What do you do to ensure you have good mental health? Just like physical fitness and a healthy weight, good mental health is something we need to plan for and work towards. It’s not going to happen by magic or without a little bit of thought. Luckily, science can give us plenty of tips for mental health that are easy to fit into our everyday life and self-care routines.

What is good mental health?

Good mental health is not just being without specific problems like anxiety and depression. It’s an active state of well-being. Good mental health helps you cope with life in general with creativity and positivity. And, most of all, it has a beneficial effect on other areas of your life like relationships, work, and self-esteem. Here are our top seven tips to improve your mental health, all backed by research.

1) Look after your body’s health

Your mind and body rely on each other, and problems with one can cause problems in the other.

  1. Eat as well as you can, with as much variety as possible, and if necessary take a multivitamin. People with mental health problems are often deficient in omega 3, B vitamins, or certain proteins, so make sure you get plenty of those [1].
  2. Exercise; even ten minutes of brisk walking per day boosts brain function [2] and reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety [3].
  3. Sleep problems can be both a cause and a symptom of mental health issues, so try to get regular sleep. If you struggle with it, talk to your doctor and/or contact me for help. [4].

2) Be around other people

Humans are social creatures, and we need to connect with others to stay healthy [5]. During COVID lockdowns, the internet was vital for staying connected, but now that we are back to in-person contact, make sure to meet your social bubble in real life. Hug people to release feel-good oxytocin and reduce stress for both of you [6]. If you live alone, think about getting a pet to talk to and cuddle instead (but read the next point first, and check out our blog on pets and mental health).

3) Have something to care for

Pet owners show an increased ability to manage their mental health [7]. Pets’ well-being depends on you, so it’s easier to remember to look after yourself as well as them, and it’s satisfying to have a useful task and a sense of purpose.

However, pets are not for everyone, and if you are not suited to one another a pet will add to your stress. So, if looking after a pet would be too much responsibility, pets are not allowed where you live, or they are simply ‘not your thing’, then gardens and even houseplants have similar benefits. They all significantly reduce your risk of dementia [8], for example.

4) Get into green space

Talking of gardens and plants, several studies show that being close to nature and green spaces can reduce tiredness, inflammation, stress, depression and anxiety, and even improve your memory and concentration. You don’t need to be in the middle of nowhere for this to help – urban parks, street greenery and undeveloped areas with natural vegetation also do the trick. Read more about this one HERE 

5) Get creative

Making things reduces stress, improve happiness, helps you to process trauma [9], and, if shared, can help other people process their own negative feelings [10]. Try writing, painting, drawing, journaling, singing, sewing, cooking – anything that works for you. You don’t have to be good at these things, though you will improve with practice, and developing new skills is also good for self-esteem.

6) Don’t bottle things up

Repressing an emotion makes it stronger and causes stress levels to rise [11]. If you feel bad, let out negative feelings in ways that don’t hurt anyone. Hit or scream into a pillow (never at a person), destroy egg boxes (which make a very satisfying noise when jumped on, but take the eggs out first), write down how you are feeling without editing or censoring your words then ritually destroy what you’ve written. Don’t be afraid of letting yourself cry or talking about your problems with others.
Express positive feelings too, and share them with your loved ones, so you can remember them when you need them. And, if you need to talk to a professional, of course, you can call me.

7) Have a good laugh

As children, we laugh a lot but as we get older, we do it less. That’s a shame because laughter releases physical and emotional tension, improves your mood, helps you think more clearly and even increases friendliness. [12] Watching your favourite comedy or cat videos on Facebook can help you have a good guffaw, or find some YouTube clips of babies giggling which are very infectious!

Check out the research behind this advice:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337/
[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0028393217304591
[3] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5623526/
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4323947/
[7] https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-018-1613-2
[8] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335268405_Digging_into_the_experiences_of_therapeutic_gardening_for_people_with_dementia_An_interpretative_phenomenological_analysis
[9] https://nyctherapy.com/therapists-nyc-blog/creativity-is-your-secret-advantage-for-mental-health-and-well-being/
[10] https://www.jstor.org/stable/43152699
[11] https://www.hcf.com.au/health-agenda/body-mind/mental-health/downsides-to-always-being-positive
[12] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21280463/

Author: Debbie Waller is a professional therapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues, including gut-directed hypnotherapy to help with the symptoms of IBS. She also offers EMDR/Blast which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD. For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593. 

Researcher: Rae Waller is an experienced researcher and writer with a special interest in mental health issues. Rae offers drafting, fact-checking, proofreading, and editing for anything from a leaflet to a website, a blog or a book, and can also provide diversity reading, especially for LGBTQ+ and autism-related issues. Please contact rae@debbiewaller.com for further information.