Positive day-to-day habits are essential for a happy, healthy life. That’s because it’s the smaller habits that set the tone for how we handle the “big” stuff. Not only can good habits give us a much-needed mood boost but, over time, they can also help build our resilience so we’re better equipped to deal with life’s ups and downs.
Your daily habits don’t need to be excessive or ground-breaking. In fact, the more simple and straight-forward they are the better – as the more likely you are to follow through with them… And the more you follow through with them, the quicker you’ll see results, incentivising you to keep going!
Before we dig deeper into these habits, it’s important to say that any change always needs to start with motivation. So before you do anything, get really clear on why you want to be making these changes. It can help to draw up a pros and cons list so your why is loud and clear and easy to return to whenever you find yourself low on motivation.
What are 5 ways to improve mental health? Daily habits for mental health you can start putting into action today
Start practising mindfulness – mindfulness has received a lot of attention over the last few years – and for good reason. It’s a powerful tool that can help you get more familiar with the stories of the mind while also grounding you in the here and now. Starting your day with a short mindfulness meditation is a great way of harnessing these benefits. A quick morning meditation will give you an understanding of your emotional state so you can plan a day that is sensitive to that. Longer term, you’ll also develop greater awareness around any unhelpful thinking patterns so that they don’t end up dictating your mood.
Prioritise movement and getting outdoors – it may sound simple but modern living has left many of us living a sedentary lifestyle. Both exercise and sunlight are essential for keeping our happy hormones topped up. Exercise releases feel-good hormones, endorphins and serotonin, which provide a natural boost and trigger positive feelings in the body. Through movement, the body also becomes better at managing the stress hormone, cortisol. Ideally, we also want to be getting as much daylight exposure as possible – especially during the winter months. Light has been linked to relieving problematic physiological symptoms like headaches, tension, sleep difficulties etc. And lack of light has also been linked to low mood. If you can, try and incorporate the two e.g. cycling into work or going for a brisk walk through your local park during your lunch break.
Start a gratitude practice and/or journal – Practising gratitude may sound wishy-washy to some but it’s simply about training the brain to see the positive things in life, instead of focusing on the negative. When we express gratitude, we shift the focus away from more negative emotions, making it harder to ruminate or “get lost in” negative experiences. Start by making a list of 3 things you’re grateful for everyday, in your phone or diary. Ask yourself, what is there to be grateful for in this moment right now? Likewise, if you find yourself frequently getting stuck in a negative loop, journaling can be a really helpful practice as it helps get difficult thoughts and feelings down on paper bringing greater clarity and perspective. Whichever one you choose, try sticking to the same time everyday. That way it can become a ritual and will be easier to stick to. Choose a quiet space – somewhere that you know you won’t be disturbed. It can help to make the space cosy and welcoming so it’s something you look forward to.
Make self-kindness and self-compassion a priority – most of us talk to ourselves in a way we’d never dream of speaking to a friend. Start paying attention to the way you speak to yourself and the kinds of stories your mind likes to tell. When you notice that you are being hard on yourself, pause and question whether it is fact or opinion. Ask yourself, “is there any evidence to support this belief I have about myself?”, “Is there a more balanced and compassionate way of looking at myself?” You can even try offering yourself some encouraging words like, “I’m here for you”, “you’ve got this”, “I believe in you”.
Start therapy – if you’re struggling, don’t suffer in silence. A therapist can help you unravel what’s at the root of your difficulties, and come up with a plan for change.
A final word – remember repetition is the name of the game! The more you do something the more you strengthen neural pathways in the brain associated with that action or habit i.e. behaviours become habits through repetition after which they become “automatic”. So keep at it – with some practice, these new habits will soon become second nature.