February 24, 2023
Promoting Good Mental Health in Daily Life
We all have mental health, just like physical health – it is more than just mental illness or the absence of it. It also includes the way in which we think, feel, act, make choices and relate to others. Much like our physical health, it is built on healthy habits and lifestyle choices that help us sustain our wellbeing and give us the energy to pursue our goals.
If you have experienced mental health problems in the past, you are well aware of how difficult it can be to come out of these episodes once you are in them. A healthy, sustainable self-care routine is always the safest and easiest route to maintain your wellbeing. This means taking time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health. When it comes to your mental health, self-care can help you manage stress, lower your risk of illness, and increase your energy.
Here we will cover the most important areas affecting mental health. Even small acts of self-care in your daily life can have a big impact. If you feel that you have difficulties in any of these areas, the following tips may help you regain your balance.
Managing poor sleep
If you are not getting 7-8 hours of sleep, do not despair. There are many proven ways to improve both the amount and quality of sleep that we get, which in turn has a positive impact on our mental health. These include changing your daily routine, bedtime routine and sleep environment. Try any that make sense for you over 1-2 weeks – if you are still struggling, you should get some advice from your doctor.
Improving your daily routine
- Get up at a set time every day. It is important to do this even on weekends and even if you are still feeling tired. Try to be strict about for at least 10 days to feel the full benefits.
- Avoid daytime naps. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a good idea to doze off during the day if you are struggling to sleep at night.
- Do at least 30 minutes of exercise every day like walking or cycling. In order for your body to wind down, try not to exercise from 4 hours before bed.
Improving your bedtime routine
- Avoid caffeine for at least 4 hours before bed. This includes coffee, tea, energy drinks and caffeinated soft drinks.
- Alcohol will not help you sleep. In fact, it will reduce the quality of the sleep you do get. Try to cut down completely if possible or avoid it at least 4 hours before bedtime.
- Nicotine is a stimulant. It will interfere with your ability to get to sleep. You may feel it helps you relax, but you should try to stop smoking if you are sleeping poorly. If this is not possible you should try to avoid smoking for at least 4 hours before going to sleep.
- Avoid having a big dinner or eating too close to bedtime. It can be more difficult to sleep when your stomach is too full or your body is still digesting.
- Go to bed only when you are tired. If you wake up, it is better to go somewhere else than to toss and turn in bed. Go back only when you are feeling sleepy again.
- Avoid bright lights and bluelight from technology. Don’t use your phone, laptop or tablet before going to bed. That bright light will make it harder for your brain to know it is time to sleep. Also, avoid bright lights in the house for 2 hours before bedtime. That includes the bathroom light when you brush your teeth. Use dimmed, warm-toned lighting if possible.
- Create a bedtime routine such as reading a book in dim lighting, listening to soft music, having a bath or getting your things ready for the next day. Going through these actions will signal to your brain that it is time to go to bed and you will feel more tired as you carry out your routine.
- Don’t use over-the-counter sleeping tablets. They are not all that effective and don’t help with the underlying problem. It is better to consult with the pharmacist or doctor before taking any tablets.
- Don’t look at the clock. You’ll likely be turning on the light to check, which can be unhelpful. In addition, knowing the time can just make you more anxious. Instead do something that distracts you from thinking about not sleeping, like listening to music or a podcast. Go back to bed when you feel you are sleepy again.
- Make a to do list or worry list. As part of your bedtime routine, try writing a list for things you need to do the next day or things your are worrying about. You can also write down what you can do about these things, which will help to put them out of your mind.
- Use relaxation techniques, such as calm breathing, progressive deep muscle relaxation or meditation in the Thrive Mental Wellbeing app as part of your going-to-bed routine.
Ways to improve your bedroom environment
- Use blackout curtains or thick blinds. You can also wear an eye mask and make the process of putting it on part of your routine.
- Set your bedroom to a good temperature. Make sure it is neither too hot nor too cold.
- Try wearing earplugs if you are frequently woken up by noise. Putting them on can also be part of your routine.
- Do not eat, text, work or talk on the phone in your bedroom. Use it only for sleeping or intimacy.
- Get a comfortable mattress with a pillow at the right height. Make sure your bedding makes sense for the time of the year and temperature.
