As a counsellor I spend time exploring with guys what self-help might look like and especially practical tools that can be used daily. Below are some useful ideas that you can try in order to improve and maintain good mental health.
Writing down and expressing thoughts and feelings is a good way to make sense of what is going on for us. After studying the effects of journaling, researchers at Michigan State University found that expressive writing can help the brain ‘cool down’ from the state of worrying. Another study by psychologist James Pennebaker also concluded that journaling can make us feel less stressed. It doesn’t need to be a books’ worth, even a few sentences a day can be beneficial.
2. Create A Routine And Set Goals
Creating a routine will give you the structure you need to plan and achieve whatever you set your mind to. This is helped by setting short-term, achievable goals for yourself. It might be a work project, fixing something around the house, connecting with others more often or a fitness challenge. By setting yourself stepping-stone markers, you’ll feel the benefit of those small wins build up. Celebrating your wins is one way to improve the way you think about yourself.
3. Learn Something New
It’s always a good idea to use your free time to do something worthwhile and enjoyable rather than scrolling on a phone. That doesn’t have to mean learning an instrument or new language. A new skill or hobby can be a great focus that comes with a sense of achievement. Equally, it’s important to remember that if you need that free time to do the basics or to take some time out, then that’s fine too.
4. Sleep Well
Good quality sleep is very important for overall mental health. Studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood. Apps such as Calm and Headspace can help with this, as well as good sleep hygiene. That means going to bed and getting up at a regular time, watching what you eat and drink near bedtime, and limiting screens before bed. Proper levels of rest allows our brains to process the events of the day and balance our mood.
5. Drink More Water, And Less Alcohol
Drinking two to three litres of water a day will keep your immune system healthy and help flush out any toxins. Being well-hydrated also improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood. Drinking less alcohol will also help you sleep better, boost your mood and save money in the process.
6. Move Your Body
20-minutes of low-to-medium-intensity exercise can measurably improve cognitive function. There are well known benefits to exercise including: improved health, sharpened memory, deeper sleep, and better mood. This can be going for a walk outdoors, a longer hike with mates or going to the gym. There are also lots of workouts, stretches and mindfulness exercises you can follow online that require nothing but your body and a bit of space.
7. Taking A Break
It’s important to know when to take a day off and give yourself a break from stressors. Your brain needs time to recharge, just like an athlete’s body after a race. Hobbies can work well as a way to switch off. It could be creative, social, academic, or something completely random. What matters is that it is something you find meaningful and enjoyable.
8. Switch Off The News
The 24/7 news cycle coupled with mobile phones with us all the time can lead to a constant stream of negativity, stress and worry. Allow yourself a news update from a reliable source of 10-20 minutes per day, and then continue about your business. Controlling your consumption can reduce this anxiety and free up time for other activities.
9. Practice Gratitude
A gratitude list at the end of each day can begin a powerful process to change our perspectives and opinions. It can be useful to start with just 3 things to be grateful for, no matter how small or insignificant it might feel or how hard it may be to see. From increased happiness to reduced pain, there’s a growing body of evidence that shows the benefits of seeing the good.
10. Helping Others
Keep an eye out for ways to be helpful to others that suits your own lifestyle and needs. It could be a small gesture from making a cuppa for a colleague, or putting the bins out for an elderly neighbour, or volunteering at a local cause that you feel passionate about. Helping others can be incredibly rewarding, increasing your sense of purpose and satisfaction.