Healthy mind, healthy body. It's a common phrase, yet it makes health - both mental and physical - seem very clear cut. There's only healthy or unhealthy. Or is there?
We know this isn't true when it comes to physical health. We're in an age where we recognise that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes, but we're yet to recognise the same for mental wellbeing. I often feel like I'm expected to be in a 'fit' state-of-mind no matter what, whether it's fit for work, fit to drive, even fit for everyday interactions. And when I do recognise a fluctuation in my mental wellbeing, I often assigned to some passive, unknown reason: I "got out of bed on the wrong side today", or I'm just "having a bad day".
Like most people, I go through periods of stress, anxiety, even general grouchiness, and sometimes would rather dive back under the covers in the morning than face the world. However, there will be days even during my most stressful times where I wake up happy, jump out of bed and sing in the shower. I'll smile at the bus driver on my way to work, sit down at my desk and think "Bring on that difficult client, bring on the list of 1001 things to do! These are opportunities, not burdens!"
Is it possible to always have a positive attitude no matter the negative things going on around me?
Over this year's Mental Health Awareness Week, I read a lot about dealing with some of the most stressful occasions in a person's life: depression; bereavement; hard times in relationships. But what about everyday stresses and strains? Between 2015-2016, stress accounted for 45% of all sick days taken in the UK. As the Mental Health Foundation puts it, good mental health is more than the absence of a mental health problem.
On that note, I decided to compile a list of ways to alleviate daily stress. Often I need reminding of these - and thought they may help you too!
1. Creative (stress) outlets
Is your job your creative calling? If so, you can probably skip this step! Last year, a study published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association found that spending 45 minutes on a creative activity significantly lessens stress levels, no matter what your level of artistry is. From pottery making to paper crafts, it could really work for you. And if freehand isn't your thing, perhaps try mindful colouring book.
2. Me time
Along with creativity, try to create time for yourself. When I'm feeling particularly stressed out, I like to take the night off, get into my pyjamas, and relax. I've never been good at meditation, but I do know that when I need the time, I'll use the Headspace app for guidance.
3. Healthy food, healthy mind
Certain foods can fuel your body better than others, and the same is true for your mind. While high-sugar, high-fat foods may make you feel better in the short-run (who doesn't treat themselves when they feel rough?) it may be worth upping your wholefood consumption when feeling stressed. For example, a handful of walnuts a day can improve your memory, wholegrains can give you sustained energy throughout the day, and chocaholics rejoice, cocoa could improve blood flow to the brain.
4. Night night
Are you sleeping enough? The British Sleep Council recommends between 7-9 hours sleep per night, but reports that one third of Britons sleep for just 5-6 hours per night. If I'm struggling to sleep, I'll try wearing layers (I love being toasty and warm) or a cup of bedtime tea with valerian root, a herbal remedy to help induce sleep.
5. Exercise (your mind)
Regular exercise does more than look after the body, it also improves mental wellbeing. The Mental Health Foundation recommends finding exercise you enjoy rather than have to do too, as this will improve your willingness to do it often.
6. Cosy up
My favourite place in the world is my bed - you can tell because I've already mentioned it in this article. Twice. Feeling cosy can improve your overall happiness, and is the basis of the Danish buzzword hygge. Considering Nordic countries are routinely named the happiest countries in the world, it may be worth adopting more hygge in your life, perhaps by luxuriating in a hot bath, reading by candlelight, or even baking a cake!
7. Contentedness, not happiness
A few years ago I read a piece around contentedness being the new happiness, similar to this article in Psychology Today. To me, happiness represents the very peak of my emotions, while contentedness is a day-to-day positive feeling. While my happiness comes and goes, contentedness is something I can find in anything, whether it's a well-written email or a smile at a passerby. To always push for the best is in our nature, but remembering to appreciate the little things helps me to feel good at any time.