Improve your mental wellbeing with these 3 habits

At Inuka, we help people through evidence-based coaching.
Next to talking with a coach, I’ve found that my mental wellbeing is improved by doing many small things; some of them habits that I learnt in parallel to or by being coached.
Here are three ideas that helped me; ideas to improve mental wellbeing that are mentioned widely in literature and by experts (and which our lead psychologist in the Netherlands approves of 😉).

  1. Practice mindfulness

There’s a legion of evidence of how taking a small, mental break to be present in the now helps your mind to chill out (Kuyken,2015; Abbott,2014; Kim,2009; Kallapiran, 2015). A bit like how exercise is known to be good for your body, doing mindfulness is good for your mind.

In general, it’s about practicing the art of being aware of your thoughts and emotions without focusing on them, and to bring your attention to the here and now, for example by paying attention to your breathing. We often clutter our mind with worries about the future or the past, and it’s pleasant to take a pause from that every now and then and live in the now. It helped me to have a way to pause spirals of negative thought, to be more aware of my emotions, and to be better able to enjoy simple, human things like the sun on my skin or the smell of good food.

A great way to learn mindfulness is through apps like Headspace and Calm. Personally I found a course in my neighborhood which I greatly enjoyed. Apply it every day, 10 minutes a day. They also do it at Google!

  1. Sleep

Good sleep does wonders (Steptoe, 2008; Haack, 2005; Freeman, 2017; Gee, 2019). One way to improve your sleep is to have a nice, calming bedtime ritual: something you do every night that sets your mind in the mode of ‘Time to shut down’. It can be whatever works for you. Here are some suggestions:

  • No more screens (laptop, iPad, phone) for at least one hour before actually turning the lights off to sleep.
  • Dim the lights before you go to bed, and sleep in a room that’s as dark as you can make it
  • You could have a nice, hot, calming shower before turning in
  • I like to read something before I go to sleep, and have noticed that if I feel stressed, I like reading some light-hearted stuff that I don’t care much about but that’s uplifting.
  • Practice gratitude: say out loud or write down three things that you are grateful for that day. Gratefulness is another little miracle worker for your mental well-being (Wood, 2009).
  • Journal about a positive experience you’ve had that day. This could be about a very small thing, such as a flower you saw.
  • Practice your mindfulness skills (Howell, 2008)!

These TED talks by Arianna Huffington and Matt Walker explain better than I could why sleep is really awesome for your mental wellbeing.

  1. Exercise

Exercising causes your body to release all sorts of goodies, like endorphins, which is candy for your brain. I’ve found the effects subtle, yet powerful. After most well-timed exercising sessions, I remain feeling very pleasant for at least a whole day. Scientific evidence suggests humble benefits for people struggling with mental health problems like depression and anxiety (Moor, 2006; Cooney, 2014). Again the type of exercise is all about what works for you. As Leon Taylor says in this video – find the movement that you enjoy.

In this brief talk, Wendy Suzuki recommends 30min exercise that raises your heart rate for three to four times a week – stuff like going for a fast walk around the block. However – as with everything – climb the mountain by taking one small step at a time and focus on what gives you positive energy.

Bonus: do random acts of kindness

Isn’t it beautiful that doing good things for other people just for the sake of it, is also good for you? I love that.

There’s ample evidence that being kind to others boosts your wellbeing (Layous, 2014; Curry, 2018). How to be kind is completely up to you; it can be as simple as a smile to a stranger, or a cup of tea for your partner. Tony Robbins has a lovely list on their website if you’re looking for inspiration.

Of course, I still recommend to have a chat with our Inuka coaches

It helps. Really.

Epilogue:

I’ve distilled these tips from videos, literature, my own experience and books like the following, any of which is a joy to watch or read:

  • Happiness 101 by Tal Ben Shahar, an ex-professor at Harvard who taught the most popular course there: positive psychology. This one-hour video is highly recommended.
  • The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown. Great book that explains why it is ok to be imperfect. The message in this book goes hand-in-hand with Carol Dweck’s work about how a mindset of being ok about being not good yet at something, is worth striving for. Such a growth mindset in its turn is linked to success through perseverance, or grit; see Angela Duckworth’s talk.
  • This TED Talk by Shawn Achor about how rewiring your mental picture of the world is worth striving for.
  • In longitudinal studies about happiness, Harvard found that good relationships keep you happier and healthier (see this talk by Robert Waldinger). That shows also in studies about populations of people who grow very, very old, as Susan Pinker explains. Being kind to your friends and family can help strengthen relationships that are loving.

That’s all for now folks and thank you for reading!