Easy Ways To Improve Your Mental Health

The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought health under the spotlight in more ways than simply following the protocols to avoid getting infected, or ensuring that you don’t unknowingly infect others – particularly the elderly or those with comorbidities. What about your mental and emotional health, following months of lockdown isolation, economic uncertainty and the worry that life will never be quite the same again? Fortunately, it doesn’t take too much effort to devote a little time on a regular basis towards your mental well-being. Read on for a few sensible activities you can easily incorporate into your daily schedule.

Be Physically Active

There’s a great deal of science behind how exercise and playing improves cognitive function, advises Harvard Medical School assistant professor of neurology, Scott McGinnis. “Exercise boosts memory and thinking skills both directly and indirectly,” he enthuses. “It acts directly on the body by stimulating physiological changes such as reductions in insulin resistance and inflammation, along with encouraging production of growth factors – i.e. chemicals that affect the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even abundance, survival, and [the]overall health of new brain cells.”

It must work directly on the brain too, he reveals, because “parts … that control thinking and memory are larger in volume in people who exercise than [those] who don’t. Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions.”

What McGinnis couldn’t say was whether one particular form of exercise was better for its memory-bolstering, mood-boosting or stress-reduction qualities than any other form, because most of the research to date has focused on walking. But it’s certainly safe to say that if you enjoy the form of exercise you are doing and if it revs your heart rate, it’s doing your brain a world of good – and you’ll feel ready to take on the world afterwards: even if you still have to do so from your pandemic-safe laptop screen.

Just be sure to set down your physical activity schedule in a habit-forming way, “almost like taking a prescription medication”, McGinnis enthuses. This advice is probably the most crucial of all because it takes about six months to start reaping the cognitive benefits of your exercise plan; and you should strive to fit in 30 minutes per day for at least five days of the week over that time.

Be Present in the Moment

How To Improve Your Mental Health

If the increasingly popular practice of mindfulness is new to you, you could try incorporating it into your exercise regime as a valuable starting point. Want to know how to do this? It’s really easy, suggest the experts at HelpGuide.org: “Instead of focusing on your thoughts, focus on how your body feels as you move – how your feet hit the ground, for example, the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin.”

We tend to have little impetus in our daily schedules to silence those racing thoughts and just be present. And yet, says Dr Patrizia Collard, psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher, stress management consultant and best-selling author of The Little Book of Mindfulness, “Living in the moment, and seeing everything afresh without judgement and worry, lets us experience life rather than simply getting through it.” Get your mindfulness going and bring body, mind and spirit back into equilibrium by embracing a relaxation technique such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation.

Not sure how long to spend? According to owner of Headspace, Andy Puddicombe, “If it feels like too much time, it probably is. It’s best to approach meditation much like anything else in life: start small, build up slowly and find your own personal sweet spot. For some people, this sweet spot is 10 minutes and, for others, it’s 60 minutes.” He suggests, from a look at recent studies, that frequency might be more important than duration. “So, for example, 10 minutes a day, every day of the week, is likely to be more beneficial than 70 minutes on one day of the week… This bite-sized approach helps us to discover stability of awareness in our everyday lives, rather than just an isolated practice that we do and then leave behind.”

Know Yourself

Mental health is, without a doubt, a complex topic and what makes you feel good, is going to differ from that of your sibling, partner, colleague or neighbour. What’s important is that the stigma surrounding mental illnesses is increasing being eroded, what with the promotion of World Mental Health Day, this year being celebrated on 10 October, so that global organisations such as the World Federation for Mental Health and the World Health Organization can emphasise the importance of seeking help should a condition such as anxiety, depression or OCD begin impacting on your daily functioning.

But, if you’re simply feeling mildly stressed and out of sorts – for whatever reason – invest first in a good night’s sleep, a mood-enhancing eating plan, and a little quality time away from social media and in the presence of those who most appreciate you. These tips, added to a vibrant exercise plan and the TLC of 10 mindful minutes each day, are sure to put you in a golden frame of mind.