Updated: Apr 5, 2020
Ultimately, we are creatures of habit, and having a daily routine in place helps us to switch off from the usual things we do and focus on tasks that require more cognitive function. we subconsciously create habits to conserve ‘thinking energy’ which takes away the tiring efforts of decision making, problem solving, being focused, having full awareness, etc.
Without you even knowing it, you've already managed to create hundreds of habits which you're not even aware of. For instance, you might be reading this whilst holding your phone in your right hand, and scrolling down with your right thumb. You probably hold your phone like this all the time - habit. After you read this, you might open and scroll through Facebook even though you have no notifications - habit.
You see, habits are there to make our lives easier and less stressful. Although more often than not, people tend to generate bad habits. Habits that impact may impact our health, relationship, career, and finances. However, the beautiful twist to this story is that all these bad habits can be undone! And in this post, I'm going to show you 5 ways how you can start implementing new habits to improve your mental health and get your body functioning more optimally.
#1 - Start with your diet
Before you scroll past this section, thinking that I'm just going to lecture you on having a healthy balanced diet, well... you're absolutely right. This is my number one piece of advice if you take anything away from this article.
The foods that we eat are chewed, digested, absorbed, and used throughout the body for energy, growth, and repair. Millions of our cells are continuously dying and regenerating every single second, and what we put into our body helps those cells to grow and function properly. When we choose foods that are high in sugar, high in fat, and serve no nutritional value, we are essentially starving our body of nutrients. Not only for our bodies purpose, but for our mind too.
When you eat things like chocolate, cakes and sweets, you'll probably feel great while eating them, but find that you become tired and lethargic within 10 minutes of finishing them. This is because of the high sugar content within them. What's even worse is that they serve very little, to no nutritional value at all. But think about it this way; if your body feels tired and lethargic afterwards, how do you think your mind will feel? It will have a pumping surge of sugar to make it work in overdrive, firing electrical pulses all throughout the body. Then afterwards, completely shut off with very limited energy stores. In my opinion, the perfect recipe for anxiety.
This is only one case of putting bad foods into your body. Other things to stay away from are foods which are high in fat and sugar combined (burgers, pizza, etc.), foods that contain trans fats, snack-able foods like crisps and biscuits, and fizzy sugar drinks.
Instead, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, wholegrain carbohydrates, and lean meat and protein sources such as chicken, turkey, beef, or things like tofu and tempeh if your plant-based. Legumes and pulses also have a high biological value.
#2 - Exercise regularly
You knew it was coming right? and I'm going to give it to you straight... Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins within the brain along with other hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. The happy hormones! Every time you exercise, you will feel alive and full of energy afterwards. Unlike the foods I mentioned in the previous section, exercise has the opposite effect. It may be tough for the first part where you may struggle to get going, but when you finish your workout, you will be more productive and have a sense of accomplishment.
If you don't currently exercise, it's going to be a vital part in moving forward if you suffer with your mental health. I often hear the excuse "I'm not fit enough to do a workout or go running". If anything, this is an excuse to go out and DO IT! start with something easy and make sure that you're recovering properly. As long as you are doing it every week, it will eventually become habit. If you would like help and guidance with starting to run for exercise, then you may find this article helpful on How to start running
Fundamentally, our bodies are made to move. We have a skeleton with joints for movement and mobility. We have muscles that move our skeleton and grow in accordance with our lifestyle. Though even more importantly, our brains release all of these hormones to let us know that it's something we enjoy. So get your running shoes on and release those happy hormones!
#3 - Sleep. Get the hours in
Sleep is something which we don't get much of nowadays. Our fast paced society can be exhausting to live in, and some days when you get out of bed, I bet it feels like you hit the ground running and don't have 5 minutes to yourself throughout the day. Then when you go to bed that night, you're not able to sleep until the early hours of the morning. And repeat. If you don't get yourself out of this cycle, you will forever feel exhausted and struggle to focus on the simplest of tasks. This needs to change.
Sleep is important. In fact, it's just as important as nutrition and exercise. There is a model called the health triangle (also has other various names) where you have nutrition, exercise, and sleep in each corner. The ideal location for us to be is in the middle of the triangle which says that we're exercising regularly, eating healthy food at every sitting, and sleeping like a baby for 8-9 hours every single night. I know this is far from achievable in most cases, but at least we have a target to aim for. If we can guarantee at least 3 - 4 good nights sleep a week, that will help massively with our mental health and energy levels.
Good habits to implement for sleeping are to put your phone on silent or 'do not disturb', and try not to go on it before you go to sleep. Secondly, try and stick to a sleeping schedule, where you go to bed and wake up at specific times every single day. This is the simplest way of creating routine for your sleeping patterns. Finally, make sure your sleeping comfortably! Even though you are asleep, your body is still aware of your position at night and whether it is comfortable or not. If it's not, then it will wake you up to sort it out.
#4 - Learn something new
Our minds are an intelligent, weird and wonderful structure which we have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. We have areas in the brain that light up when we learn new things, especially when it's something that we are passionate about and find interesting.
Take an hour each day to learn something new. Whether it's reading a book on your favourite animal. Picking up your guitar and learning a new song. Listening to your favourite podcast. Whatever gets the cogs turning, do it daily until it becomes a habit. I'd also recommend scheduling it in your diary somewhere when you know you will be free.
Keep doing this ritual on a daily basis and you never know, you may find that your new topic or hobby may open doors for you. Remember guys, 'Knowledge is power!'
#5 - Give meditation a go
This is something that I used to be sceptical of. That is before I realised how useful and powerful it can be, especially in today's world.
As long as we have our smartphones and computers, we are easily reachable, and therefore always instantly available to our friends, family, and now, strangers as well. We have created a life where we are never truly alone. This digital age in which we now live has supplied us with the ability to be anywhere in the world from the comfort of our own homes, but at the cost of distancing our own thoughts, wants and needs. This is where meditation comes in.
Meditation brings us back to our own bodies. It shuts out the rest of the world and puts all our energy back into us. Once you meditate a few times and start to feel the coherence between mind and body, it will be like a light switch flicking on. I can't recommend meditation enough. If you want to learn more about meditation and how to do it, there is tonnes of free videos on YouTube.
Habits are created to make our lives easier and less stressful, however it's important to be aware that we are creating healthy habits instead of ones that will negatively impact our lives. We all have a responsibility for our own bodies and what we put into them. If things go wrong and your health is suffering, before filling up your body with medication, it's important to look at your foundations first. Can you say that your diet is healthy? do you exercise regularly? are you getting enough sleep at night? Answer these questions honestly to yourself and see how you feel.
Taking responsibility for your actions is hard, especially when your living in a tough environment, but you need to be honest with yourself. Start incorporating healthy habits and start noticing your health improve, not just physically, but mentally as well.
"You'll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine." - John C. Maxwell.