According to wellbeing figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), depression and anxiety levels are on the rise, with only 29.2% of people experiencing high levels of satisfaction with their lives overall. Meanwhile, 19.7% of people admitted they had experienced anxiety or depression in 2016, up from 18.3% the previous year.
With mental health illnesses on the rise, it’s important to recognise and highlight the little steps that can have a hugely beneficial influence on mental wellbeing.
Practice meditation to help against feeling mentally distressed
Mindfulness is all the rage at the moment, moving beyond its Buddhist origins and infiltrating the Western mainstream. But rather than being a short-lived lifestyle fad with no substance, mindfulness meditation is backed by a heap of research. One such study found that meditating can trigger a decrease of brain cell volume in the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress.
Anyone can begin meditation and mindfulness practice at any time, and there are several meditation blogs to help you get started. Meditation apps have also proliferated, becoming a billion dollar industry in itself. These apps work by offering breathing techniques and daily tips to teach you about mindfulness, helping you to cope with feelings of stress or anxiety.
Take care of your body and your mind will follow
Low self-esteem and feelings of discontent can often be linked to a poor diet as what we eat affects the neurotransmitters our brain produces. Deficiencies in zinc, iron, omega-3 fats, B vitamins, B6, B12, and vitamin D are all associated with feelings of low mood and a loss of motivation. It’s also important to have a regular eating pattern, as disordered eating can cause blood sugar levels to be uneven throughout the day, wreaking havoc with your emotions and concentration levels.
Exercising regularly can also help improve your mental wellbeing. According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellent, exercise increases serotonin function in humans, which is responsible for reducing depression and regulating anxiety.
Pick up a new hobby or learn a new skill
According to a study by active holiday experts Neilson, the average UK adult hasn’t tried a new activity or hobby in five and a half years, despite the positive brain engagement learning something new promises. The same study found that 38% of adults feel excited by new activities, while 18% feel more confident with boosted self-esteem after taking part.
Vanessa King, psychology expert at Action for Happiness, explained that learning new things is a core need for mental wellbeing. She added: “Learning can help us build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy.”
Connect with the people around you — and ditch toxic friends
Take some time out of your schedule to spend time with friends and family, and strengthen your relationship with them. According to Dr. Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, people who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, healthier, and live longer than people who are less well connected.
Similarly, it’s important to notice when you are involved in a toxic relationship, and when to let go. Whether it’s with a friend or a partner, toxic relationships can leave you feeling emotionally drained, and can cause your self-confidence and self-esteem to drop, while also leaving you feeling stressed.
One study followed more than 10,000 people for over 12 years, and found there is a link between toxic relationships, stress, and your health. The study also found that those in negative relationships had a greater risk of developing heart problems, as well as being detrimental to your mental wellbeing.
Volunteering improves your mental health
Analysis from three longitudinal studies in the US showed that volunteer work lowers levels of depression, particularly in those over the age of 40. This is largely influenced by the social aspect of working alongside like-minded people, increasing the frequency of fun scenarios and stimulating conversation.
A greater sense of fulfilment is also key to mental wellbeing. In one study, researchers performed functional MRI scans on the brains of people who regularly donate or volunteer. It found that donating or volunteering caused the mesolimbic system in the brain to become active. The mesolimbic system in the brain controls feelings of reward and pleasure, and can be activated by things like food, drugs, or sex.