Some of these ideas might seem obvious at first, but stay with us and think a bit further about how good sleep, the right food, regular movement, etc. can transform from a must-do routine into a powerful mental health booster.
In the practice of meditation, we say that things actually start to go downhill when the good days come. And you don’t meditate anymore because you ‘think’ (and even ‘feel’) that you are doing well.
Mental health care is a journey, a process, and the aim is to continually strive to become better at it. The better we take care of ourselves, the better we “be”-come. After all, isn’t that all we are hoping to be anyway? Better than today?
Let’s see how we can help our current selves be better future selves:
Get a full night’s sleep
Hands down, sleep is the most underappreciated gift we all have. I want to put emphasis on the word ‘have’ here since we really do. Just that we don’t really know enough about it to consider it so. Mother Nature’s way of healing us through possibly every single thing that you can think of - poor attention, injuries, or even PTSD - sleep is your best friend. And the best way you can ‘use’ this for you is by allowing yourself a full night’s rest - a solid 7 to 9 hours in bed - and then see how your productivity levels run in galore.
Try to maintain a steady sleep and wake-up time (even during the weekends and holidays!); keep away from gadgets two hours before sleeping and ease into a relaxing routine before bed (such as reading a book or enjoying a warm shower or a warm cup of milk) - all of this helps your brain and body to understand that it is now time to wind down - reflecting our respect to the beautiful gift of sleep that is so deserved.
When I think of eating well, I think of my older times when I was doing just the opposite - blind to the idea of it all and thus experiencing zilch awareness of the truly impressive world of eating… missing also a dollop of mindfulness in it! Little did I know that switching your fried omelet for boiled eggs alone could make a big difference! Berries, fatty fish, vegetables, fruits, and the whole arc of greens - consuming them help you feel positive and alert, keeping your nutrient needs, tummy, and mind happy. So go grab a fruit instead of a fried snack and stay with us here - your gut and brain will thank you.
Go out - breathe in some air and sunlight
It is inevitable to agree that just stepping outside of your home feels like an instant breather. A mood-booster too, I’d vouch. Getting out now and again not only gives you a change in headspace which is extremely beneficial, but this very change of air has the potential to give rise to the idea that you’ve been wanting to have for a while now. Additionally, it also gives you the opportunity to develop new perspectives, which could certainly help when you’ve been thinking about something (especially when we are thinking of solutions or out-of-the-box ideas).
But what about when you don't feel like you have the energy to go outside? Times when you just want to stay in bed? That’s fine too - give yourself this break. Sometimes you have to trust your body to get that much-needed rest - trust your subconscious, for it is smarter than you think. Besides, research shows that even staring out into the sky or a green plant for a few minutes can nourish our minds, making us feel even the slightest bit refreshed.
Ah! The old word ‘exercise’! Wracks our brains for many of us, doesn't it? But for good reason. Running, swimming, weight-lifting, dancing, yoga, or a combination of any - take your pick… and make it consistent. Doing any movement for a sustained period of time every day - whether it is for 15 minutes or 40 - releases feel-good hormones in our brains, which is good for our well-being. It’s as simple as that. Exercise is another underappreciated gift, and we should make the most of it.
Are you the more outdoorsy kind? Then go, grab your jacket and get out for a quick jog on a track you haven’t been to recently! Are you the musical-eared chap humming around everywhere you go? Grab your favorite instrument and try out that song that you were singing in the shower today! Are you the book-enthusiast in your gang? Are you a true-crime-podcast lover (secretly also doing some detective work yourself, solving puzzles in life)? Are you Da (pun intended) Vinci in your free time? Draw and paint your heart out! Pick your creative channel, and let it out. Let your emotions out. Let yourself feel.
Having feelings and emotions are normal, are they not? We have organs in our body that are responsible for them, parts of the brain that enable them to be, simply because we need them to exist, being humans. So let’s let them be expressed, let’s honor them for what they’re bringing into our lives.
Write it down
You’ve heard these three words before - journal, journal, journal. Writing down your thoughts is one of the most creative ways of channelizing what is going on inside of you. Whether it is turbulence, a gentle breeze, or a meditative calmness - your brain is going to thank you for putting your voluntary finger muscles in play and achieving that clarity, which is just about to help you focus and perform better the very next moment by manifold!
Journaling indeed is a great way to take care of one’s mental health, and in general too is deemed as a good practice to better ‘think fast and slow (hi Mr. Kahneman)’, if done in a consistent manner.
How to get started: Try browsing through those pages first if you’re picking a journal up for the first time, take in the aroma of the sheets. Doodle if you want to, scribble even. Switch off gadgets around you, sit with the notebook and think with the pages open. An idea to start with is to ask yourself - what are 5 things I am grateful for at this very moment?
.. and let the rest flow like magic.
Invest in an activity that you find yourself enjoying
The key word here is ‘invest’. Invest some time every day - and resources (energy; money if it is for eg. a class) - on anything that you are currently experiencing enjoyment in. It could be learning a new language, a new instrument, getting some much-awaited progress on that green thumb of yours, enrolling yourself in a kickboxing class; and so on and so forth - the choice is yours.
This helps us think better. It helps us focus better. When you’re doing such activities for a certain time span, you are going to take the energy you gain here and apply it to wherever you need to. You could be somebody who is experiencing a little bit of stress at the workplace, or you could be somebody who is suddenly feeling numb from social activities (or anything in between really). Giving yourself the space to take in and give in to what you enjoy shows yourself the love, respect, and willingness to come out of whatever you are going through, with conscious effort and strengthening the belief that yes, you can.
The dark horse that is time
“Time heals all wounds.” - sounds familiar? So it is, and true it is. Give anything a bit of time, and it ‘becomes’ better. Scientifically plausible, you ask? I have an answer.
Time allows your head that space where it can think, digest and reflect. Reflections (such as “how do I feel about this?”) essentially are the pathways through which the mélange of nuances associated with our thoughts reach the forefront. As a bonus, the special ingredient in time provides the opportunity for your REM sleep to offer its magic - which pertinently improves and helps you come to better resolutions, providing you with the right energy and motivation to take and execute informed, well-thought-of steps.
Speak it out
I’m about to assert three more words to your toolkit diary - communicate, communicate, communicate. Expressing what you’re feeling in words is perhaps one of the best ways one can achieve insight, understanding, clarity (I could go on) - and all this JUST BY YOURSELF!
You could talk to a friend, a partner, a family member, or whoever you feel comfortable with, and you’ll soon see that just bouncing your thoughts off of another person might just open up new doors and avenues to what you’re going through. You could speak to a professional, someone who possesses the expertise backed by their knowledge and years of practice into helping you achieve what you’re looking for (which, to be fair, many a time we don’t even know what that looks like for us).
Having a good psychologist who you feel at ease with, and with whom you feel yourself (very important), can actually help you navigate through the various myriads in the challenges that life often throws us in. Together, you come to emerging perspectives and “aha”s that you alone maybe hadn’t thought of before. And these very perspectives could just be those doors you were looking for all along.
Wrapping it up
So go out there, open your arms and take a deep breath. Smile and be grateful - for you’re already here starting to become better. Boost and embrace yourself for what is coming ahead! Write, sketch, run, eat, sleep, express - do what it takes to keep yourself good. Maintain that positivity, maintain that high, maintain that improvement - for every day is really a continuum, full of surprises and lessons!
Let’s use what we have to better ourselves. Let’s respect our mental well-being with the space that it truly deserves; let us understand that one can only help themselves and others when one is strong. Let’s build this toolkit for ourselves; let us be the support and pillar that beckons the joy of like-mindedness both within, and around us.