05 January 2021

7 expert tips for improving your mental health this year

Staying well isn’t just about eating the right foods and getting regular exercise. It’s equally important to look after your mental health; after all, your mindset can have a major influence on your overall wellbeing.

For many of us, last year was filled with redundancies, bereavements, social distancing and loneliness, so we’ll likely be looking for ways to better support our emotional state in 2021.

Here, experts share a handful of ways you can give yourself a psychological boost…

1. Create a coping calendar

When you’re busy juggling the responsibilities of adult life, self-care can easily come last on the list. This is where a ‘coping calendar’ could help, which suggests one action we should follow each day to look after ourselves.

“It could be exercising, listening to a favourite piece of music, doing some yoga or having a bath,” says Dr Rachel Chin, clinical psychologist at Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust. “Plan it in advance and you’ll be much more likely to stick to it.”

2. Make sure you’re getting enough magnesium

Pharmacist Mina Khan suggests tracking your magnesium intake for better mental balance.

“Research has found that magnesium deficiencies contribute significantly to increased stress, sleep problems and high levels of anxiety,” she explains.

“My best tip for improving your mental health is to make sure you’re having enough magnesium in your diet each day. To make this easier, you can track your intake using an app such as MyFitnessPal, and if you’re deficient, up your intake of foods such as avocados, nuts, legumes, seeds and whole grains, or start taking a supplement.”

3. Take up a mindful activity like knitting

Knitting isn’t just for your granny – anyone can enjoy the soothing benefits of picking up a pair of needles and a ball of yarn.

Craft editor at LoveCrafts Merion Willis says: “Knitting can be a really effective form of mindful meditation that can boost your mood by stimulating the production of serotonin with the repetition of the stitches.”

There are lots of simple follow-along YouTube videos if you’re not sure where to get started. And if knitting doesn’t take your fancy, you could try gardening, baking or painting instead.

4. Meditate for five minutes a day

Studies have found a daily meditation practice has the potential to improve focus and concentration, foster self-awareness and self-esteem, and lower levels of stress and anxiety.

“At its simplest, meditation is using a mental technique to notice what’s happening in the present moment, without getting caught up in it,” says Marion Williamson, co-author of My Mind Won’t Shut Up!: Meditation For People Who Don’t Meditate (Trigger Publishing, £8.99. Available January 7).

“Catching your thoughts in negative spirals can stop you spinning out and make you feel more in control.”

5. Take up yoga

“One of the main reasons people get hooked on yoga is the mental benefits of having a regular breath-led practice,” says Fi Clark, head of yoga at Fly Ldn.

“Many people experience a feeling of calm and peace of mind that organically occurs throughout the practice, that can leave you feeling relaxed. It’s a great way to steer yourself through uncertainty and times of upheaval.”

6. Adopt a more mindful morning routine

Set yourself up for success by starting your day with intention, says Nina Thistlethwaite, yoga and meditation teacher at House of Wisdom and Yiflow.

“Whether you have five minutes or an hour to yourself, implement a morning ritual will bring you into presence first thing in the morning,” she advises.

“Rather than rolling out of bed scrolling social media, give yourself some time to mindfully arrive into the day. Have a gentle stretch, practise a little conscious breathing or tune into a short meditation. You’ll notice how you move through your day feeling a little more grounded.”

7. Track your mood

Regularly tracking your emotional rhythms is a powerful way to take care of your mental health.

“The beauty of this is that it helps you learn about the things that make you happy and others that might make you sad,” says Niels Eék, psychologist and co-founder of mental wellbeing and self-development platform, Remente. “Knowing how certain factors make you feel will help you steer away from negativity and towards being more positive.”

The most common form of mood tracking is to journal with a paper and pen, but not everyone has time every day to write their thoughts down. Apps like Remente, Daylio and WorryWatch can help you log your mood at the touch of a button, and then review your data at the end of the month.

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