5 Simple Steps to Better Mental Health

The winter blues really are a thing (hello, seasonal affective disorder!) – but there are five simple habits you can build to boost your mental health all year round.

In 2008 the British government contracted some brainiacs at the New Economics Foundation to develop a breakdown of evidence-based and simple actions that could improve personal wellbeing for people of all ages and backgrounds. Basically, they wanted to take the concept of 5+ a day and apply it to mental health.

Researchers reviewed studies from around the world and conducted a shit-ton of interviews, then boiled everything down into a 27-page report that identified five key actions, which – if done regularly – were scientifically proven to enhance wellbeing.

Twenty-seven pages? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Here’s a quick overview of the five ways to wellbeing ‘actions’ and how you can apply them every day for better mental health and happiness.

Connect
Evidence shows people are stronger when they pull together and build meaningful connections with others. So basically, take a break from binge-watching serial killer docos by yourself and reconnect with family and friends. Join a footy club and get involved. Go out with your workmates the next time they invite you for Friday burgers and beers. Turn up when your Mum rallies the troops for a Sunday roast. Investing a little more time and effort into your relationships will enrich your life and give you more support during tough times.

Get Active
There are proven physiological and psychological effects associated with being active, so peel your arse off the couch and get moving. Go for a run. Take the kids for a bike ride. Sweat it out at the gym. Take your girlfriend on a hike. Have sex. Chop firewood. Exercise of any kind releases endorphins that make you feel good. Stepping outside and getting some fresh air offers a double-whammy in terms of mental health. Although be careful with the whole sex-as-exercise thing outdoors. Especially in winter. And if you have nosey neighbours.

Take Notice
‘Taking notice’ is about mindfulness, and the importance of being present. Which might sound a bit airy-fucking-fairy, but really, it’s about just being aware of the world around you. We blokes aren’t often known for taking notice of the small stuff, but making an effort to ‘look up’ once a day can help you appreciate what matters most. If taking notice is something you struggle with, write down one thing every day you’re grateful for, or try to look out for something new or unusual when you take the dog for a walk.

Keep Learning
Challenging yourself and experiencing new things has been shown to offer proven mental health benefits, so get into it! Take an online course. Commit to reading an actual book before the end of winter. Use YouTube to teach yourself to fix that leaky tap. Volunteer for a different responsibility at work. Download an app and learn a new language. Challenge yourself to cook one new dish – from scratch! – every month. Learning new things can be a fun challenge, and can also be a great way to build confidence.

Give
Last, but not least, make an effort to give more of your time, effort, appreciation, or even money. Research links the act of giving with physical and health benefits, as well as emotional benefits such as ‘helper’s high’. And once you make it a habit, you’ll find giving is easy. Pay a friend a compliment. Help a colleague out with a task. Drop a coin into the donation bucket at the checkout. Volunteer at your kid’s school fair. Giving can be incredibly rewarding, and helps to create connections with the people around you.

BONUS HACK

Want to streamline your five ways to wellbeing? Instead of thinking of each principle as something else to add to your list, get creative and multi-task them – shooting two, three or even five birds with one stone. For example, you could commit [GIVE] to take a dance class [GET ACTIVE + KEEP LEARNING] with your girlfriend [CONNECT] and then talk about the highlight of the class afterwards [TAKE NOTICE]. Or you could volunteer to help [GIVE] a buddy [CONNECT] work on his car [KEEP LEARNING]. Or challenge yourself [KEEP LEARNING] to take the dog for a walk [GET ACTIVE] every night after work while taking in the sights and sounds of the neighbourhood [TAKE NOTICE].

The key is to incorporate the five ways to wellbeing into your week in a way that doesn’t feel like a chore. Start small, and build your way up. You got this!

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