourage you to smile and/or say hello to strangers and make it a part of your everyday life to connect with new people. Smile at the man serving you in the shop, take a moment to say hello to that lady you see at the bus stop every day.
It might feel strange at first, but you’ll soon enjoy it.
We can all feel lonely sometimes, but this little habit can help bring some cheer to someone else’s day. Plus, it spreads so easily. If you smile at someone, not only do you feel good, but they feel good, then they end up smiling more at others and your one smile ends up rippling out to many more people throughout the day.
Need some support with your mental health?
If you feel like you’re stuck in a downward spiral and want some support to turn things around, you can book a counselling session with me.
I have a comfortable private space in Suffolk or can offer sessions online, and there’s no judgement.
There is no need to suffer in silence with your mental health, I am here to support you whenever you are ready.