I should start by saying that I am not a mental health expert or professional. I am only speaking here from my own experience.
If you are struggling with mental health challenges I recommend that you speak to your doctor or a counsellor, even a trusted friend, but please do speak to someone.
Prioritising mental wellbeing will mean different things to different people, but for me it is primarily about doing things that help me manage my anxiety and stress levels.
I recently heard Ariana Huffington say something along the lines of,
“Stress itself is unavoidable but an accumulation of stress isn’t”.
I’ve listed out below, some simple, day to day practices that I try to follow (emphasis on try) to prioritise my mental well-being.
Of course it doesn’t always work though. These aren’t a fix all magic potion, and I still have days where my anxiety is off the charts, and I still have spells where I’m feeling exceptionally low. That’s ok, that will happen, it’s not a failure, but is simply part of being human — We all have Mental Health, as much as we all have Physical Health. (When I get those spells though, I’m getting better at reaching out for help)
Hopefully some of these tips will help you too!
Remembering what I’m thankful for day to day really gives me perspective on things. It’s so easy to get caught up in negative thinking patterns. Taking some time to think about what I am grateful for is definitely a way that I ground myself.
Some people practice this through meditation, or yoga, for some it may be a religious, or spiritual experience.
For me personally, it is a way to settle my racing mind. When my head is all over the place and I need to try and calm it down a bit, I do some breathing exercises. I take, just a few minutes, and really try to focus on deep, slow breaths in and out. When I’m starting to feel the stress and anxiety rise, just pausing for a couple of minutes and doing this brings me back to a much calmer state of mind — there are loads of websites and apps out there that can help you with this.
I’m also trying to approach other things in life with mindfulness, so that whatever I’m doing in that moment, I’m fully engaged with it. That could be making and enjoying a cup of coffee, or a meal, or playing with my kids after work.
Be near a window
I’m not a fan of winter. Don’t get me wrong, I love a cool crisp winter’s day, and I love a roaring fire to sit beside at night, but I really don’t like the persistent gloominess and lack of daylight that winter often brings.
I think it’s so important all the time, but especially in winter, to get exposure to as much natural light as possible.
Put your desk or workspace near a window if you can.
I recently turned my desk around, so that I am now facing a window, rather than having my back to it, and the impact on my day to day mood has been noticeable.
I don’t sit and stare out the window all day, but being able to look up from my screen and see outside is amazing. A little reminder that the sun still rises and sets each day.
If you can, try and keep active. Get out for a walk during the day, do some pilates or yoga in the morning or evening, do something to stay physically active. I try and take a lunchtime walk, and I try to make sure I am cycling (out on the road, or on an indoor trainer) at least 3 times a week.
It doesn’t just have to be when you’re off work either. In a panel at ‘The Next Web’ conference recently, someone said,
‘Not all meetings have to be video meetings. If you can, attend a meeting by phone, stick your headphones in and go for a walk while still being part of the meeting.’
I really think that is an excellent idea, and one that I’m trying to do where I can.
During your work day, make sure to take breaks, for a cup of coffee, for lunch, even just a couple of minutes between tasks, but do take breaks.
You need that time to let your brain recharge.
I used to be really really terrible at working straight through tea breaks, lunch breaks, skipping lunch or eating at my desk, but now I make a conscious effort to step away from the computer and eat some food, have a coffee, or read a book for 10 minutes.
When you are done with work for the day, or weekend, or for an extended break, then be done!
Be fully present and connected to your work when working, and be fully disconnected and offline from work when you are off.
If you can, take work emails and messengers off your phone — I’ve done this recently in a real effort to switch off when I need to be off — I’m not going to lie it’s hard to do, but I think it is worth it.
As much as we don’t like to think like this, you are replaceable to your work, you are not replaceable to your family and friends.
Use social media with intention
We can’t escape social media, and for sure there is some good stuff on there, but try to use it with intention rather than just scrolling aimlessly through all the content that is being thrown at you — you will never consume it all.
Only consume what is interesting and helpful to you.
At the start of the pandemic I took myself off Facebook for a bit, and it was one of the best things that I did. I do still dip back in and out now on occasion, but only for a specific purpose, not just for a browse.
I removed most (not quite all) of the social media apps from my phone, to make it harder for me to use them out of habit.
I also switched off 90% of notifications on my phone, so that the only things that notify me are either important, or things that I genuinely want to be notified about.
As a side note, if you are a creator, then create more than you consume.
Limit news consumption
For the most part, the news and media can be pretty depressing at the best of times, and right now I find it almost unbearable, but yet I can’t stop reading and watching it.
I now try to limit my news consumption to once or twice a day maximum, and actually would love to reduce that even more.
Also, I try to avoid reading the news first thing in the morning as it will affect my mood for the whole day, or last thing at night as then I can’t sleep!
Find a pastime that brings you joy
For me, that is cycling. I really love getting stuck into cycling, and when I’m feeling low, or my anxiety is up, then cycling helps me to refocus a bit. It ties in to mindfulness as well, when you find that interest that you can devote time and energy to, then you end up practicing mindfulness by default when doing it. It could be something sport related, or cooking, or reading, anything at all really.
Stay hydrated and eat well
I still probably don’t get close to my recommended 2 litres of water a day, or my 5 fruit and veg, but I make an effort to try.
When I make sure I’m looking after myself physically, I feel better, both physically and mentally.
Give yourself permission to do nothing
It's ok to do nothing sometimes. You don’t have to hustle, 24/7, work all day, then work all night on a side project, you don’t always have to be productive.
If you are a driven person and can do and sustain that, then great, but we aren’t all Gary Vaynerchuck or Elon Musk.
Sometimes you just have to stop, and do nothing, and that is ok.
You can’t look after yourself (or others) if you aren’t rested, which leads me to my final point
It’s hard when you have kids, that’s for sure, but I try and get about 8 hours a night. There are a few things that I do to try and maximise the chances of getting as best a nights sleep as possible.
- Sticking to a routine. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. I go to bed about 10pm and get up around 6am.
- Not taking my phone to bed with me. It stays in another room.
- I have a natural light alarm clock which is much less of a jolt to wake up to.
If I’m not well rested, I’m much more easily irritated, which then feeds right back into negative mental health.
All of these are little practices and habits that I try my best to do, to prioritise my mental wellbeing.
I’d love to know if you have any more tips, or suggestions on how to prioritise mental wellbeing? Or if you try some of the things above and they really work for you, let me know!
Remember, it is ok to find things tough, and although asking for help is so incredibly difficult to do, and at times emotionally, and mentally draining, it’s also pretty important.