Would you like to be calmer, more relaxed and happier with your life, but are not sure how to do this. A great place to start would be to begin to incorporate some or all of the practices shared here into your daily routine.
Regular practice will help to improve your mental health and well-being, so that you can enjoy life more, have better relationships and have stronger coping skills for dealing with the ups and downs of daily life.
1. Practice Self-Compassion
Negative inner talk and self- criticism makes us feel bad about ourselves, which in turn affects our mood and mental health. If you can learn to treat yourself with kindness, warmth, sympathy and encouragement in the same way as you do other people you care about, this will have a really positive impact on your mood and feelings of well-being.
“With self-compassion we give ourselves the same kindness and care we would give to a good friend.” Kirstin Neff
Self-compassion is not the same as self-pity or self-indulgence. It is about treating yourself as equal to others, and not holding yourself to higher standards. With self-compassion you can acknowledge that just like everyone else, you sometimes get things wrong, accept and learn from your mistakes then move on from them, knowing that “to err is human”.
When you practice self-compassion, it reduces self-criticism and negative inner talk which can be be very damaging for your mental well-being. Recognising your own worth will make you happier and less stressed as well as being stronger and more resilient when you do face difficulties in your life.
How To Be Kind To Yourself
When practicing self-compassion, start from where you are now, don’t view it as another way you need to fix yourself, but as a way to accept and support yourself.
Begin by bringing awareness to your inner critic and negative self-talk, start to notice when these thoughts are unhelpful and make you feel worse. Think about how you can change your inner talk to be more empathetic and encouraging rather than critical.
Consider how you would treat someone else who has come to you for support when they are feeling bad. How would you talk to them? What words would you use? Try adopting this attitude towards yourself and see how much better it feels.
2. Take Time to Relax
In the busy modern world there are many demands on your time and personal resources. It is easy to become stressed and overwhelmed. Research shows that prolonged stress has a negative effect on mental health. It increases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies which can lead to negative thinking patterns, indecisiveness, forgetfulness, irritability and impatience.
Luckily, there are things we can do to counteract the effects of stress. There are some simple techniques you can build into your routine that will help you to slow down and induce the body’s natural stress response.
Take A Deep Breath: When you find yourself becoming stressed or anxious, bring your awareness to your breath and deepen it. When breathing in, breathe the whole way down to your stomach, then take a long exhale through your mouth, repeat this until you feel calmer and more relaxed.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Another technique you can use is to tense and relax one muscle group at a time until your whole body feels relaxed. Try squeezing your fists tightly for a few moments and then let go, feel the difference, as you repeat this through all your muscle groups, you will feel your whole body relaxing.
Get In the Flow: Any activity that is repetitive, rhythmic and enjoyable will also be helpful. Some examples include, running yoga, knitting, playing a musical instrument, writing. Regular practice of activities that take you out of your mind will lead to a quieter more relaxed mind.
Learning skills and habits to slow down the stress response in your minds and body will really help in improving your mental health and well-being.
3. Exercise Regularly
Many studies have shown that physical health supports mental health. Regular physical activity is a very important factor in building and maintaining mental well-being.
Exercise helps your mental health and well-being by:
Releasing chemicals in the brain called endorphins that make you feel better.
Providing distraction and giving your mind a break from overthinking.Giving you a feeling of achievement and self-satisfaction.
Even small amounts of exercise such as 10 minutes of walking will have a positive impact on mood, and help you feel more relaxed and energised. Don’t be discouraged if you are not very fit, start small and build up gradually. As you start to feel better, you will also feel motivated to do more.
Exercising for Mental Health
Choose an activity that you can enjoy, improving your chances of sticking to it.
Be aware that you might not enjoy every session. Sometimes, the last thing you will feel like doing is going for a run or a walk. Remind yourself that once you get going you will be fine, and you are sure to feel better afterwards.
Set yourself a goal and give yourself credit for achieving it, when you reach your goal. You could join a group locally or use a phone app such as couch to 5km.
If you can, it really helps to find a like-minded person at a similar fitness level to yourself to exercise with. You are much more likely to stick to plans if you are committed to someone else.
