When did you last consider your emotional health?
We make daily choices to improve our physical wellbeing. But our mental wellbeing also benefits from attention. Doesn’t it deserve as much commitment?
Some things undoubtedly benefit both our mind and our body, like eating well, exercising, and having good sleep habits. But what else can you do to be proactive about your emotional wellbeing?
How to Improve Your Emotional Health Daily
1. Have a plan.
A sense of accomplishment is one of the fastest ways to elevate your moods and energy. But too many of us feel a nagging sense of failure because we only set far-reaching goals that overwhelm us. Counteract this by making goals not just for the future, but for each day.
Make sure these daily “mini goals” are achievable by using S.M.A.R.T guidelines (the last thing you want is for this to backfire into even more beating yourself up). It can help to make a list in the morning so you can enjoy the added pleasure of striking things off. The goals should not be huge, but effective – a phone call you have put off for weeks takes two minutes, but the relief lasts hours.
Fun goals definitely count. Resolve to stop and smell the flowers on the way to work, or to dance around the living room for five minutes to your favourite song.
2. Shake it up.
The day in, day out grind can get the best of us down. Not surprising as the brain is built to be stimulated.
Instead of trying to find excitement by turning to addictive habits like drinking or overeating, or pinning all your hopes on a future vacation, why not commit to finding one small way to add variety to life each and every day?
Eat breakfast in the living room instead of the kitchen, bicycle a new route to work, say yes to sprinkles on your frozen yogurt. Not only does it keep your brain active, making fresh on-the-spot decisions keeps you in the present moment, away from your past-based regrets and future-based worries.
3. Try a new perspective.
The next time you are faced with a challenge try seeing from a different perspective. How would your best friend see this situation? Or your favourite politician or entrepreneur? Or a person living in a hut in a desert, or someone with a week to live?
Broadening your viewpoint can instantly lessen your stress and bring answers to problems faster than you expected. It also stops you from seeing life from one limiting belief like ‘life is hard’.
If you forget to do this in the rush of the day, it’s still helpful in retrospective. Before bed think about the parts of your day that challenged you. What can you learn by seeing them through different eyes?
4. Make time for mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the art of living in the present moment, and has the instant benefit of helping you relax and breathe deeply, which of course is excellent for anxiety.
But mindfulness also makes you more aware of your thoughts and feelings. Recognising your emotions means you are less likely to repress them, causing a buildup that can trigger depression. And learning to catch your thoughts means you can choose not to go into what cognitive therapists call a ‘negative thought loop’ that triggers you into making unhelpful decisions in life.
Consistency matters more than time when it comes to mindfulness – even on the days you are busy five minutes worth can help. Use mindfulness apps to keep you on track.
5. Take on time.
A feeling of ‘running out of time’ feeds anxiety and often increases procrastination, just leading to more stress. Making an effort each day to own time instead of letting it own you can, with practise, lower your sense of panic.
A real eye-opener can be to spend a week with a timer going off every hour, then recording what you did in the previous hour. You will see where your time is actually going and how you can make different choices or allow yourself more reasonable time frames in future.
You can also set your alarm to go off at the different points of your day you tend to ‘space out’ so that you are reminded to stay on track, or spend a few hours of day working to a timer to up your productivity.
6. Breathe better.
Breathing is actually an art, and one that is a game changer. Too many of us never breathe properly, allowing stress to keep our breathing shallow. Learning to breathe into your diaphragm, also called ‘belly breathing’, allows more oxygen to enter the body.
Controlled deep breathing also fires up the parasympathetic nervous system, which naturally counteracts the fight and flight response that stress causes. Committing to two minutes of conscious deep breathing several times a day thus leaves you far more relaxed.
7. Get connected.
We’re not talking turning on your computer here, but about real human connection.
No matter how introverted you claim to be, as a species humans are pack animals, and our brains are wired to benefit from connection.
It can be as simple as taking the time to smile at a stranger or look into the eyes of the shop owner who serves you, or five minutes checking in with a friend over the telephone. If you are extroverted, a hug a day is said to release oxytocin, which increases positive emotions.
But back to your computer – don’t see it as a way of connecting. Studies are increasingly showing that if anything, online connecting and social media leads to feeling less connected. They create a false sense of intimacy that distracts us from investing in real-time relationships, and if anything might be adding to, not subtracting from, the latest pandemic of loneliness.
8. Be selfish.
Well, a little bit. It’s important to take some time to yourself, but in our rather codependent society we can become so busy taking care of others we forget to do so. The result is we build up a backlog of resentment that can slowly erode our self-esteem and happiness.
How can you have a ‘me moment’ each day? From asking your partner to put the kids to bed sometimes to spending some lunch breaks having a sandwich alone in a nearby garden instead of joining colleagues, it all helps.
Don’t forget that saying no also creates a yes to time for yourself. If you don’t want to go out for dinner, can you be brave and say no to the asker and yes to yourself?
9. Be grateful for all of it, not some of it.
You might think gratitude was just a trend. But gratitude is actually an evidence-based tool proven to lessen anxiety and depression and improve sleep. And gratitude can be deeper than just chanting five things you are happy about as you brush your teeth every morning (although integrating gratitude with a daily routine is great).
Expand your gratitude to things that aren’t obvious or only ‘positive’. It allows your perspective to shift and opens you up to learn more from your life. Can you be grateful for the traffic jam you are in as it gives you time to listen to that audio book you bought? Grateful you had a fight with your partner as you now realise what changes you can make so you both feel better in the relationship?
10. Approach your edge.
Playing it safe and never pushing yourself might seem good advice for avoiding anxiety, and perhaps for some high-achieving perfectionists it’s a good idea now and then to ease off.
But for most of us, never approaching the edge of our comfort zone results in mild depression as unconsciously we know we are not living up to our potential.
If you hate feeling fear and that is holding you back, it is also important to look at the thing you call fear. Fear is an emotion that protects us from danger. Sometimes what we are really feeling is not fear at all but nervous excitement, which can feel like fear, and by misdiagnosing it we stop ourselves from an experience we’d actually enjoy.
See each day as an opportunity to push your edges a tiny bit. From making that phone call about a job that you have put off, smiling at the fellow commuter you have long wanted to meet, or taking that dance class at the gym you heard about, each brave step will build your confidence.
And if all else fails…
If reading all of the above you have a sinking feeling you still won’t be able to get out a rut you sense you are in, don’t be afraid to reach out for support. Sometimes the safe and supportive environment a professional offers can be just what you need to understand how you are feeling and find new ways to move forward. And it’s very valid to seek help when you feel okay but not great – why wait until you hit bottom if you can find ways to feel better and avoid it?
Do you have a tip which helps you manage your mental wellbeing? Share below.