The importance of exercise
There are all kinds of health reasons to incorporate exercise into your regular routine. It helps our hearts and brains and makes us more able to cope with stress of all kinds. All you need, according to recent guidelines, is 30 minutes of vigorous exercise 5 times per week and strength exercises for all major muscles twice a week.
The NHS has a comprehensive guide you can find here. Anybody can do it and you don’t need any equipment at all.
Expanding your network
Not having a group of people to confide in can increase your risk of suffering from depression or anxiety when feeling stressed.
- Search for online communities you share interests with. Whatever you are into you can find like-minded communities online. This might be a good way to meet people as some of us find it easier to confide in others we only interact with online than with people we come into contact in our daily lives.
- Join a club. If you are interested in sports or you simply want to find a way to do more exercise search locally for teams. If you are not competitive, don’t worry, there are plenty of laid-back teams. If sport is not for you, maybe you may want to join a choir or band.
- Ask colleagues to join you for lunch or organise a get-together after work.
- Volunteer. You will meet lots of interesting people if you volunteer for your favourite local charity.
- Attend a course. If you don’t have the time or means to do this you can do it online by taking a course from Coursera or Udacity. Local or online study groups are usually organised around these online education services so take advantage of that and join.
Take time to relax
Practising regular relaxation exercises will help you become more able to cope with stress. You may have heard of meditation, but there are many other techniques that can be useful. Not everybody finds meditation easy – the trick is to try a variety to find what suits you best. Techniques are quite easy to learn and 5 to 10 minutes of practice per day can make a real difference. Regular practice with customisable sessions in the Thrive Mental Wellbeing app will teach you these techniques and help you practice over time.
Managing your caffeine intake
The relationship between caffeine intake and stress or mental health is a complex one. The response seems to differ from person to person and even between men and women. Overall, there seems to be a link between high caffeine consumption and propensity to stress. High caffeine consumption is also linked to anxiety and depression, although it is not clear if this is because caffeine causes these problems or because people with anxiety and depression are more likely to use caffeine to try to make themselves feel better.
Try to reduce caffeine intake if you are stressed or have a history of depression or anxiety. However, there does not seem to be harmful effects associated with drinking one or two cups of coffee per day. More than this may affect you negatively – if you are stressed or anxious, reducing or even stopping the intake of caffeinated drinks might help.
Managing a long commute
Commuting can really affect our mental health, but there are ways to make it more manageable. This might be a long drive or using overcrowded public transport, particularly difficult when you have to make frequent changes. Here are some tips for making it more positive;
- Find out if you can share at least part of your commute with a friend.
- Avoid driving if possible. Even if you don’t like public transport, it is safer and you can do something like read, play games or watch your favourite show on your phone or tablet.
- If you drive a lot you might enjoy listening to audiobooks. They may help you take your mind off stressful traffic problems.
- Find out if there is a way to introduce some walking or cycling into your commute. Exercise is a powerful mental health booster – plus, you may find out you get to work sooner.
- If all else fails and your commute is really impacting your mental health and wellbeing, you might consider changing jobs or moving closer to work. It is important to prioritise your health and needs.
Improving your delegation skills
Some people find it very difficult to hand over tasks to others. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as a sense of responsibility, the belief that others would not do as good of a job and, in some cases, feeling threatened that someone else could take over. However, not being able to delegate effectively will increase your risk of suffering from a stress-related condition. There are 3 reasons main reasons for this.
- You will be overworked.
- You will not be able to accomplish your goals.
- Your co-workers will not enjoy working with you.
- Don’t be afraid. If you empower your team with tasks that enable them to use their skills they will admire you for it and help you succeed.
- Choose the task to delegate well. Find tasks that your team members have skills for. If you have selected them well, they should be better than you at them. Do not simply choose the job you hate the most, be thoughtful and delegate in a way that it will make the team perform better.
- Be clear about your expectations. If you can make them measurable, do. This will help you and your teammate feel less stressed.
- Agree on reporting format and intervals. Making this clear will also help you and your teammate more relaxed and it will help you both track progress in a way you feel comfortable.
- Give and receive frequent feedback. This should be constructive but frank and clear. Focus on the task at hand and the parameters you agreed upon, not the person. Make it feel like you are both collaborating to solve a problem, not like you are judging the other person. Listen and make sure you do not take over, but offer resources and support where needed.
