Eight surprising ways to improve your mental health
If you were asked for a few tips on how to improve mental health, you’d probably be able to list a lot of sensible advice – like the long term benefits of having a good sleep routine, eating plenty of vegetables, getting enough vitamin D, and having downtime from screens. But there are a few surprising extras that can boost mental wellbeing which may not automatically spring to mind… read on for some ways to add to your healthy habits!
Sit up straight!
We know that exercising and keeping active is really beneficial for mental health, but what about when we’re sitting still? There’s evidence that the way you sit can affect how you feel – slumping can trigger feelings of powerlessness and fatigue, while good posture can help you feel more energetic, uplifted, and able to handle stress. You don’t have to go full-on power pose: just straighten your back with your shoulders level, slightly stretch the top of your head towards the ceiling and gently lower your shoulder blades. Worth a try, right?
Clean a bathroom
‘Hang on,’ we hear you saying, ‘extra chores'? I thought this was supposed to be about feeling better!’ Feel free to skip this one, but it’s surprising how many people find it helpful. Firstly, it’s a manageable goal (one small room) and you’ll get a little dopamine hit of achievement once it’s done. That’s true for any task, but cleaning seems to have a special significance… like somehow you’re metaphorically cleaning out your inner world as you clean the outer one. (AND you get to bask in the added loveliness of a shiny bathroom afterwards...)
Try free writing
Throw all your school essay writing guidelines away and give free writing a go. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, neatness or punctuation, or even making sense (no one else needs to read it). Don’t stop for corrections or edits; just stay with it, in the moment. Writing out the flow of your thoughts can help unravel knotty problems – you may be surprised what connections pop up, or how your whirling thoughts and feelings crystallise into an insight you hadn’t expected. Set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes, start writing and keep going until the time’s up.
Sing with someone
Singing can improve your mental health in loads of ways: when we sing, we release the happy hormone oxytocin, we breathe better, our blood pressure lowers, and our heart-rate regulates. Plus, your mind’s engaged (you have to think about the words you’re singing) and you may also have an emotional response to the song – it’s a whole mind-heart-body thing.
With we sing with other people, it gets even better. We feel connected: singers even synchronise breathing and heartbeat patterns. If you’re feeling anxious, it can be a safe space to build confidence – no solos necessary. And if it’s not possible in real life, try a virtual karaoke on Zoom!
It seems that chewing gum can help reduce anxiety and lower the stress hormone cortisol. The studies are small so far, but there are indications that it can lift people’s mood, make it easier to deal with stress, and improve multitasking by increasing blood flow to the brain. Be your own case study and see if it works for you.
Have a safe cry
We often carry a lot of messages about staying strong, that ‘crying doesn’t achieve anything’, and it’s better to stay stoic and avoid tears altogether. Whereas actually crying is a powerful act of self defence by our bodies – it helps to complete the stress cycle, reducing cortisol, and stimulates the production of endorphins. Try tapping into this superpower by watching your favourite weepy movie or reading a moving book.
Sweat it out
Many of us love a sauna for a bit of relaxation time, but researchers have found it could actually be more effective for improving mental health than other types of pampering activities. The science suggests that raising your body temperature for a short period has an antidepressant effect, and more and more people are using saunas specifically to support their mental health. (Just remember it’s for SHORT periods – staying in for too long won’t increase the positive effect, and could lead to overheating.)
Do something you loved as a child
We’re talking about the random stuff you used to do for the pure joy of it. Stuff you should’ve grown out of by now. Building a pillow fort, running crazily down a hill, wearing a cape, collecting something unusual. We’re often trained early in life to work towards useful, measurable goals – and that can even happen for creative activities, if the outcome of a pretty picture becomes more important than the joyful flow of drawing. So go after the weird and wonderful, the wacky stuff you’ve almost completely forgotten. And then, for a bonus point: think about why you loved it so much. Getting back in touch with what lights you up inside can be life changing.
Were any of these a surprise for you? Which one are you going to try?
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All the products listed and suggestions made have been chosen as they are designed to help your mental health and as not intended as a replacement to more in-depth medical interventions. If poor mental health is having a serious and detrimental impact on your life, please make an appointment with your doctor or GP, or get in touch with any of the support services listed below:
⭐ Mind – www.mind.org.uk – 0300 123 3393
⭐ Samaritans – www.samaritans.org – 116 123
⭐ Rethink – www.rethink.org – 0121 522 7007
⭐ Gofal – www.gofal.org.uk - 01656 647722
⭐ Young Minds - Youngminds.org.uk
⭐ Find a counsellor near you:
🗣 British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy - www.Bacp.co.uk
🗣 Counselling Directory - www.Counselling-directory.org.uk
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