5 Physical Habits to Improve Mental Health
In the US alone, 1 in 5 people suffer from a mental illness. Over the past few years, experts and influencers have been paying increasingly more attention to mental health. Society as a whole is now more accepting of the fact that psychological wellbeing is just as important as physical one, if not more. However, the mental and physical aspects should not be viewed as separate and distinct. On the contrary, the connection between the two has been proven time and again — it is the interplay of the two that guarantees the overall wellbeing. Here are some physical habits that, if incorporated on a daily basis, could significantly improve your mental health.
1. Screen downtime
When was the last time you were further than 2 metres away from your smartphone? Struggling to answer? Recent research found that in the US alone, adults spend over 11 hours a day on their phones or laptops: scrolling through social media, reading, working and watching TV.
Though the fact that this habit is so widespread might make you dismiss it as unimportant, a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that even just limiting social media use to 30 minutes a day significantly decreases loneliness and depression.
Tip: set a daily timer or limit on your smartphone for social media apps. Nowadays most smartphones have the function built into the interface.
2. Inspect your plate
When you’re feeling anxious or depressed, it can be easy to overload your plate with junk and processed food. But extensive research found that eating whole, healthy foods, balanced in macronutrients and rich in vitamins and essential microelements directly influence our brains and how they function.
Tip: there’s nothing wrong with having mac and cheese or indulging in a chocolate muffin, but watching what you eat and taking time to select the products you eat can help you feel better both mentally and physically.
3. The obvious: regular exercise
Moving your body and getting outside isn’t just an opportunity to look away from the screen and straighten your back, stiff from hours spent sitting in an office chair. Getting your heart rate up, breaking a sweat, and stretching your muscles also triggers the release of “happy” hormones — dopamine and serotonin, hence directly improving your brain health and the way you feel.
Tip: set a daily reminder to dedicate half an hour to any kind of exercise — walking, swimming, rolling out a mat and doing a few yoga asanas.
4. Hug your pillow
Mental well-being is directly influenced by the length and quality of our sleep. It’s a vicious circle: lack of sleep leads to tiredness, which in return means it becomes difficult to cope with daily tasks, resulting in low self-esteem and feelings of worry or stress — which in return means you sleep even less.
Tip: make sure you respect and value your bedtime. Half an hour before going to bed, put your phone on “no disturb” mode and avoid bright screens. Set the atmosphere by spraying some lavender mist on your pillow or lighting a relaxing candle.
5. Mindfulness practices
Sometimes, intentionally setting aside some time for mental health is an easier way to get into the habit of taking care of your emotional state and listening to yourself. There are many ways of finding some time for yourself: breathing exercises (there is a default app on your Apple Watch, too), meditation, yoga. Nowadays there are even apps for that.
Tip: pick a week when you will try a new mindfulness practice every day. This way, you will get to try a few options and eventually choose the one that does it for you.