As the days turn towards winter and with a second wave of Covid to cope with, it’s more important than ever to create routines and habits that will sustain and nourish us. On World Mental Health Day (October 10th), I want to give you some ideas for simple ways of boosting and maintaining mental and emotional wellbeing. So here are my top 5 tips. Are there other things that help you feel better? Please share them in the comments.
Tips for good emotional health
- Keep on drinking (water)
Like me, you may not feel like drinking so much water now that the warmer days are behind us, but actually it’s just as important as we head towards winter. Water isn’t just essential for our body’s physical processes, like digestion and the smooth operation of our joints; it’s also incredibly important in regulating our mood, our ability to concentrate and our overall energy levels. And water really is best for keeping fluid levels topped up, rather than caffeinated or soda type drinks. So keep that water bottle handy. There’s more on the health benefits of water here.
- Let your skin feel the sun
Ok, so the weather is changing, it’s colder, wetter and windier, and the pull of the great outdoors isn’t as magnetic as it was back in August or even September. It’s very tempting to snuggle indoors with the heating on and semi-hibernate until spring (ok, perhaps that last bit is just me). Unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiency is a chronic problem in the northern hemisphere at this time of year, and sunlight helps us produce it more efficiently than we can with diet alone. If you have darker skin or you’re in an older age-group, you’re at higher risk. Deficiency can lead to aches and pains, low energy levels and even depression. So let your face feel the sun when you can and check your diet for Vitamin D-rich foods. More on Vitamin D deficiency here.
- Be mindful
There’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding around mindfulness, with some folks imagining it means wafting serenely through life on a fluffy cloud of positive thinking. In fact, at its simplest, mindfulness just means trying to observe what’s going on within you – thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations – and around you from moment to moment, rather than ruminating over the argument you had last night or what to make for dinner, for example. Mindfulness can mean sitting with your eyes closed for a few minutes, really noticing, as if for the first time, the flavour, aroma and warmth of your first cup of coffee or tea in the morning. Or going for a mindful walk and observing how the surface changes beneath your feet, from gravel to tarmac to grass, how each surface sounds and feels. Mindfulness is a ‘slow’ activity, noticing and being curious without judgement. It’s been shown to improve feelings of wellbeing and reduce levels of stress and anxiety.
- Connect the dots
Winter and Covid are throwing a double whammy at us, keeping us separate from other people, like solitary dots on a page surrounded by acres of empty space. We all need time on our own, particularly if you’re someone like me who is a bit of an introvert. But too much solitude, too much disconnection from others, is bad for our mental health, leading to isolation, depression, low self esteem and an increased risk of harmful behaviours like poor diet, drinking too much alcohol and lack of exercise. Human beings are social animals; we derive pleasure and meaning from our relationships with others, so even if the weather and Covid make it more difficult, try to stay in touch – outdoors if needs be!
- Sing like there’s no one listening
This is a personal favourite of mine – there’s nothing like singing along to some AC/DC hard rock or to the mellow music of James Taylor to lift my spirits on a down day. Singing, whether you do it on your own or in a group or a choir, has proven mental health benefits. And forget about that inner voice that’s shrieking right now “But I can’t sing…” – we all have it! Actually, to get the benefit from singing, it doesn’t matter whether or not you have what’s conventionally rated as a ‘good voice’; singing is a joyful thing in its own right. Singing at the top of your voice is a whole body experience; deep breaths calm your body and mind, reducing stress and boosting levels of the ‘feel-good hormones’ called endorphins, and standing up to sing improves posture and even self-confidence. What’s not to love about that? There’s more on the health benefits of singing here.
If you’re experiencing low mood or anxiety and you’d like to talk things through, please drop me a line.
Take good care.