PROVEN WAYS TO IMPROVE YOU
We live in a paradoxical world. Our quality of life is improving. We’re living longer. There is less worldwide poverty, famines, and war. And yet, we feel stressed and drained. A national survey between 2012 and 2014 found that 18% of U.S adults over the age of 18 had a mental illness of some kind. In England, there has been a 12.8% percent rise in the number of people experiencing anxiety related problems between 1993 and 2007. It seems that everyone knows at least one person who is on antidepressants.
The question is, what can we do to help ourselves keep our mental health in check? We know that picking up more healthy habits can help us, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin. Exercise, organic living, a vegan diet, journaling, mantras… There are many suggestions and yet there doesn’t seem to be enough time to do it all.
The best thing to start with is usually sleep. Making sure we get enough sleep is essential. When our sleep suffers, our mental health suffers, and the other way around. When we’re anxious, we might find it hard to sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, our body is on alert, and our body doesn’t function optimally. Lack of sleep can compromise your immune system, and lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental and physical health problems.
But what happens when we suffer from insomnia? Practising sleep hygiene can help us fall asleep faster and improve the quality of our sleep. Sleep hygiene can include disconnecting from phone screens for an hour before bed, going to sleep at the same time every night, and practising a pre-bed routine. A night-time routine can include things like a nice shower, journaling, reading or even setting up an oil diffuser or candles to release some relaxing scents. Some studies have shown that aromatherapy with lavender can help improve sleep and de-stress. Valerian oil, vanilla, and rose can also aid relaxing and help promote sleep. Adding a few drops of oil to your nighttime bath can also help you feel the benefits.
Once you feel that you have your sleep settled, a mindfulness practice is another free (but not necessarily easy) way to help restore balance in your life. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, and meditation is the most popular way of practising it. Meditation can help reduce depression and anxiety and improve other aspects of psychological well-being. There are many free apps and online videos that can guide you as you experiment with meditation, or you can just find as little as a five-minute break in the day to sit and try to focus on your breathing. Of course, as you do this, thoughts will appear. The trick is to try and notice the thoughts without getting caught up in them, and to then guide your attention back to your breath. There are other forms of meditation, such as loving-kindness meditations and body scans, which can help you unwind and relax. A lying down audio guided body scan in bed can be the perfect way to drift off to sleep.
If meditation isn’t your thing, don't get in a tangle, there are other ways to practice mindfulness. Embodied movement practices like yoga, tai chi and qi gong can help you build the capacity of noticing what’s going on right now. You can join a class or practice at home by yourself - possibly as part of your morning or evening routine.
The third part of the wellness triangle is movement and exercise. You probably already know how important exercise is for your physical and mental health. The problem for many people is finding a way to do it consistently. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all solution. While some people have no problem fitting in a daily gym visit, many others struggle. Common hacks can include: finding a podcast or audiobook that you only listen to when you go for a walk; making a commitment to a friend to work out together; finding a weekly sports class you enjoy (anything from boxing to yoga); or going to sleep in workout clothes and getting the exercise out of the way first thing in the morning.
If your sleep is good (or you can’t seem to fix it yourself) and you have your mindfulness and exercise routine in place, but you still need some extra help, there are many types of alternative treatments that might help you find balance in your life and body. Many people report success with acupuncture for reducing anxiety, for example. Others have more success with practices like shiatsu massage, somatic experiencing, water therapy or reiki. What works best for your friend might not work for you, so you might need to shop around before you land on the treatments that you connect with.
In addition to the above, remember that a balanced routine tends to lead to a happier life. A healthy diet with a variety of fruit, vegetables, and fermented food contributes to a healthy mind and body. Making sure you make time to socialise is essential, as well as having time by yourself to unwind. Creative expression, hobbies, and rest go a long way in de-stressing and setting up a healthy lifestyle. The more you put these things into practice, the better you will feel - and the easier it will be to make these choices for yourself.
At the end of the day, we need to learn to care for ourselves as we would a child or a dear friend. You are the only person who is with you day in and day out, from birth until the end. Learning how to become our own best friend, parent, and caregiver, is the best gift we can give to ourselves.