Dr Maurice Duffy, a mindset coach, stresses mental health care does not have to be complicated and can start easily at home with a just few straightforward pointers
Looking after your mental health doesn’t have to be complicated – small things can make a big difference to how you feel.
1) Create a bad day plan
“Self-care should be as integral a part of your routine as eating, bathing and sleeping, but when you’re in the thick of a bad day, it can be hard to take a step back and think clearly about how best to make yourself feel better,” says mindset coach Dr Maurice Duffy.
“The easiest way to ensure you have the tools you need is to create a self-care strategy – a “bad day plan” – which you should spend time developing when you are having a good day.
“A bad-day plan could include things like a pre-written self-compassion letter that will give you a pep talk when you are struggling, a mindfulness activity that works for you, a relaxation activity such as a bath, a plan to reduce your to-do list – what can you leave until later. Writing a worry journal can help you navigate what you’re feeling.
“Fill your freezer with nourishing home- made meals you can heat easily at times when everything feels like an effort.”
2) Take 10
“There’s a Zen proverb that says, ‘If you cannot afford 10 minutes a day for meditation, you must do it for an hour’. It’s essentially saying that if your life is so busy you cannot pause for 10 minutes, then you need to slow it down even more,” says Dr Duffy.
“Mindfulness meditation is an excellent place to start, drawing your attention to the present moment, letting go of any judgment about what you’re thinking or feeling.
“If you’re not sure where to start, try simple breathing techniques. Breathing is one thing we have control over, even though anxiety can make it feel like we don’t. The benefits are proven by science. By slowing your breath, you can change your body’s entire parasympathetic nervous system response. Or try a guided meditation – there are lots of easy-to-follow videos on YouTube.”
3) Say thanks
“Expressing or feeling gratitude has been shown to promote happiness and guard against anxiety and depression,” says psychologist Dr Alison McClymont. “It has been shown to reduce stress, decrease cortisol levels (our body’s main stress hormone) and increase overall mental wellbeing.
“But there are physical benefits too. Practising gratitude has even been shown to correlate with lowered risks of heart disease and some cancers, as well as improving symptoms for autoimmune diseases. It’s thought to help people sleep longer and better, with fewer reports of aches and pains.”
Try using a gratitude jar. Write down something you are grateful for each day and pop it in a jar. Over time, the jar will fill and if you need a pick-me-up, pull notes out as a reminder of the positives.
If you prefer, you could make a gratitude collage. Simply take photos of things you are grateful for, from flowers to family members, and when you have collated enough, put them together on a large piece of paper. Pop it on the fridge or just keep it in a drawer to refer to when you’re feeling down.
4) Always look on the bright side?
“All of us will have had to deal with bad news, a toxic email, a dismissive look or a broken relationship at some point. These are times when our mindset is of most importance,” says Dr Duffy.
“The voice in our heads is almost always dramatic and exaggerated, and while we cannot change the events that are external to us, we can choose how we respond. We may be tempted to be negative and imagine worst-case scenarios, become highly critical of ourselves, or worry what people think of us, but we can also choose to be positive, courageous, self-trusting, accepting, goal setting, action orientated or patient.”
While we are often told to think positive, or look on the bright side, in reality it’s not that simple. Having one response to all situations is not helpful for many of us and positive thinking doesn’t work for everyone – it can even exacerbate a problem for some. If you are always just trying to be positive or happy you may dismiss your significant feelings and fail to address their root cause.
“Sometimes it is better to pause, bring yourself back to the present and level with yourself about how you feel, then formulate a realistic plan to decide what you can do to best alleviate those feelings.”
5) Keep moving
“In whatever way you can, set aside time to move each day – 30 minutes of exercise can make a massive difference to your health, mindset and wellbeing,” says Dr Duffy.
Dr McClymont adds: “Exercising is scientifically proven to stave off depression and anxiety, and even in extreme sufferers it has been shown to reduce their symptoms thanks to the increase in serotonin and endorphins (happy hormones), which are released when we exercise.
“Working out in the outdoors has been shown to increase release significantly due to the added impact of vitamin D and sun exposure on our brain chemistry.
“So while it may not always be tempting to get yourself outside for a run when the weather is dark and cold, the old adage ‘the only workouts you regret are the ones you didn’t do’ is rarely wrong.”
That doesn’t mean we all need to head to the gym.
“Go outside for a walk, jog or run, or do a quick at-home workout,” suggests Dr Duffy. “Just make sure you stop every couple of hours and do something – anything. Try a few push-ups, crank up the music and have a 20-minute dance party in your living room, run up and down the stairs. It doesn’t have to be structured or super intense, any movement helps to connect our mind and our bodies.”
6) People power
“Negative relationships are highly detrimental to our mental health,” says Dr Duffy. “Whether with a partner, friend or family, it’s important that you invest your time in people that make you feel good about yourself and add value to your life.
“As they say, never allow people with dirty shoes to walk through your brain.
“Taking small steps to improve your relationships can make a big difference to your mental wellbeing and improve the way you feel about yourself and the other people in your life.
“This can include sharing any vulnerability to help create some deeper intimacy.
“Small gestures, even a hug or quick message to say you miss your partner when they are out, will keep the spark alive and remind them you are thinking about them.
“To make relationships stronger, a rule of thumb is to try to offer five times as many positive than negative statements in your discussions, and that also includes your arguments and disagreements.”
Categories: Mental Health News