'how to optimise your mental health' overlaid on an image of two pairs of legs walking outdoors

Monday 8th January 2024

January is often touted ‘the most depressing month of the year’ – to help you overcome the January Blues we are sharing some Winter Wellness Tips to help you optimise your mental health.

It is recognised mental health is as important as physical health and they influence each other. Mental health plays a vital role in improving ‘whole body health’. It impacts every area of our lives, controlling how we think, feel and act. To optimise your mental health there are small changes you can introduce to your daily routine:

Strategies to optimise your mental health

RAF Families Federation Optimise your Mental Health infographic

#1 Stick to a routine

The human body loves routine. It works cyclically to the circadian rhythm and we tend to feel tired, hungry, and thirsty at the same time each day. To optimise your health, it is important to try to stick to a routine. Where possible:

  • 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.

#2 Move your body

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 mentally and physically fitter and stronger. To increase movement:

  • 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.

#3 Eat well and hydrate

The 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 improve productivity. Try to:

  • 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.

#4 Get out in nature

Getting out in nature has been 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 healing powers for mind and body. To get these benefits you could:

  • Exercise outdoors.
  • Go out to watch the sunrise/set.
  • Look out for wildlife (great activity to do with kids).

#5 Make a social connection

The mobility of military life can create feelings of loneliness and isolation. Humans are naturally social creatures and lack of contact with others can have a significant impact on how we feel. It is important to surround ourselves with positive people and engage in conversation. To find daily connection you could:

  • Call a friend or family member for a chat.
  • Spend time in public spaces – local community centre or coffee shop.
  • Visit your local HIVE to see what is on offer locally.

#6 Get enough sleep

Sleep is closely connected to mental and emotional health. The body and brain work much more effectively with good sleep. A rested person is much more able to focus, concentrate and produce higher quality work than someone who is tired. To improve sleep:

  • 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

Mental health resources for the Armed Forces Community

Visit our dedicated mental health pages for an extensive list of mental health resources for the Service community.

Remember… 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. 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.

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