Welcome to part 2 of The Spark’s life hacks for mental health series. This time we are looking at how getting active, putting the cork back in the bottle and looking out for others can boost mental health.
Catch up on part 1 of the life hacks series – covering healthy eating, slowing life down and talking about your concerns.
Life hacks number 4 – Care for others
It might not seem particularly intuitive but a simple way to boost your own mental health is to care for someone else. Previously we looked at the idiom ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and its scientific foundation. Taking a different perspective, offering to help a friend with a problem can be almost as rewarding.
There is little doubt that sharing wisdom, expertise or previous experience to benefit someone else creates a natural ‘high’. Being the listener/helper can also bring you closer to your friend/loved one and boost your own self-esteem as you help them tackle a problem. Furthermore it provides the opportunity to put our own struggles in context and offer perspective on our individual life challenges.
And it does not need to be another human. A pet can create a strong bond similar to one between humans. The opportunity to care for another living creature plus the structure of a daily routine can be hugely beneficial.
5. Get active
A little bit of exercise can go a long way towards improving mental health. There are in fact pages and pages of research documenting the benefits of exercise in terms of mental health and wellbeing.
Issues like depression, stress, anxiety and low self-esteem can all be helped by getting active. The best news is that we do not need to be exercising like an Olympic athlete to feel the benefit. As little as 10-15 minutes exercise per day like a brisk walk or swimming can help you achieve the recommended level of physical activity.
Physical activity can be anything that gets us moving and expends energy. That means making even simple changes like walking to the shop instead of taking the car can make a difference. Exercise provides opportunities for human interaction too – like going for a walk with a friend – and exposure to new activities (e.g. trying a new sport) which help boost wellbeing.
Life hacks number 6 – Be sensible about alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant – a substance that disrupts the balance of chemicals in the brain that determine our mood and personality. In small quantities alcohol can create feelings of increased confidence and reduced anxiety. However over time alcohol lowers our mood and it can increase feelings of anxiety and depression. This is due to it decreasing levels of the chemical serotonin in the brain – the substance that regulates mood.
A simple way to give your mood a boost is to limit your intake of alcohol. You can do this by reducing your typical consumption of alcohol or scheduling in alcohol-free days. These can help reduce the chance of your body building a tolerance to alcohol – basically having to drink more alcohol to achieve the same effects.
Alcohol and stress-relief
If you use alcohol as a stress-reliever, try to substitute it occasionally for alternative methods of relieving stress. Do some physical activity, meditation, breathing exercises or listen to calming music instead. Another great option is to talk to someone about the issues that are creating feelings of stress for you.
Talking to a trusted friend or loved one can be very beneficial. Sometimes however is not practical or the issue is something you do not feel comfortable talking to them about. In those circumstances speaking to a counsellor can be great solution. It allows you to talk to a skilled, impartial and non-judgemental expert who can help you tackle the issues causing stress. Find out more about counselling and support services available from The Spark.
In the final part of our series we will be looking at how reaching out to others, finding your talent and keeping connected can boost mental health.