Mental health has been a huge topic recently. 2020 definitely pushed its awareness to the next level. As we approach the end of the year, it is worth doing a quick audit of your physical and mental health levels. We have been through a lot.
How are you doing?
No I mean, really, how are you feeling physically and mentally?
Are you feeling hopeful for the future? Or still frustrated about everything going on in this crazy world?
Tell me somethin’, girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?
No matter whether you are into new year resolution or not, physical and mental health are something that we should always prioritise.
Make no excuse.
Lucky for us, there are many ways to improve our health.
And certainly, we don’t need to wait until next year to start.
10 things you can do now for better mental health
1/ Daily check-in
We start from the simplest thing you can do NOW. All it takes is one minute. When you wake up, ask yourself two questions:
1 How am I feeling now in my body?
2 How am I feeling now mentally?
Maybe you had a rough night. Your lower back is aching. Your throat feels dry. And you feel tired and groggy. Or, you had a good proportion of REM and deep sleep so you are feeling energetic.
Why these questions? Through this exercise, we get to vocalise our feelings and sensations. We get clarity of where we are at. From there, we know we can do something about those feelings. If you are feeling restless, you can do more stretches and drink more water to bring yourself to the optimal level. If you are feeling energetic, you can leverage the momentum and increase your performance and productivity.
Ultimately, sound mental health means being mindful about our well-beings and knowing what to do to maintain a good level. It is about mental fitness. To achieve that, mindfulness is crucial. We want to live our lives, not letting life drag us along.
We can also do another check-in during the day as an exercise to pause and reflect. Something bad happened in school or at work? Take a moment to ask yourself how you are feeling. Acknowledge those feelings. Pause. We want to respond to situations, not to react. We need a clear headspace to come up with better solutions and make better decisions.
Pro tip: we can set reminder on our phones for a set time of daily check-in so we won’t miss it!
As I always preach, getting clarity is the first step of everything.
When it comes to personal development, it is more important to understand yourself than to read all the self-help books in the world. What’s the point if you can’t read yourself?
Journalling is a great exercise to learn, and unlearn about yourself.
Why did you react this way today? What triggered you? What went well today? How could you replicate those good elements?
Many people think writing is a hideous process. I beg to differ. I am not asking you to write an essay. All you need to do is to convert your day, and your feelings in words. It can be scribbles. It can be in point forms. It doesn’t matter.
There is something powerful about turning emotions into words. The process of acknowledging and validating what we are feeling is beneficial to our mental health. We gain clarity in what we are going through in our head. Sometimes, looking at things from a different angle gives you new perspective and meaning. You might come up with new solutions as you write.
Start small. Start today.
3/ Daily workout
As mentioned million times on this blog, physical and mental health are related. Exercising is the keystone habit that improves every aspect of your life.
Working out improves your mood and boosts your performance. It helps you think and learn better. It leaves you feeling pumped and ready for any obstacles that come your way. It reduces stress. It improves your sleep quality. Not to mention other benefits to your body – weight loss, blood sugar and insulin levels and more.
Again, it doesn’t need to be complicated. Walk for 15 minutes after lunch. Have a stroll in the park nearby for 30 minutes. Stretch often. Baby steps will get you a long way. Start from walking for 5 minutes, and in no time you will be running 5km.
4/ Reduce sugar intake
I have a love-and-hate relationship with sugar. Who doesn’t love chocolate and sweet snacks? There is no need to mentaion what sugar will do to our physical health – our teeth, waistline and more. Do you know that sugar can affect our mental health as well? A recent study showed that sugar is linked to anxiety. Shocking. Researchers found out that high sugar consumption could increase the chances of recurrent mood disorders in both men and women. Regular consumption of saturated fats and added sugars is related to higher feelings of anxiety in adults over age 60. If you think that a cup of hot chocolate and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s can relieve stress, think twice. It turns out that sugary foods can weaken our ability to respond to stress. It also impairs our cognitive functioning and drains our energy.
What to eat in order to satisfy our sweet teeth then? Consume natural sugar from fruit or honey. We can all cut back on harmful substances if we are being more mindful… or simply care more.. As an Asian girl who grew up from strong milk tea culture, I couldn’t even imagine drinking milk tea, coffee or boba tea without sugar. But over the years, I learnt the importance of controlling sugar intake. Yes, we can change. Start from ordering “half sugar” to “a quarter sugar”, and eventually you can reply “no” confidently when the barista asks if you need any sugar in your coffee.
N.B. for more nutrition tips, consult your GP or nutritionist. This is just suggestion and personal experience.