Cutting down or stopping smoking for your health
Some people who smoke or vape feel it helps them control their stress. However, research shows that while it may give short-term relief, nicotine does not help to manage stress effectively. In fact, the opposite is true. Nicotine addiction induces a frequent state of craving that feels very much like anxiety or stress. If you have nicotine, the craving goes away, so people feel that it has calmed them down. The problem is that even when we have given up smoking, all anxiety reminds us of the craving and the relief we remember makes it more likely that we will start smoking again. The high frequency of a nicotine craving means that it becomes yet another source of stress.
The NHS has very good advice on how to stop smoking. Read the article here.
Ways to help you stop smoking
- Don’t stop trying. Failing does not mean you have failed. If you have stopped smoking before and now you are smoking again that does not mean you have failed. You can try again and not having succeeded in the past does not mean you will not succeed in the future. As with most things, you only fail if you stop trying. Try to learn what went wrong the last time and try something different this time.
- Have a plan. You know your triggers and weakest moments, make a strategy to overcome them. Distraction is very powerful as cravings only last for a short period of time. Have a few tricks to distract you when the cravings hit so that you can wait for them to go away. These can include anything from playing a game to calling a friend and talking until the craving is gone.
- Be aware of what you are eating. What you eat changes your enjoyment of smoking. Meat makes smoking taste better. Cheese, fruit and vegetables make it taste worse. Choose wisely.
- Change those routines. You may now have a smoking routine. Maybe you do it right after a meal or at 11 am at work. Try to change that by doing something else instead. So instead of going out to smoke at 11 am, go for a walk at 12 pm. Instead of having a cigarette right after a meal wait in the room having a chat until the craving has gone. Try to find a substitute for the activity of smoking, don’t try to just do nothing, do something else like chew sugar-free gum.
- Be aware of what you are drinking. What you drink also changes how cigarettes taste. Alcohol, fizzy drinks, tea, and coffee all make cigarettes taste better. Water and fruit juice makes them taste worse. You can also just change your usual drink and that might do the trick as you break the association. If you always have a smoke with your coffee, try having a herbal tea instead.
- Cravings can last up to 5 minutes. Have a list of 5-minute activities you can do anywhere while you wait for the craving to go away. Calm Breathing (as found in the Thrive Mental Wellbeing app) is perfect as 5 minutes give you the stress relieving benefits while keeping you occupied and you can do it anywhere.
- Exercise. Exercise seems to be particularly effective as a way to fight those cravings. Five minutes will do it. Try to exercise hard enough to quicken your breath and pulse. If you are in a club, dancing is the obvious solution.
- Do something with your hands. Some people use a rubber band or a pencil. Others use their phones. Chewing gum or using a straw for your drink can also help by keeping your mouth busy.
- Make a Ulysses contract (also called a commitment device). If you have a close friend that is willing to help and you know you cannot bribe them, make an agreement. For example, if you break the agreement by smoking, the friend then does something you hate. This can be sending a donation to the politician you dislike the most on your behalf or have you wear the kit of the sports team you hate the most in public. Have a reminder of your contract with you at all times so you can look at it when the cravings are at their worst.
Cutting down or stopping drinking for your health
Many people use alcohol to ‘calm their nerves’, but this can have hugely detrimental effects. Alcohol may seem to offer short-term relief – research once suggested that a small amount of alcohol might be beneficial for people’s health. However, more recent research corrected mistakes and suggested that there is no amount of alcohol that is good for people’s health. In fact, according to the NHS guidelines, no amount of alcohol intake is safe. Risks are lower under 14 units per week, but this does not mean that all 14 units should be consumed in short periods. It is safer to spread them throughout the week.
If you find yourself using alcohol to relieve stress, it might be time to seek help from your doctor. People who start drinking excessively to relieve anxiety may soon find themselves combating withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol feel very much like serious stress and anxiety, so those affected might continue drinking to stop these symptoms. Individuals in this situation may easily mistake the fact that they feel relief when withdrawal symptoms subside with alcohol having stress-relieving properties. Having more alcohol than the lower-risk guidelines recommend will have negative effects on stress and on your health in general.
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