Stress is one of the biggest factors contributing to mental health issues across the UK, but is also a facet of life which could do with a little reframing. Indeed, many of the things which bring us undue pressure and anxiety can be managed – reduced, even – with a few simple, easy to apply interventions. Often, it’s not the event but the way in which we react to it which does us the most harm.
April is Stress Awareness Month and we’re going to focus those 30 days on getting proactive about our happiness. While so many of us are devoted to a daily routine to keep our physical health in check, of running, of going to the gym, lifting weights and doing yoga, it’s surprising how few of us show similar dedication to a mental health regime. Just as you wouldn’t expect a six pack without regular sit ups, so you shouldn’t rely on luck to bring about a healthy mind. With that in mind, here are 5 IDEAL wellbeing exercises to include in your everyday.
OBSERVE REGULAR MINDFUL MOMENTS
Six years ago the NHS recognised mindful meditation as an alleviator of depression and anxiety. Since then, ‘taking a moment’ has gone mainstream, with more and more people discovering the great benefits it can bring to their overall sense of wellbeing.
So, one of the best things you can bring to your daily mental health regime is to include a meditation or two. ‘But we don’t have the time, energy or money’, we hear you say. Well, even a ten minute session can bring benefits, and meditating requires nothing more than a quiet, peaceful space and your own mind. There are apps to guide you, which is certainly useful at first; we use Calm but others are also available.
HAVE WAKE UP RITUALS AND A BEDTIME ROUTINE
It’s incredible that only in the last few years we’ve woken up to the power of sleep and started to acknowledge its vital role in our health and wellbeing.
Let’s flip the clock and start at bedtime. If you’re going to sleep well it’s important to follow a routine, preferably on which is regular and unwavering. That means a consistent turn in time, a downing of tools (particularly those which emit that pesky blue light) an hour or two before bed, as well as perhaps a meditation and warm bath, and a concerted effort to keep your bedroom cool. We’ve written more about the IDEAL bedtime routine over here, by the way.
But the road to great sleep actually starts when you wake up. It’s really helpful to your day’s positive outlook and productivity, and ultimately, how you sleep at the end of it, to follow a few daily rituals when you wake up, too.
CONQUER VICES ONE DAY AT A TIME
A holistic approach to mental health maintenance is key, both in taking proactive steps to feeling better and in attempts to reduce things that tend to make you feel worse. All of us have vices, things we succumb to in our hour of stress which serve to temporarily alleviate the pain. But being controlled by external forces, whether that’s drink, cigs or even social media, and giving up that autonomy over our wellbeing, certainly does us no favours.
Embrace each day as an opportunity to lessen the thrall you’re in to your addictions, and cherish the victories and achievements along the way. Keeping a diary of your progress can be a great spur; we’re big fans of simple, journal based monitoring, such as the NHS’ Drink Free Days or UCL’s Drink Less app, which let you set weekly limits and give you updates on how you’re getting on.
BEAT NEGATIVE THOUGHT PATTERNS WITH AN ABC WORKSHEET
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy focuses on addressing the way we think about, and therefore react to, the events in our life. It posits that thoughts and feelings grounded in pessimism, such as self-defeating beliefs and negative thinking patterns, can lead to anxiety and low mood.
One of the tools used in CBT to give perspective and solutions to these unhelpful thought patterns is the ABC worksheet, which you can employ in your daily life to help you tackle stress. By noting down the process of your thoughts, you can take back control of your mood.
KEEP A GRATITUDE DIARY
It’s been well documented that gratitude is a key contributor to happiness. By keeping a diary of daily appreciation, you may find yourself more grounded, humble, thankful and kind towards the world around you.
It’s wise to approach this act with empathy, rather than simply going through the motions; if you’ve had a non eventful day, don’t feel compelled to complete your journal. Instead, focus on depth, not breadth, and on people you appreciate, rather than things. In doing so, you’ll notice a gradual, growing warmth towards to world.