Eating well, not drinking too much and keeping active seem like a no-brainer. “Everything in moderation” sounds like something your Grandma would say. But these practices are not that simple to do to look after your mental health.
When it comes to diet, there’s been a lot of news in the media about cutting down on meat as a way to benefit both your health and the environment. Some analyses have gone as far as asserting that avoiding both meat and dairy is the single most significant thing you can do to reduce your impact on the planet. Back in the spring, a piece in The Guardian argued that 80% of the world’s grassland was used for livestock, which produced less than 20% of food calories. Now, that doesn’t make sense.
More recently, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme featured the uncompromising message that no amount of alcohol was beneficial when it came to drinking; a sobering reality? At least, no one has said that about coffee. There might be a revolt!
On the upside, social prescribing is a more recent phenomenon where healthcare professionals encourage their patients to make connections through activities such as attending clubs or special interest groups. Since loneliness affects people of all ages, this has to be a good thing. The relationships we make through social interactions mean that we will be more likely to care for others (which does us good), ask for help and even talk about our feelings.
Finally, 10-minute bursts of intensive exercise – frequently – are said to be beneficial. And I would have to say that I agree with this as an effective way to look after your mental health.
A minimalist’s ways on how to look after your mental health
I would like to share a few ideas to look after your mental health. If we concentrate and focus intentionally on the things that add value to our lives, we have less room for the things that don’t. Here’s my list:
1. Become and stay clutter-free.
It’s impossible to thrive when you’re weighed down with stuff.
In a recent blog post, Joshua Becker wrote, “It is difficult to fully appreciate how much of a burden our possessions have become until we begin to remove them.”
I’d say that’s true, having spent several weeks decluttering the home of my late mother-in-law.
Our house certainly isn’t all bare surfaces and devoid of ‘stuff’ (remember, you can’t unclutter someone else’s belongings). But it’s certainly a place where anyone can walk through the door at any time and find it to be a welcoming and relatively clutter-free space.
2. Inject humor into your day.
Every Monday, I pin a small humorous cartoon or aphorism to my office door. It started after the August Bank Holiday with a fun little poem called the Plodders Prayer (I just needed to plod quietly through the week).
After that, the humour became more focused on the context (academia). Colleagues who pass by will often stop and chat about whatever I have pinned up.
3. Learn to say ‘no.’
Saying “no” is a huge way to maintain your equilibrium. Courtney Carver has a saying, “I will not say yes when my heart says no.” Wise words indeed.
If, like me, your tendency is that of an ‘Obliger’, learning to say “no” is a crucial thing to do.
A few years ago, I went to see comedian Sarah Millican. Smutty but very funny indeed, one of Millican’s sketches entailed her deploying an uncharacteristically deep, resonant and definitive sounding, “No!”.
“Would you like to perform at the Queen’s Golden JubileeJubilee?” Millican was asked.
“No!” she replied (she already had a prior ‘booking’ in the form of the arrival of a kitten).
“Would you like to open our new facility?”
Again came the resounding,” No!”
As I listened (and laughed), I resolved to put this into practice. I didn’t have long to wait.
On Tuesday, it was my WI group’s AGM. At the end of the evening, a member of the Committee approached me to ask if I would consider joining the team. Without a moment’s hesitation, out of my mouth erupted a clear and straightforward, “No!”
The lady looked at me a little quizzically, so I rewarded her with an explanation. But I didn’t change my mind.
4. Be your authentic self.
As a natural morning person, I rarely stay up late, and it’s usually me who is the first to leave an evening event. Just when everyone is revving up to ‘party on’ into the wee small hours, I usually announce that my batteries are flat and I need to go home (often immediately). No wonder – we are an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ family. In any case, it is said that it’s best to leave a party while you’re still having a good time.
A useful phrase that we enjoy repeating at home is, “Ce n’est pas mon truc!” (That’s not my thing). Practise using it as often as you like. This builds on the ‘Accept Who You Are’ idea, but make that self-acceptance real.
5. Choose simplicity over complexity.
If you’ve got a demanding schedule, don’t make life any more complicated than it already is. A good friend of mine recently started a new job, based in London. She commutes daily, so she has very sensibly decided to get ahead with meal prep at the weekends. This will make weekdays a lot more manageable when it comes to getting home and putting a meal on the table (she’s a single mum of 3).
The concept of tilting – intentionally allowing life to lean into whatever are the current priorities – enables us to acknowledge the other things that may demand our attention and find the simplest way to meet those needs.
These are five practical ways on how you can look after your mental health and achieve a better mindset. These are easy to apply in everyday living and guarantee that they will make a massive difference in your life.