With life for everyone feeling a little crazy at the moment, maintaining your mental health and wellbeing is more important than ever. Luckily, NHS research suggests that there are steps we can all take to improve our mental health and wellbeing. With additional reflections from our very own mental health nurse and resident mental health blogger, Christopher Bye, below are five simple steps healthcare professionals and indeed anyone can take to help make the most out of life at this challenging time.
Step one - Connect with others
When it comes to improving your mental wellbeing, good, healthy relationships are key. As well as enabling you to build a sense of belonging and self-worth, connecting with and building relationships with family, friends and colleagues are an ideal way to share positive experiences and form emotional support networks between you and those closest to you.
Christopher adds, "They say 'strangers are the friends we haven't met yet' so I believe this advice is also relevant when you're out and about. Taking time - at a safe distance, of course - to share a smile or a nod can work wonders for your mood but may also make a huge difference to someone else's day, especially if that person doesn't have another person or family members to go back home to."
There are plenty of things you can do to help construct stronger, closer relationships with friends, family and colleagues, even during lockdown:
- Spend time with those in your household - take time to be with those you live with. Try arranging a fixed time to eat a meal together.
- Catch up with friends - thanks to technology, there are plenty of ways to connect with loved ones. Video-chat apps such as WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom are perfect for connecting with multiple people or seeing a friendly face. Or, pick up the phone instead; hearing a familiar voice can really help improve your mood.
- Avoid being over-reliant on technology - yes, technology may be an excellent way of staying connected with others, but try not to rely on it too heavily. Texting, emailing and instant messaging are great for a quick catch up, but shouldn’t be a substitute for actually talking to someone.
Remember, if you are struggling to connect with others, the NHS apps library offers a wide range of free online community support.
Step two – Embrace exercise, rest and relaxation
Taking part in regular exercise is scientifically proven to improve, not just your physical health and fitness, but your mental wellbeing, too. Setting regular goals or challenges is a great way to keep your mind focused, while chemical changes in the brain can help positively change your mood and raise your self-esteem. Just as important is getting rest and relaxing. Christopher adds, "For some, movement and exercise can become as relaxing as still meditation. Even just taking a walk in the fresh air for a few short minutes each day helps cultivate a sense of wellbeing as we focus on the smaller things like the sounds and sights of nature."
Getting active needn’t be difficult. Try going for a walk or take your bike out for a spin. The NHS even offers a great ‘Couch to 5K’ podcast to help you get into running. Better still, it’s free to download.
Not keen on exercising in public? Train from the comfort of your own home instead. There are some great fitness videos on YouTube to suit all ages and abilities.
Step three - Learn new skills
Learning new skills is a fantastic way to improve your mental wellbeing and keep your mind active, especially during extended periods of downtime. Picking up new skills can also help boost self-confidence, raising self-esteem and can even help add a sense of purpose to your everyday life. Some skills can even allow you to connect with others, ideal for lockdown.
Learning new skills needn’t take up too much of your time, either. Here are some ideas to help keep you occupied during your spare time:
- Cooking - learn to cook something new each day. There are plenty of healthy recipes and tips just waiting to be discovered on sites such as BBC Food.
- DIY - stop putting off those simple jobs around the house. Try erecting some shelves or hang those pictures you’ve had lying around for years. There are plenty of free tutorials online.
- Work-related skills - take on more responsibility at work by mentoring a junior staff member or improving your presentation skills.
- New hobbies - taking up a new hobby will give you something to focus on. Learn to paint, take up a new sport or start writing a blog or short story.
Step Four – Display acts of kindness
As simple as it might seem, acts of kindness, no matter the size, can really help improve your mental state. These deeds create positive feelings and a sense of reward, as well as giving you a sense of purpose and self-worth. What’s more, your generosity will help others and can even allow you to connect with those you aid.
Here are some options to consider:
Saying ‘thank you’ might not seem a lot, but it can really brighten someone’s day
Ask a friend, family member or colleague how they are and really listening to their answer
Offer to help a vulnerable member of society
Volunteer in your local community
Step five – Live in the moment
As simple as this might sound, many of us are guilty of ignoring the present day. Instead, we’re either casting our minds back into the past, perhaps dwelling on our mistakes, or racing off into the future, fretting over events that are yet to happen.
By taking note of your body, mind and the world around you in the present moment, you can significantly improve your mental wellbeing.
Allowing yourself to appreciate the moment, understand yourself and enjoy life can really aid your mental health. Often referred to as ‘mindfulness’, this process can have a positive effect on your life and help you to approach new challenges with a different mind-set.
Find out more
If you are keen to learn more about improving your mental wellbeing, CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) offers help and support for those in need. Visit thecalmzone.net for more information.
You can also access free wellbeing resources from our wellbeing toolkit.