I have spent a lot of time and effort over the past 6 years trying to improve my mental health. I went from days spent crying in bed, a mental breakdown at work, and distracting myself from my feelings by any means necessary, to stable and balanced mental health. In this article I’ll talk you through some of the things I did to get from there to here.
I’ve written previously about my mental health journey and you may choose to start there for some broader context. If you’ve already read that article, then scroll on to find out what six things I did to improve my mental health.
1. I started to prioritise my physical health to improve my mental health
Showing my body that I valued it was a crucial step towards improving my mental health. I didn’t really look after myself for a long time – not mentally, physically, emotionally, or financially. One day I decided that that had to change and that my health was worth prioritising.
- I joined a gym and actually went to it. I have had many failed gym memberships in the past but this time I found a gym that worked for me and I started a consistent and enjoyable exercise routine.
- I started weekly meal planning. Rather than eating on the fly or grabbing food as I went (normally unhealthy choices), I began planning my meals in advance. I love batch cooking lunches and dinners so that I only have to cook once(ish) a week and have meals prepped for the week ahead.
- I began to moderate my alcohol intake. I became conscious of how alcohol was impacting my mental health (spoiler: it wasn’t good for it) so I decided to make some changes and cut back. I take extended periods off drinking altogether, and drink much (much!) less the rest of the time.
- Finally, I quit smoking. It took me a few attempts but I eventually kicked the habit that was doing nil, nada, nothing for my health.
All of the above changes have obviously had a huge impact on my physical health, but they have led to significant improvements in my mental health too. I showed myself that I was worth caring for.
2. I went to therapy
I went to therapy for the first time for 8 weeks in 2017. That initial experience with therapy helped me to deal with some of the specific circumstances I was facing at that time, however we didn’t touch on some of the deeper issues. I went back to therapy in 2021 – this time I stuck with it for six months which gave us a chance to dig into the underlying bits.
Therapy is not fun by any means. It hurts, it’s uncomfortable, it will force you face some things you’ve kept hidden for a long time. You’re going to have to get really, really honest about stuff. Oh, and your brain will start non-stop thinking about stuff, even (mostly) when you’re not in the actual session. It’s mentally exhausting.
But all that digging and thinking will be enlightening and you’ll understand yourself better than ever before. Becoming aware of your patterns/motivators/issues/triggers is the first step toward healing them.
I’d recommend therapy to anyone who is able to access it.
3. I changed the way that I spoke to myself
This one is so important and it stemmed from hearing a quote that really resonated with me – change your language, change your life.
I used to be so mean to myself! I was my own harshest critic and completely unforgiving of my perceived flaws.
This wasn’t completely my fault. I was expected to excel academically, socially, and at sports. Oh, and I was raised in a society that told me that basically every type of body was unattractive. I was bombarded with unrealistic and unattainable body standards from day dot.
The pressure was high. If I felt like I wasn’t able to meet these invisible high standards it led to a hell of a lot of beating myself up. It was terribly tiring, and I knew it had to stop.
How do you change the habit of a lifetime? With awareness followed by conscious and persistent effort.
When I caught myself thinking something harsh about myself, I replaced it instead with something kind and compassionate. I allowed myself some grace if I felt like I’d made a mistake and forgave myself for imperfections.
I also curated my Instagram feed by unfollowing everyone that made me feel bad about myself; that was spreading those same unrealistic body standards I was avoiding; that made me feel anything other than positive. Conscious consumption.
Slowly but surely, these small changes became big changes.
If you’re new to this, here is a list of simple self-care affirmations to get you started (opens in a new tab).
4. I learned to slow down to improve my mental health
I used to be SO busy. My calendar was chockablock. Between the gym, working full time, socialising, and travel, I had absolutely no downtime. I was allowing this lifestyle to squeeze every last drop out of me. Not surprisingly, I was exhausted and totally run down. I look back at this as my days on the hamster wheel.
To be honest, I might have continued in this way for much longer if COVID hadn’t brought life to a grinding halt. (When the UK went into full blown lockdown in March 2020 I felt relief – a telling sign something had to change!)
I relished the slower pace of life that was forced upon me. I realised how important downtime and recharging my batteries were for improving my mental health.
Once life picked up again post-pandemic, I was determined not to get back on the hamster wheel. I consciously said ‘no’ to plans, and started adding alone time into my calendar as if it were an appointment. I slowed down and it improved my mental health.
5. I started actively practising gratitude
It’s incredible how much practising gratitude can improve your mental health, and it’s not difficult to start the habit.
Every night before going to sleep I write out a list of everything I am grateful for that day. Writing this list each night makes me pay attention to the positives – big and small – that are happening each and every day.
I am frequently thanking the universe for everything she does for me. Life is happening for me not to me.
The more you think about the positives in your life, the more you think about the positives in your life.
6. I invested in life coaching
Life coaching has similarities to therapy but it’s not the same. Therapy focuses on the past, and life coaching focuses on the future.
I was inspired to try out life coaching after following some for a while on Instagram and I sought out coaches that could help with mindset coaching. I dipped my toe in by doing a block of group coaching sessions first, and following that, I invested in a one on one coach. These experiences had the biggest impact in making me aware of my limiting beliefs, and giving me the tools to change my mindset.
Once again: I’d recommend hiring a life coach to anyone who is able to.
There you have it, the six things I did to improve my mental health. It wasn’t an easy journey but it was an important one. If you’re on your own mental health journey, I wish you all the best and hope that there are many bright days ahead.
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