Taking care of your mental health is important, but it doesn’t necessarily require a whole lot of your time, energy or money.
Here are 10 techniques and behaviours that can easily be introduced to your daily life and will help you keep things in check.
1. Validate your small successes.
Significant achievements can make us feel like a million bucks, but Elizabeth Neal, psychologist at Elizabeth Neal Psychology says our smaller daily successes are nothing to be sniffed at. Appreciating and making note of the times you achieve those tasks you set for yourself will reminds you that actually, you’re doing OK.
“It might just be if you are trying to cut out sugar. It’s like, ‘OK, I didn’t put sugar in my coffee this morning, so that was a little success’,” she explains.
“Or, if you’re trying not to get triggered by your housemate leaving their towel on the floor, [think] ‘I was able to just breathe and I managed that.'”
2. Devote some time to your ‘mastery’ projects.
Neal also recommends finding time each day to work towards those goals that give us a rush of “self-mastery” — whether it be study, or a work project that will lead to progression — because they make us feel good about ourselves.
“One of the ways we get dopamine, the reward chemical in the brain, is through self mastery. If we constantly build on those things where we feel we’re progressing, that’s going to change our brain chemistry,” she explains.
Watch: Five signs you might benefit from seeing a psychologist. (Post continues after video.)
3. Delight in your desires.
Self-compassion goes a long way. Joanne Wilson, a counsellor and psychotherapist at The Confidante Counselling, says we should be taking time to do those things we truly enjoy, and then being responsible for making sure they happen.
“Make a list of 20 things that delight you and carve out time to do two things in the next week. This could be the simplest joy such as 30 minutes to yourself with a cuppa or a regular indulgence you never thought you deserved,” she suggests.
“Take the pressure away from your spouse, family or friends to make you happy. Entertain the ideas of your list of ‘I want…’ instead of why you ‘can’t’ or ‘don’t have time’ or it won’t work.”
Take time to indulge. (Image: iStock)
4. Make time to see people who matter to you.
Your loved ones do more for your mental health than you might realise.
"When we feel validated by our peers — like if you tell a friend, 'I was stressed today because this happens' and your friend says, 'Yes, that would have been stressful' — the strength of the stress is reduced," Neal says.
They're also a source of oxytocin, the 'love hormone' that promotes feelings of connectedness and belonging, so it's important to find time to spend with them a few times a week.
"In a relationship, we sometimes forget the physical affection is really important. Even non-sexual touch, like having a cuddle, will boost our oxytocin and allow us to feel good," Neal explains.
Make time to see your loved ones. (Image: iStock)
5. Do something altruistic
"Mental health is proven to be found in ‘looking outside yourself’ regularly for the welfare of others," Wilson explains.
"You don’t have to look too far to find someone or something to do, from a smile to lighten a stranger or a gob-smacking gratuity your well deserving friend never imagined."
Altruism doesn't cost a thing, and it's good for both sides of the equation. "It could be said that true joy is found in the giving of your talents for others," Wilson adds.
6. Look after that body of yours.
The physical health effects of exercise get a lot of attention, but its benefits go much deeper. It sparks the production of 'happy hormone' serotonin, which results in the post-workout 'high'. "We always feel better when we do exercise," Neal says.
Taking a gym class or going for a run are obvious ways to achieve this, but if you're seriously time-poor squeezing in some movement where you can will help. "For example, if you're a mum take the pram out if you can't do the gym. If you're going to work, get off the bus a couple stops early," Neal suggests.
7. Give your brain a break
Wilson says giving your brain eight to 10 minutes of "controlled, nurturing time out" each day is a good investment in your mental health.
"Choose your method — such as meditation, prayer or mindfulness — but consider this behaviour just as challenging as learning a new sport or language. Repetition for at least two months will pay off," she explains.
"Start with just a minute and increase it from there. You’ll be surprised at how refreshing it can be."
8. Find a way to be mindful.
Essentially, the purpose of a mindfulness exercise is to be present in your body and thus "circuit-break" the thoughts that are keeping your stress levels high.
This might be simpler than you realise — and no, you don't have to take up yoga or meditation if they don't appeal to you.
Mindfulness is simpler than you might think. Image: iStock
Say, for instance, you're walking from the office to your bus stop. Instead of ruminating on a conversation you had with your boss, Neal recommends focusing on three things you can feel, three things you can hear, and three things you can see.
"When you're not thinking about those things that are stressing you out, you will have a reduction in stress levels," she says.
9. If you're in a relationship, check in with your partner.
The way we interact with our partners can contribute significantly to our sense of happiness and importance. There are some easy ways to enhance this.
"In all of my therapies, I get partners to make sure they have a little debrief every day, where they can talk about the things they've been stressed about, the little successes, and then the things they appreciate about each other. That works on so many levels," Neal says.
For slightly wider relationship issues, Wilson recommends checking in with your partner once a week to table them. "Discuss what’s going well, what’s not, make plans for the upcoming week, discuss long term goals and any other concerns you might have," she says.
"This is particularly useful to talk freely at a time when you’re not emotionally charged. It helps you remain in tune with your expectations, express gratitude and air grievances."
Watch: The difference between sadness and depression, explained. (Post continues after video.)
10. Accept that you can't feel happy all the time.
If the movie Inside Out taught us anything, it's that all emotions have their time and place — and expecting to feel happiness all the time is unrealistic.
"We want to avoid becoming unhappy, just as we want to avoid being hit by a bus. Realistically allowing yourself to be human and actually expecting all the ensuing emotions such as sadness, disappointment or doubt, is healthy," Wilson says.
"This is not pessimism but insuring yourself with a reality that a full life is one of joy, fulfilment and bliss in contrast with pain, anguish or just a laborious and thankless routine."
How do you keep your mental health in check?