We’re fans of the big things you can do to boost your mental health—therapy, deep breathing, delegating calling the cable company to someone else. But there are plenty of little moves that can help improve your mental health as well. Any of these 18 (and ½) little moves could have a big impact on your well-being and help relieve anxiety, keep you connected, release frustration and improve your resilience.
01. Pay Attention
Anxiety is about the future (will I hit this deadline?) and the past (did I mess up in that meeting?). To anchor yourself to the present, former monk Jay Shetty, author of Think Like A Monk, recommends that you make a mental note of the following when your mind starts to race:
02. Astound Yourself
Research has found that when you experience something awe-inducing, your own problems often seem less important. These Instagram accounts hit that.
@babaktafreshi, a National Geographic photographer who captures all the patterns and drama of the night sky.
@chrisburkard, a photographer who visits amazing places that remind you of nature’s power.
03. Step Out
A 90-minute walk in nature, if you’re a city dweller, has been shown to reduce rumination or repetitive negative thoughts. The OS Maps app, which helps you plan hikes and walks, has a ‘Greenspace’ function that identifies nearby parks, nature reserves and public gardens, wherever you are in the UK.
04. Curb Your News Time
Browse headlines in the morning, but don’t spend your day hitting refresh. In one study from the International Journal Of Behavioral Medicine, when students watched the news for only 15 minutes, it heightened anxiety and mood disturbance, unless immediately followed by a short relaxation exercise.
05. Troubleshoot Pre-trouble
It’s not worrying; it’s strategising. If you prepare for difficulties and think about how to handle them, problems are less likely to throw you off, explains Dr Emily Balcetis, an associate professor of psychology at New York University. Athletes do it – they train for how they’ll recoup if they fumble a pass or drive a golf ball into the rough.
06. Use The 10-10-10 Rule
When you’re in an anxiety whirlpool about a decision you need to make, Suzy Welch, author of the book 10-10-10, recommends that you ask yourself what the consequences of your decision will be in:
This can keep your right-now emotions from ruling your decision, and can clarify your priorities – which lets you make a commitment and move on.
07. Check Your Mental Playlist
‘What are the top five feelings on your emotional playlist?’ asks Oren Jay Sofer, a meditation teacher who appears on the Ten Percent Happier app. Are you frustrated, angry, judgemental? Acknowledging what you are feeling and how often the feelings arise can help you see those emotions for what they are. And that can help you manage them.
08. Hear People Out, Even When It’s Hard
When you’re dealing with someone difficult, tell them, ‘I hear you,’ says Bill Eddy, co-founder of High Conflict Institute. You don’t have to say that they’re right, but you should sincerely acknowledge their frustration, even if that’s the opposite of what you want to do. Showing that you’re listening can help to calm the situation down.
09. Be Less Predictable
A little change to your daily habits may lead to a happier life, suggests a study in Nature Neuroscience. Novelty drives dopamine release, which makes you feel good. Go small: try re-engineering your morning routine or walking a different route on your lunchbreak.
10. Book In For A Treatment
Not only will it work through those office aches, but a 15-minute back massage is enough to release the ‘bonding’ or ‘cuddle’ hormone, oxytocin, according to a study of 95 people by the University of California San Diego Medical Center.
11. Get Your Game On
Behaviour coach Mari Verano recommends collaborative games rather than competitive ones to build communication skills and camaraderie. Try the board game Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 – if the theme isn’t too close to home.
12. Diversify Your Listening Habits
‘Listening to the voices of people from other backgrounds provides [you] with an important opportunity to better understand their experience,’ says psychotherapist Babita Spinelli. That elicits greater empathy, which helps you move to a more shared experience, understanding others and yourself in a new way. If you’re in the habit of listening to the same five podcasts, try mixing things up by downloading a few that wouldn’t normally make it into your regular rotation; stories from people of other races, genders or simply those with life experiences very different from your own can be eye-opening.
13. Give A Little (Or A Lot)
It’s well-documented that doing good things for others can make you feel good yourself. ‘It can alleviate anxiety, depression and pain,’ says Dr Leela Magavi of Community Psychiatry in California. Here are a few ways to make a difference – that won’t cost you a thing:
Take a day off
Some companies offer a discretionary extra day of annual leave for employees who want to work for charitable causes. If yours does, take advantage. If it doesn’t, propose it.
Next, visit doit.life/grow
It’s an online database of volunteering opportunities, which you can search by interest or location. Ncvo.org.uk/ncvo-volunteering can help you find your nearest Volunteer Centre.
Or use easyfundraising.org.uk
Easy Fundraising donates to a charity of your choice in return for using its links while you shop online. Smile.amazon.co.uk works similarly. They’re both free of charge, too.
15. Sleep Less – For A While
If you’re having a hard time getting shut-eye, reset your system by cutting your sleep window to between five-and-a-half and seven hours a night, suggests psychotherapist Annie Miller. This will help to get your sleep drive working once more. When you start falling asleep more easily, gradually increase your time in bed. (But if it’s bedtime and you’re not feeling tired, don’t try to sleep.)
16. Get Dreamy
If you can’t get back to sleep in the middle of the night, try to remember a dream, suggests Dr Rubin Naiman of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Recalling a dream helps you let go of wakefulness or ‘daytime consciousness’. According to Dr Naiman, ‘The memory of a dream will take you into dream consciousness, and then you’re on the bridge to sleep.’
17 (& ½). Develop A Sweet Disposition
Research suggests the average adult only manages 3.7 portions of fruit and veg per day. It’s a sorry statistic given a 2020 Nutrients review of studies found that eating more fruits and vegetables (at least five servings each day) may protect against depressive symptoms and boost optimism. Raising this total by a portion and a half – a small kiwi and a large banana – could give your wellbeing a notable boost.
18. Tell Someone How You Really Are
Designer Kenneth Cole is betting it’s been a while since you told someone how you really are, which is why he and a coalition of mental health organisations launched howareyoureally.org, an initiative to get people talking about mental health. There, you can watch testimonials from front-line workers, celebrities and many others discussing mental health, and add your story.
This story originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of Men's Health.
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