Do you feel like your mental well-being and overall happiness could use a boost? Making mental health practices part of your day and (work) routine can make a significant change in the way we go through our day. When practiced regularly, you will start feeling more focused and resilient. Nowadays, digital health care seems to be very promising, and therefore we have selected five mental health practices based on science that will help you feel mentally stronger.
1. Meditation as a mental health practice
Improving your focus and giving your busy mind a rest
Meditation is a practice that connects the body, mind and spirit. This practice has been proven to create lasting changes in cognition and emotion, with as a result for example less anxiety and depression, and more inner peace and better sleeping patterns. Meditation allows us to focus our awareness on the present moment. Using the power of the breath, meditation can create an incredibly calming feeling, strengthening every time you practice.
Non-digital meditation practice:
- Find a quiet place for yourself and then sit or lay down in a comfortable position. Follow your breath. You do not have to change the breath, simply observe how it flows in and out of your body. Inhale through the nose, from your belly, and exhale through the mouth. Remember that you do not have to meditate long! Starting with five minutes per day can make a huge difference already.
- Whenever any thoughts come up (which will happen inevitably), simply observe them non-judgingly, and bring your attention back to the breath. The goal of meditation is not to have a thoughtless mind, it is to be fully present with whatever comes up for you.
Apps for meditation:
- Voted as “Happiest app in the world’’ by Centre for Humane Technology, Calm is one of the most popular meditation apps. It offers sleep stories, meditations of different lengths, and calming music. Since COVID-19, Calm has made a wide range of their meditation products available for free. These include Soothing Meditations, Sleep Meditations, Sleep Stories, Calm Music, Calm Body, Calm Masterclass, Calm Kids, Mindfulness resources, Practices to find ease.
You can even join the Calm Facebook Community to connect with people from all over the world who are on a similar journey. Calm offers free content as well as paid content.
- Headspace offers a wide range of mindfulness resources including (sleep) meditations, blogs about mental well-being and even a Netflix series: A Headspace Guide to Meditation. This series visualizes the effects of meditation and guides you through practices as you discover your inner world.
2. Three things you are grateful for
Gratitude is the antidote to worry. It brings you back to the present moment
In his Ted Talk, “The Secret To Better Work’’, Shawn Achor explains that practicing gratitude two minutes per day, for 21 days long, can actually rewire your brain to think more optimistically.
“When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.
By consciously practicing gratitude everyday, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.” — The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief by Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury,
Non-digital gratitude practice:
- Choose a time in the day in which you prefer taking a time to go inward and reflect. This could be in the morning, at night, or anywhere in between! On a notebook, write down three things that you are grateful for that day. It does not matter how big or small those things are. We can find gratitude in small things like a warm cup of tea, as well as deeper things such as a good conversation with a friend. Try to repeat this everyday.
Apps for gratitude:
- The app Three Good Things is a digital version of this practice. The app is extremely easy to use and can give you a reminder to think of three things that went well that day. You can also look back at the three good things that happened last week, last month or last year. It’s basically a collection of positive moments in your life. How beautiful is that?!
3. Mental health practice: one hour walking per day
A change of scenery gives you a new perspective and leaves you feeling recharged
Walking an hour per day has many benefits for your mental health, bones and muscles, sleep, heart and vessels, bowel movements. Most of us already know that exercise is very good for our health, but it’s still easy to forget to actually move, especially after months of lockdown, where we have gotten so used to doing most activities from home.
In this article you can read how just an hour of walking per day affects your body.
It’s for a reason that when we feel stressed, we crave some fresh air. Going outside for a walk, is a great source for relaxation for your mind, body and spirit. Give yourself this break one hour per day, and I guarantee you that when you come back, you will feel more energized!
One hour of walking equals more or less 7200 steps. In most of our phones there’s a health app, which includes a step recorder. For Apple users the app is called Health and for Android users it’s called Samsung Health. This way, you can keep track of the amount of steps you take every day.
4. Free journaling as a mental health practice
One of the most effective and easiest forms of journaling
When we write freely, our thinking minds are put on hold for a moment. This form of journaling helps us to clear our mind from any clutter. We are used to editing what we write, because most of the time we write to someone else. With this practice, you can let yourself go completely. This does not only help you to release any thoughts and emotions in an uncensored way, but it can also help you to get to the core of a problem or find new creative solutions to a challenge.
How to start?
Grab your notepad or a pen and paper. Put a timer on for 10 minutes. Start writing down anything that pops into your mind and go from there. Write until the alarm goes off.
What you write down, does not have to ‘‘make sense’’, because this practice is only for yourself. If you prefer to start writing with a journal prompt, have a look at this page that provides journal prompts for mental well-being.
5. Small acts of kindness
Through helping others we help ourselves
Various studies have shown that kindness has a positive effect on our well-being. Receiving, giving or even just witnessing acts of kindness increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood in the brain.
“The rewards of acts of kindness are many,” says Dr. IsHak, a professor of Psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai. “They help us feel better and they help those who receive them. We’re building better selves and better communities at the same time.” — The Science of Kindness, Cedars-Sinai
Acts of kindness at work
- Send out an encouraging email to a coworker.
- Implement a birthday calendar at the office and write down everyone’s birthday. When it is someone’s birthday, send them your wishes.
- Show interest in your coworker. Find out something about them that you did not know before!
- Send a card to a sick coworker to brighten up their day.
One last note
Implementing a daily habit in your life can make huge change when you do it consistently.
The secret to creating healthy habits is actually setting small goals for yourself that are realistic. Our brain releases dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter, as a reward every time that we achieve a goal, even if it was an easy task. This keeps the reward-system engaged and gives us more motivation to work towards a bigger goal!