Everyone knows that regular exercise and a balanced diet contribute to feeling better physically. But did you know that they also play an important role in your mental health?
This week (8 to 14 October) is New Zealand’s Mental Health Awareness Week, so we thought we'd give you a few tips to elevate your mood permanently. Here are 14 habits to feel your best every day.
1. DEVELOP GRATITUDE
Gratitude improves psychological health by reducing toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Research shows a link between gratitude and well-being which confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. Gratitude has also been linked to sleeping better, improving self-esteem, better physical health, having more empathy and less aggression. So get a journal and write down 3 things you are grateful for every day. Or try some free apps such as Happier and Attitudes of Gratitude Journal.
2. BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Treat yourself with kindness and respect, and avoid self-criticism. Make time for your hobbies and favourite projects, or broaden your horizons. Do a daily crossword puzzle, plant a garden, take dance lessons, learn to play an instrument or become fluent in another language.
We’re all different. It’s much healthier to accept that you’re unique than to wish you were more like someone else. Feeling good about yourself boosts your confidence to learn new skills, visit new places and make new friends. Good self-esteem helps you cope when life takes a difficult turn.
Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and look and feel better. Exercise keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy and is also a significant benefit towards improving your mental health by reducing stress and releasing endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria.
Try exercising outside. Research shows that being in nature can increase energy levels, reduce depression and boost well being. Being outside could also increase your vitamin D from the sun. Vitamin D helps boosts our mood and instantly makes us feel happier.
Protein powders will help you recover faster from intense exercise and keep you energetic for your next session. A healthy body is a big part of a healthy mind.
4. LEARN TO MANAGE STRESS AND RELAX
Like it or not, stress is a part of life. Practice good coping skills: Try One-Minute Stress Strategies, do Tai Chi, exercise, take a walk in nature, play with your pet or try journal writing as a stress reducer.
Try meditating, mindfulness and/or prayer. Relaxation exercises and prayer can improve your state of mind and outlook on life. In fact, research shows that meditation may help you feel calm and reduce anxiety.
5. EAT WELL
Your brain needs a mix of nutrients in order to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body. A diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health. Omega 3 fatty acids have been linked to reducing depression. Eating wild salmon, flaxseeds or walnuts will give you the omega 3 fatty acids your body needs, as well as boosting healthy gut bacteria. Proteins are also imprtant to good mental health. They are made up of amino acids and are important building blocks of life. As many as 12 amino acids are manufactured in the body itself and the remaining 8 essential amino acids have to be supplied through diet. Protein intake and in turn the individual amino acids can affect the brain functioning and mental health. Many of the neurotransmitters in the brain are made from amino acids. If there is a lack of any amino acids, there will not be enough synthesis of neurotransmitters, which is associated with low mood and aggression. Go Good whey protein has a complete profile, it contains all the amino acids that your body needs to maintain and repairs cells, which in turn helps promote good mental health. Include a wide variety of foods in your diet and eat protein with each meal. Refer to the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation's guide for more dietary information.
6. HANG OUT WITH YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY
There’s nothing better than catching up with someone face to face. Research shows people are 12 times more likely to feel happy on days that they spend 6-7 hours with friends and family. If being face to face isn't possible, why not give them a call, drop them a note, or chat to them online instead. Keep the lines of communication open: it’s good for you.
People with a strong family or social connections are generally healthier than those who lack a support network. Make plans with supportive family members and friends, or seek out activities where you can meet new people, such as a club, class or support group.
Volunteer your time and energy to help someone else. You'll feel good about doing something tangible to help someone in need — and it's a great way to meet new people. Volunteering with and for others increases social interaction and helps build a support system based on common commitment and interests - both of which decrease depression. For volunteering opportunities throughout New Zealand, visit Seekvolunteer.
8. PLAN SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO
It could be an overseas trip or a long weekend away with friends. The simple act of planning a holiday can give us something to look forward to, which can boost our mood for up to 8 weeks!
9. DITCH YOUR PHONE
Going off the grid helps relax us by reducing anxiety caused by constant interruptions from texts, calls and emails. Choose to leave your phone at home when you head out, and catch up with someone face to face instead. Live in the moment and enjoy the freedom from technology.
10. GET A PET
Spending time with an animal has been proven to lower cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and increase oxytocin - the love and happiness hormone. They can provide company and emotional support around the clock, as well as give you something to care for which provides a sense of purpose and structure to your day. If you don't have a pet, hang out with a friend who does or volunteer at a shelter.
11. DO SOMETHING NEW
Although our routines make us more efficient and enhance our feelings of security and safety, a little change of pace can perk up a tedious schedule. Alter your jogging route, test drive a new car, hang some new pictures or try a new restaurant.
12. STAY ORGANISED
Having some organisation during a stressful or chaotic time can put a bit of security back into your life. There are many things we can't control, but being organised can give us that sense of control and certainty. Try prepping your meals in advance, planning your clothes for the week or making a cleaning roster and sticking to it. You might just save some time and feel a bit more relaxed and in control.
Research shows that laughter can boost your immune system, ease pain, relax your body and reduce stress. When we laugh we release endorphins, the "feel good" chemical, which provides short-term relief from tension and worry. Whether it's joking with friends or watching silly cat videos on Youtube, laughing helps keep us happy.
14. SHARE YOUR FEELINGS AND ASK FOR HELP
If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help. Your family or friends may be able to offer practical help or a listening ear.
Seeking help is a sign of strength — not a weakness. And it is important to remember that treatment is effective. People who get appropriate care can recover from mental illness and addiction and lead full, rewarding lives. See Ministry of Health for more information on where to find help.
If you can't talk about it; write it down. Getting it out on paper will help you leave behind troubling feelings and experiences, reducing depression.