“You have to take care of your mental health every single day," was advice handed to me when I was smack-bang in the middle of depression.
At the time, that advice sounded daunting. I was working hard at trying to get up and survive each day; how on earth could I add more tasks into the mix? And that’s okay: sometimes just getting through, or tiny steps, is all we can manage.
Megan Blandford learned after a bout of depression that small steps taken every day can really support mental health.
But now that I’ve recovered, I completely relate. Now that there’s a little more space in life to keep my head well above water, I, too, do something every day for my mental health. This is how I stay well.
And the experts agree it’s a good approach. “It’s always good to be aware of how you’re feeling and the steps you can take to help you feel better,” says Dr Grant Blashki, Lead Clinical Adviser for Beyond Blue.
“We’re all busy juggling work, family and social lives but people who make time to look after their wellbeing are often better equipped when it comes to managing stress.”
Daily actions also mean that you’re keeping on top of how you’re feeling, rather than waiting for things to get bad before seeking help. “The earlier you get treatment for your mental health, the sooner you get back to feeling like yourself,” says Dr Blashki.
Here are some ideas for things research suggests you can do to help your mental health each day:
Move your body
Physical health has long been linked with mental health, but new research takes this even further. New research suggests that exercise can help to prevent depression, showing that getting on the move is important for each of us.
This doesn’t mean we have to spend hours at the gym each day – and certainly, high levels of exercise aren’t possible at some points of mental illness – but the researchers say, “Any activity appears to be better than none”.
Get into healthy routines
We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the simple daily habits we keep, says Dr Kaine Grigg, Founding Consultant Clinical Psychologist of MyLocalMind Inc.
“We need to be aware that our body functions in rhythms. Routine is key: sleeping routine, a healthy and nutritionally balanced eating routine, and an exercise routine are core daily routines we need to maintain,” Dr Grigg says.
Be a little mindful
Yes, it’s an overused term, but being mindful is a really quick and easy way to make a difference to your mental health.
“As little as five minutes per day of mindfulness practice has been demonstrated to physically change the part of our brain that detects threats in our environment and consequently triggers stress and anxiety,” says Dr Grigg.
“Considering mindfulness meditation exercises, yoga or other relaxation practices can help manage stress levels.”
Some favourites are the Smiling Mind app (which is also great with kids), 1 Giant Mind and Headspace.
Have a chat
If you’re struggling it can feel difficult to call a friend. But that connection is one of the best things we can do to help ourselves, and a bit of a chat is a great daily habit.
“We are social beings and lack of connection is a major predictor of depressive symptomology,” says Dr Grigg. “Regular face-to-face social connection is necessary for our mental health.”
Whatever it is that makes you feel good
Self-care means something different to each of us, so we shouldn’t get caught up in giving it a rule that it means going for a daily run or having a weekly bubble bath.
Experts say it’s important to do something that you find relaxing or pleasurable every day. It might be something small each day, but that adds up over the weeks and months to a great habit.
Ask for help
If you need help, it’s also vital to reach out to the experts.
Dr Blashki says, “If you are experiencing severe mental health issues or distress, including suicidal thoughts, it’s important to see a GP or mental health professional. There are 24-hour phone lines to support you, such as the Beyond Blue Support Service – 1300 22 4636 and Lifeline – 13 11 14.”
Megan Blandford is a freelance writer and the author of I’m Fine (and other lies).
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