Overall, regular exercise will help you to feel happier and more content with your life. It also gives you an activity to turn to when you need to let off steam or are feeling stressed, agitated or experiencing low mood.
Mental Fitness Is Just As Important as Physical Fitness
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude will help you feel more positive and optimistic about your life. You will become better at noticing and savouring the good things, which will give you a more balanced outlook when negative events occur. This in turn will help you to be stronger and more resilient when you are faced with difficulties.
Being grateful for the good things in your life doesn’t mean that you are ignoring or denying negative feelings or events it is important to recognise those too. Practicing gratitude is about cultivating a habit of noticing the small things that we can be grateful for or seeking out some positives in a negative situation.
Ways To Practice Gratitude
Try writing down things you are grateful for on a daily or weekly basis, this helps them become more ingrained in your mind. You could get an empty jar and when something good happens jot it down on a piece of paper and pop it in the jar, you could start a gratitude journal or use the notebook on your phone to keep a record of positive things in your life as they happen.
When something good happens, take a moment to acknowledge and savour it, say to yourself in the moment, “isn’t this lovely”, it can be as simple as your morning cup of coffee, a hug from a loved one, or something goes well at work.
Noticing all the small moments will add up to greater feelings of happiness.
If you practice consciously looking for and appreciating the good things in your life, you will experience more happy feelings, be more content and have better life satisfaction while experiencing less anger, sadness and anxiety.
5. Be Mindful
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to what is happening in the present moment with our thoughts, feelings and senses. When life is very busy, we tend to live in our heads a lot, mindfulness can help to us to reconnect with our bodies and the sensations they experience.
Prof Mark Williams of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre says that
“mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves moment by moment.”
How Being Mindful Will Help You
It reduces the stress hormone cortisol and reduces heart rate and blood pressure helping you to feel calmer and more relaxed.
Helps your mind to be clearer and improves concentration, so you are better able to cope with stressful situations.
Helps you to live in the moment so that you can really savour nice things when they happen
Formal mindfulness practices such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) can be done with experienced and professional trainers, these have been shown by research to be helpful in reducing depression, stress and anxiety. However, there many smaller ways we can begin to incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives.
Begin by taking more notice of body sensations, tense muscles, shallow breathing and fast heartbeat as they occur. Use your breath as an anchor, when you feel stressed or anxious bring your awareness to your breath going in an out, if your mind begins to wander, or start worrying, gently return your attention to your breathing.
Choose one daily activity such as brushing your teeth, brushing your hair or drinking your tea or coffee. When you are doing this give it your full attention, use as many of your senses as you can to tune in while performing the activity.
Mindfulness like any exercise needs to be practiced, so it becomes more natural to you, but with regular practice, it will become a valuable skill in helping to manage and improve your mental health and well-being.
6. Make Time For Play
To Play means to do something that has no purpose beyond fun and enjoyment. We tend to associate play with children, and as adults, the responsibilities of life take over and we forget how to play. However, taking time to play and have fun can have significant benefits for our mental well-being.
Play gives you a space to let go of the stresses of life and this positive effect on your emotional well-being, improves mood and gives you a more positive outlook and better relationships.
Even in the most difficult times, taking time away from your troubles to play or laugh can go a long way to make you feel better.
Laughter really is the best medicine
There are so many ways to play, outdoor games, crafting, colouring, board games, swimming, hiking, lego, jigsaws, going barefoot, dancing, flying a kite, rollerskating, skimming stones in a river. Art, music and comedy are all play. The most important thing is to develop your playful side and get in touch with your inner child.
Surround yourself with playful people as much as you can. Find opportunities for laughing and giggling and allow yourself to enjoy them when they arise. Get into the habit of building small, pleasurable moments into your daily routine.
In the words of the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”
Play will keep you young at heart and engaged with life. The best thing about play is you are positively influencing your health while having fun.
If you make time and effort to build these practices into your daily routine, you will really reap the rewards and will quickly begin to notice significant improvements in your mental health and well-being.
You will feel happier, experience more inner contentment and be stronger and more resilient in dealing with any difficulties that may arise in your life