At this time of year, many people resolve to make changes that will positively impact their health and wellbeing. Gym memberships soar, smoking cessation products sell, and charity campaigns encourage us to go ‘dry’ for January. Commendable and beneficial as these efforts are, it’s striking that they almost always focus more on ‘physical’ health. The promotion of health (and happiness) by improving our mental and emotional habits is often overlooked, and the benefits under-estimated.
In fact, the health benefits of improving our psychological health may even exceed the benefits of quitting unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking. In her fantastic book ‘Mind over Medicine’ Dr Lissa Rankin says that ‘healthy relationships are medicine for the mind’ and psychologist John Cacioppo, who has devoted his life’s work to studying the effects of social isolation and loneliness believes that curing loneliness is as good for your health as giving up smoking.’
You may be put off the idea of ‘improving your mental health’ because it seems like a complicated and difficult exercise, or perhaps you feel that this doesn’t apply to you – there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with you psychologically. But, just as we can always eat better or improve our exercise habits, we can all improve our mental health in lots of positive ways.
To get you started, here’s our top 3 easy for everyone tips:
- Join in
People who have an active social network – be that friends, neighbours, an extended family, colleagues, or people with shared interests – benefit in many health-related ways. They are less likely to become ill, and more likely to recover from all kinds of illnesses.
You don’t have to be a social butterfly or a super networker to enjoy the benefits of connection. Joining a group, taking a class, or taking part in any activity that strengthens your existing social bonds can have an immediate and lasting effect on many aspects of your physical and mental health
2. Meditate or practice ‘mindfulness’
Whether you are religious, spiritual, or a confirmed atheist, the health benefits of meditation and mindfulness are now widely acknowledged by the medical and scientific community. There are many books, audio books and even apps (try ‘Headspace’ or ‘Calm’) that can help you get started. Like any physical habit, the skill and benefits of meditation and mindfulness have to be practiced and increase over time.
3. Challenge your negative thinking and improve your happiness
Psychological research suggests that although to some extent our level of optimism and positivity is predetermined (about 50% determined) by our genetics and early life experiences, and about 10% is determined by what happens to us, we all have the power to affect about 40% of our positivity and subjective feeling of happiness. If you’re a ‘glass half empty’ kind of person you might have to do a bit of work to reset your default negative thinking, but there’s plenty of evidence that it’s very possible.
For tips to get you started check out chapter 7: Happiness is Preventive Medicine in ‘mind over medicine’.
If you’d like some help with improving your mental – and your overall – health, we have people in our team who can help you take the first steps. Give us a call on 01926 801111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.