How to improve your mental health without breaking the bank
This summer I was really excited when We Are Fit And Well asked me to do an IGTV for them. I chose a theme close to my heart: 10 Ways to Boost your Mental Health for Free.
This topic really spoke to me as I personally feel we see loads of ads for quick fixes to heal and recover out there and whilst they do have their place, there are lots of things we can do to help ourselves that don’t cost money and are therefore perhaps more sustainable.
You can see the video here, but if you’d like to delve into this subject a little deeper, read on to find out how you can boost your mental health today - all without getting your credit card out.
My 10 Ways to Boost your Mental Health for Free
#1 Regular Mental Health Check-Ins
Follow me over on Instagram and you’ll know I love a daily mental health check-in. You’ll see I share the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s not easy putting myself out there. So why do I do it?
Well, firstly, I’m passionate in my belief that this is how we’re going to break down the stigma that still surrounds living with mental health issues. By openly talking about it, sharing the good days and the bad, we will help show the world that this is part of normal life.
Now I’m not saying you’ve all got to get out there and broadcast your mental health check-ins. But I think regularly checking in with yourself and how you’re feeling is incredibly empowering. Take a moment first thing in the morning to just stop. Pause. Sit back and take time to think about how you really are. Are you feeling fuzzy, lethargic, calm, anxious, upbeat?
By repeating this regularly it will become part of your daily routine. And what’s really fab about doing this is that you can then use this information to tailor your day. I know if I’m low, I don’t want to put loads of pressure on myself. I create a smaller to-do list, schedule in a nap if I can and use other tools from this list here to help me through my day.
I know! EVERYONE talks about breathing! We’ve even done a blog or 2 on it. But this isn’t just about taking a deep breath and carrying on. Mastering breathwork may take time but it’s a powerful tool in helping change the way you feel and longterm, it will really boost your mental health.
Ultimately, we want to move our breath from the more erratic and irregular rhythm associated with the sympathetic nervous system to the more zen-like parasympathetic phase (you can read more about this in our blog here).
The best way I’ve found to do this is with rhythmic breathing. Taking a few deep breaths will help, but you need to be doing this for at least 3 minutes to start to feel a shift - a move towards that golden place of calm you want to be.
I like to do the 4-6 breath. And it really is as simple as it sounds. Four breaths in, and six out. I also use Calm on Youtube, which has some great videos with graphics to help you focus.
You didn’t think I’d leave this one out, did you? As the co-founder of The Positive Planner, of course, I’m going to talk about journaling!
So what’s all the fuss about then? Well, journaling helps us give a voice to things that we might not be able to say out loud. It can be hard to open up and talk about things in life. Putting pen to paper allows you to give space to these feelings and emotions.
You’ll probably be surprised by what comes out on the page. Journaling helps us tap into our subconscious mind, which can play havoc with us on daily basis, changing the way we perceive things. I’ve done a lot of journaling work to help me process trauma in my life. Revisiting and approaching this trauma as the person I am now has truly helped me.
We designed all our Positive Family of books with journaling in mind. We know how useful, but also sometimes intimidating, it can be to sit in front of a blank sheet of paper. So all our books offer guidance and space for bringing journaling into your daily routine.
If you’ve never done any journaling before, Ali wrote a Writing for Wellbeing blog post to help you. Or you can take a look at our 7 Types of Journaling for Anxiety and Mental Wellbeing here if you're looking to try something different.
Gratitude has been a complete game-changer for me. When I was very ill before my diagnosis with Bipolar2, I didn’t think I could make it to the next day. It was crippling. Without a shadow of a doubt, gratitude got me through.
Of course, It wasn’t all unicorn dust and sparkles. I wasn’t in a place to think there was anything in my life that was magical. So I started by taking it back to practical things: the roof over my head, a hot meal to eat, my child has clothes to wear. It doesn’t (and some would say, shouldn’t) have to be all about the expensive shiny stuff.
You’ll find gratitude features in all our books - even our new book baby, The Positive Doodle Diary, which is for children. It’s so important we start this mindset from an early age!
Top tip: I always like to end my day with one gratitude. Or, if I’m not feeling great, I make it a list of 10 things to really push that mindset shift.
#5 Have a plan for difficult days
We all have bad days! It’s absolutely normal, so don’t beat yourself up over it. Never try to force yourself to be positive every day. That isn’t going to work and will probably make you feel worse. What you can do, however, is make a plan for difficult days.
I find it incredibly liberating to know I have the tools and ability to look after myself when I’m having a bad day. It's not about making everything better, it's more about making things easier. Here are my key go-tos:
I always have some good meals prepped in the freezer. I think we all tend towards less healthy foods when we’re not feeling great. And it's at times like these, we need foods that will nourish our whole body, including our brain - take a look at this article for some tips on what foods can help.
- TV shows and films
Sounds simple, but don’t watch things that will make you feel sad! Put together a TV playlist of all the series and films that give you that feel-good feeling and make you laugh.
- Phone someone
Who makes you feel good? This is the time when you need someone who won’t let you dwell on the negatives. Who makes you laugh? Oh and let them know they’re on your list, so they know what’s going on.
#6 Allow yourself to have a day
Ali and I talk about this a LOT. At the end of the day, it’s OK to just lean into the feeling and have a day.
We all put so much pressure and expectation on ourselves to do ground-breaking work, achieve things, set the world on fire. Well, newsflash! It’s not possible to do this every day. The key here is acceptance. To know it will pass. A bad day doesn’t define you. Just get through it any which way you can.
If you struggle with negative self-talk on days like this, this article has some excellent tips on how to stop mentally beating yourself up.
We don’t have to make self-care complicated. If you want to boost your mental health, think about the basic human needs: food, hydration, rest and connection and concentrate on them.
Nurture yourself with good food, drink enough and most importantly, rest. If you’re tired and you’re able to, take a nap. The world isn’t going to stop spinning if you take 20mins out of your schedule.
In addition to this, research shows that sleep deprivation will significantly affect your mood, so make sure your sleep hygiene is good. We love the tips on how to sleep better in this article.
#8 Get out into nature
If you know Ali and me, you’ll probably have guessed nature would be in this list somewhere.
Did you know that even looking at nature can help us feel happier and calmer? Of course, not everyone is able to do this. We don’t all live next to fields or forests. And added to that, I know there are days when going out can seem the hardest thing in the world. On days like this even sticking your head out of a window can help - adding in a breathing exercise would be perfect.
But if you can get out of the house, it will have a very powerful effect on you. We innately crave nature! Go take a walk. Sit in the garden or on a park bench. Nature has been proven to have a hugely beneficial effect on our mental wellbeing.
#9 Have one screen-free day each week
Need I really say more? 🙂
Sunday is my day away from my phone and computer. I leave my phone at home, so that means no Instagram, no Facebook, no emails, no news. It’s incredibly liberating not to be available all the time and the benefits of this are far-reaching.
#10 Develop grounding rituals
What are the little rituals in life that make you feel good? My morning coffee is a big one. Sometimes in bed or out in the garden, it centres me at the beginning of the day.
Your rituals might be different. But essentially you’re looking for familiarity. Something that grounds you and tells your body it can relax. Incorporating these routines into our day are essential for moments of calm.
Thanks so much for reading. Developing a toolbox like this to help you boost your mental health is a personal journey and for me, there's been a lot of trial and error. Now, I dip in and out depending on my mood. Try some of these for yourself and see what works for you. I’d love to know what goes into your toolbox!
Much love and positive vibes,