5/ Protect your sleep
Again, this directly relates to both our physical and mental health. We all know the importance of getting 7-8 hours of sleep every day, but how serious are we committed to making it happen?
I have been struggling for a long time regarding sleep. I craved the warmth of my bed all the time, but at the same time I refused to even start winding down until it hits 00:00. For the longest time, I was always in a bad mood, I was always tired and I didn’t have motivation to go to work.
It doesn’t have to be like that.
Once we recognised the importance of sleep in our daily functioning, we would start treating it more seriously. Specifically, we can develop habits to ensure a good night’s sleep. It is called “sleep hygiene”. We can make a few tweaks in our sleep routine to improve the quality of our sleep.
First of all, try going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day. Everyone has different schedules, but do experiment and learn about your body clock. Over time, I made it a habit to get up early enough even though I don’t have work or school. I learnt to enjoy the morning quiet, peaceful moment for some quality deep work. Secondly, try to limit your screen time before bed. The last 30 minutes before you sleep should be spent winding down, journalling or reading, not to scroll your phone. Try not to bring your phone to your bed. The last thing you read or see before bed might impact your quality of sleep. Thirdly, improve your sleep environment. Get comfortable. If you suffer from neck or lower back pain, maybe it is time to get a better pillow or mattress. Make sure the room is dark enough and at a comfortable temperature.
6/ Cut back on social media usage
For sure, there is a lot of valuable information on the Internet. Literally gold everywhere. However we all know that if it’s not used properly, it can be a form of self harm.
Comparison. Creating a fake profile by masking our real lives. Leaving hateful comments on people we don’t like.
I do think that we should actively protect our energy (and possibly sanity). To do that, we need to be more mindful about the information we consume every single day. That’s why I don’t watch TV. I cut back on social media usage. When I have a few minutes to spare, I go to Instapaper and read articles I saved earlier on topics I’m interested in – mostly finance and entrepreneurship. I sometimes replace Instagram with a book. I replace listening to the radio with audiobook. Often times we might not notice how this is affecting us, but I think an importance lesson 2020 taught us is that we should practise selective ignorance by blocking out unnecessary information. That includes emails, news reports and social media.
Have a mental diet.
Read more on selective ignorance here.
7/ Be present
“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” – Lao Tzu
Are we really “there” when we are performing a task? Or are we constantly thinking about our task lists, our future appointments or worrying about what will happen next year?
Mindfulness is a practice.
As our society promotes productivity hacks and multi-tasking, it might be really hard to sit still and pay attention to the surrounding for even one minute.
I used to think meditation and the whole mindfulness topic is bullsh*t. I was constantly on the run. I always had my earphones on while I did the chores and jog. I was always on my phone even when I was in a foreign country enjoying my holiday.
I hated that life.
It was only until recently I started treating mindfulness more seriously. I got introduced to some grounding techniques to oambat my unwanted thoughts resulted from last year.
It was liberating.
It felt so good to be in the flow state, to just focus on one thing at a time.
Lucky for us, it is a skill that we can practise and get better at.
Be curious about what you see, feel, smell and hear.
Learn to be okay with just staying in the moment, instead of getting stuck in the past or worrying about the future.
8/ Practise self-compassion
Self-compassion is beneficial to our well-beings.
Are we contented with where we are now? Are we happy and satisfied?
Most people live a life of regrets and depression. They chase after goals but are never satisfied.
Happiness is not an end goal.
The mindset that successful people have is to measure the gain, not the gap. We look back to see how far we have come, not to keep comparing our current selves to the ideal stage. This is self-sabotaging. Sometimes, we are our worst critics.
Be kind to yourself. Respond to pain, obstacles and struggles with compassion. Acknowledge our emotions. Accept all parts of ourselves.
9/ Connect with loved ones
No matter how much you think of yourself as a loner or someone who loves being alone, human beings are social animals. Has the lockdown and pandemic made you feel lonely? Have you missed any sort of interaction?
Human connection keeps us sane. Our relationships also play a key role in our mental health. Bondings are important. Keep connecting to your loved ones and like-minded people. Call a friend. Do a favour for your family. The company of others makes us feel supported physically and emotionally. Human beings should not survive in isolation.
10/ Smile to a stranger
This is psychology.
Smiling can reduce stress, even if you’re only forcing that fake smile. Research has shown that smiling can lift your mood instantly.
When you smile to a stranger, there is a good chance that he or she will smile back. And this is when real magic happens. You feel so much better when you see that person smiles back to you. Smiling is contagious. Spread the positivity!
Don’t wait till next year to make a change. Start your journey to a better mental health today.
Which one are you going to try first?