Optimise your mental health

In recent years, an increasing awareness of the importance of good mental health has been gaining traction amongst the wider population. Here we share recommendations for simple changes to help optimise your mental health.

The importance of good mental health

It is recognised that sound mental health is as important as physical health and, ultimately, the two are inextricably linked. With issues surrounding mental health problems now becoming normalised, those who struggle with mental health issues are more likely to seek help and support, and there are more forms of treatment and support than ever before.

Mental health plays a vital role in improving your ‘whole body health’. It impacts every area of our lives by controlling how we think, feel and act. The good news is there are small actions you can introduce into your everyday life to help optimise your mental health.

Strategies to optimise your mental health

Routine

The human body loves routine. It works cyclically on a system called the circadian rhythm. We tend to feel tired, hungry, and thirsty at the same time each day. Therefore, to optimise your health, it is important to try to stick to routines. To make this happen it is recommended that you:

  • Get up and go to bed at roughly the same time every day
  • Expose yourself to morning sunshine by getting outside first thing (a walk, or morning coffee/stroll in the garden will tick this box)
  • Allow yourself regular breaks every hour away from the tasks of your day to give your mind a rest (even if it is just 5 minutes doing something you enjoy)
  • Prioritise regular meal times to ensure you fuel your body and mind.

Movement

Our bodies have been designed to move. The World Health organisation recommends that we do 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week (which works out at approximately 22 minutes per day). The endorphins released when we move make us feel good, happy, and positive. It helps improve our body image, and makes us both mentally and physically fitter and stronger. To achieve this you could:

  • Carry out exercise snacking throughout the day – short bursts of exercise done throughout the day (doing some squats whilst waiting for the kettle to boil for example)
  • Set and alarm to make sure you get up and move your body every hour
  • Find an accountability partner to do exercise with you
  • Move more energetically whilst cleaning or gardening- you don’t always need to put your sports kit on.

Eat well and hydrate

A recent Smiles Trial (Jacka et al 2017) showed that individuals who ate a fresh, Mediterranean diet had a much less likelihood to be clinically depressed and anxious than those who didn’t focus on eating healthily. Food and water can provide us with energy, immunity and making individuals more productive. Perhaps you could:

  • Be organised and plan your meals, have the appropriate ingredients accessible for cooking
  • Eat a plant based (fruit, vegetable, nut, seed, legume) rainbow every day- a portion of food that is red, yellow, orange, blue/purple, green and white
  • Drink at least 1.2 litres of water every day.

Get out in nature

Getting out and about in nature has been scientifically proven to help improve mood and reduce stress, anger and frustration. Our ancestors spent 99% time outside. Now, the average human spends only 10% of their time outside. Exposure to fresh air, vitamin D and daylight have tremendous healing powers for mind and body. Getting into nature helps to solve problems and put things into perspective. To get these benefits you could:

  • Take a brisk walk at coffee time/lunch time
  • Have walk and talk meetings when you don’t need to be in front of the computer.

Daily Connections

The transient nature of military life can create feelings of loneliness and isolation. We are naturally social creatures and lack of contact with others can have a significant impact on how we feel. As such, we need to surround ourselves with positive people, ideally in person but virtually or a non-work conversation on the phone will help too. To find daily connection you could:

  • Visit your local HIVE to see what is on offer locally
  • Visit your Station Gym to find out what classes and groups are available.
  • Join the Military Co-working Hubs to connect and work alongside other like-minded people
  • Link up with MILSPO for regular networking opportunities with other military spouses, partners and other-halves who are building their businesses

Get enough sleep

The body and brain work much more effectively when we are well slept. A rested person is much more able to focus, concentrate and produce higher quality work than someone who is tired. To make sure you are working to your full potential you could:

  • Set a ‘go to bed’ alarm if you find yourself getting distracted at night
  • Make your bedroom a calm place for sleep (try to make it a tech free zone)
  • Keep bright lights to a minimum in the evening to allow yourself to feel sleepy
  • Limit your caffeine intake after midday

Other mental health resources

As a result of mental health coming more under the spotlight in recent years, there are many free resources that are on offer to help. Visit our dedicated mental health pages for an extensive list.

Mental health needs to be maintained

Mental health needs to be worked on, in the same way that physical health or dental health does. It is recommended you start with small steps to change. Make any new habits you introduce easy and enjoyable – this way you are more likely to stick to them. Once you’ve built these small new habits into your daily life, then you can then progress them.

The most important thing is to be kind to yourself, and give yourself permission to focus on becoming mentally strong. Both your personal and professional lives will benefit, it really is a win-win.

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