Therapy and medication can be useful solutions for dealing with mental health difficulties. However, lifestyle also plays a big part and making some simple changes can give your mental health a boost, too.
Whether you are fighting the blues or simply want to be a little happier and healthier, these ideas could help.
Visit friends and family more often
Having a small circle of close relationships is a cornerstone of good mental health. It is also one of the biggest factors affecting your longevity.
Strong relationships mean that we have people to turn to in time of need and give us someone we can be open and honest with when we are struggling with something. It also gives us the chance to help others when they are in need, boosting our self-esteem.
In her book, The Village Effect, Susan Pinker discusses how loneliness causes us to feel a type of distress. Regular social contact removes this feeling and causes the release of oxytocin, sometimes known as the love hormone.
Eat more vegetarian food
A healthy diet makes us physically healthier and less likely to get sick. It also improves our mental health.
One of the best ways to improve our diet is to swap out some of the red meat we eat for vegetarian alternatives. Doing this can reduce the amount of fat we consume while increasing the variety in our diet.
It could start with one day a week that you assign to be “meat-free Monday”. Doing things on a schedule makes them easier to follow through on.
It is not just your diet that could benefit: putting more love into your food can distract your mind from worrying and allow you to practice mindfulness while preparing dinner. At Worfolk Anxiety, we provide recipes specifically designed to improve mental health.
Carry a bottle of water around with you
Hydration is critical to good mental health. However, it can often be harder than we think. When we are busy working, we are reluctant to interrupt our flow by getting up to get a glass of water, even if we are thirsty. And when we are out and about, this may not even be an option.
The solution? Carry a bottle of water around with you. That way, keeping yourself hydrated will never be more than an arm’s reach away.
If you are concerned about the environmental impact of such a strategy, never fear. There is no need to buy bottled water: you can buy a non-disposable bottle and refill it from the tap.
Spend more time with nature
The health benefits of spending time in nature are often underappreciated. A report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy concluded:
“Nature in your everyday environment is beneficial to general well-being. It creates a sense of space and community. Nature increases positive emotions and feelings of vitality.”
Boosting your contact with nature makes you feel better. You could do this by visiting the local park more often, spending more time in the garden, or even just getting a pot plant for your office desk.
Another significant benefit of spending more time in nature is that you are more likely to see more sunshine. In today’s office-based world, it is easy for many of us to fall short when it comes to the recommended levels of sun exposure: 30 minutes three times per week.
Drink alcohol in moderation
Many people struggling with mental health issues drink too much alcohol. This is unfortunate, but it is easy to see why. Even if you know nothing about anxiety or depression, it is easy to make the connection between consuming alcohol and those unpleasant feelings going away.
The interplay between alcohol and health has never been particularly clear. The studies are clear that drinking healthily can damage your body. However, most also suggest that consuming no alcohol is also bad for you.
The reason for this is not clear. The results are consistent, though: those who drink a small amount of alcohol in moderation enjoy the longest lives and the best mental health.
Join a local community group
Community groups that focus on a particular hobby or interest are a wonderful way to boost your mental health. Why? Because they bring together so many other factors that are good for you.
Attending a community group gets us out of the house. It gives us a routine. It offers as social aspect: we interact with people and have the chance to form new friendships. When learning a new skill, we receive the health benefits associated with life-long learning.
And, if we choose to take a leadership role in the community group, we are given the chance to further develop our self-confidence and self-esteem.
For all of these reasons, joining a local community group can provide powerful benefits. It could be a new sports club you always wanted to try, re-investing in an old hobby or simply something interesting you found on Meetup.
There are many small changes you can make to your lifestyle that will boost your mental health. Doing any of these is worth the time investment. Think of it like going to the gym: you have to put the time in to get the health benefits. However, unlike the gym, many of those activities are fun, as well as being good for you.
Chris Worfolk is the founder of Worfolk Anxiety and author of the book “Do More, Worry Less: Small Steps To Reduce Your Anxiety”.