5 simple daily habits that will transform your mental health
Had problems with your wellbeing in the past? These 5 daily habits will help turn you around.
I’ve experienced depression on and off since my late teens, with major incapacitating episodes occurring at 17, 20 and 31. Although they affected me greatly at the time, they haven’t stopped me achieving academically, being promoted, having a family and a few other external markers of success.
Until my mid 30s, I bumped around unaware of the practices that would help me stay on a more even keel. If I was doing well then I put it down to luck and hormones, but in 2016 something made me reflect on what needed to happen daily for me to be more mentally healthy.
Habits are better than trusting luck
I was listening to a podcast interview with businessman James Altucher. He mentioned 4 practices that had helped him recover more quickly than usual from his periodic episodes of depression. As I listened, I realised that his list was similar to my own daily habits when my mental health was good. They weren’t flashy. There were no magic bullets but, together, they seemed to work. I share my list here because it’s good to have clear steps to maintain wellbeing and good ongoing mental health, as well as knowing how to take emergency steps to avoid burnout if it’s close by.
5 daily habits proven to improve mental health
This one sounds cheesy, but it works. Since 2015 I’ve kept a gratitude journal. My partner gave it a try for a month after she read a newspaper article and I thought I would, too. Each night before bed, I write three things that I’m grateful for that have happened that day. We both found it so beneficial that we still do it to this day. I noticed that even on the crappest of days, there is still something to appreciate, especially if I’m looking out for it.
Exercise and personal health
This is the habit I’m most likely to skip. On teaching days I can leave the house at 06:45 and get home 10- 11 hours later. Additionally, I drive to work, so don’t benefit from the built-in walk to the station that I have on days when I’m working in London. However, I’ve noticed that when I regularly take the dog for a longer walk, or find ways to build walking into my daily regime, it definitely improves my mood. I hate the gym, but last year when I went to a climbing wall every Monday after work for a few months, and I felt elated. Eating healthily is also included here. Generally I‘m good with this, but it’s also the first thing to slip if I’m not doing well.
I stumbled across this in 2011, when I took up photography. I’d wanted something that was entirely for me, and wasn’t work or family related. For several months I’d go out every evening and take photographs. Since then I’ve branched out a bit and have much more creativity in my personal and work life: my photography lead me to create Mindshackles a multimedia project about how different people use leisure and hobbies to improve their mental health, I’m writing more which lead to The Unexpected Leader my book about leadership , have made a short documentary, and now host and produce a bi monthly podcast. I don’t always manage every day but, generally, small acts of creation have greatly improved my life. In fact, this blog post is my creativity for today.
I’m pretty self sufficient and am happy in my own company. However, I also like people and have lots of people in my life who care about me. Relationships and social interaction are key to maintaining good mental health – there’s a reason why solitary confinement is a severe punishment. Obviously, technology helps here if there are long distances involved, but I always feel that meeting face to face and in-person laughter can’t be beaten.
This is my own addition to list I originally heard in the interview. Since 2015 I used a mindfulness app called Headspace. I’d always thought meditation was a bit too ‘woooooo’, but 10 minutes using this app really works for me. I find myself much less reactive. I definitely notice the difference if I miss a day or two.
The science backs me up
You may be are reading this thinking ‘Yeah, yeah, Iesha. It works for you, but will it work for me?’ Weeeellll, yes actually. The researcher in me feels the need to point out that there is a good body of evidence to support my 5 points. They correspond well to The New Economics Foundation’s (NEF) 5 ways to wellbeing research: Connect, be active, give, take notice, keep learning. So you don’t just need to take my word for it.
It’s not possible to control external events, or even your hormones and natural chemical makeup, but these 5 simple daily habits really can help you improve your mental health and wellbeing. Try them yourself for a month, or forward this to somebody who you think will find it useful.
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