We all know someone—or it may be ourselves—who has experienced depression, anxiety, loneliness, exhaustion... or just feeling crap.
We spoke with Christine Macfarlane, the President of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, who has over 25 years' experience and is a mindfulness and wellbeing educator. Christie shared why it’s okay to not be okay, and the everyday habits to implement that may increase your mental wellbeing from meditation and gentle exercise to putting your phone down and spending more time in nature.
Understand It’s Okay To Not Be Okay
Macfarlane says the most important thing to know is that it’s okay to not be okay. We have to give ourselves permission to feel scared, alone, worried and isolated. Don’t minimise your struggles. The more we push these things away and pretend they're not happening, the more potential they have to present in other ways.
Acknowledge your feelings, breathe into them and, importantly, don’t compare your suffering to someone else’s. It’s not a competition.
Spend Time In Nature
Seriously—being in nature gives you the sense that life is bigger than what is going on in your own world. Listen to the sounds of birds, waves crashing against the shore, the sound of wind through trees, and see the sun rising in the morning.
Spending time in nature gives you a different perspective of your struggles and challenges. It doesn’t change our problems, but it gives us space to look at them.
Take Some Gentle Exercise
Research has shown that exercise not only improves our physical health, it also has a profound impact on our mental wellbeing too. Moving your body is one of the best things you can do if you have depression or anxiety, or to just boost your mood, as it releases feel-good endorphins. Regular exercise can also relieve stress, improve memory and help you sleep better.
Macfarlane says that while high-impact exercise is beneficial at times, if you’re not feeling your best, try something more gentle. Yoga, tai chi, swimming and walking are all great examples of exercise to do if you’re feeling down, but the most important thing is to find something you like that works for you.
Get Enough Sleep
"Lack of sleep has such a major impact on our mood and overall mental health," says Macfarlane. "It’s vital that we get at least hours a night." When we don’t sleep enough, we find it harder to focus, are short-tempered and lack of motivation and energy. We’re also more likely to make bad decisions and turn to quick fixes that feed us in a negative way.
So, what are some ways we can fall asleep easier? Common tips include limiting your alcohol intake and caffeine late in the day, taking magnesium, putting your phone away and reading a book, or listening to sleep stories or podcasts. We've got some tips on how to have a better sleep here.
Practice Daily Mindfulness And Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation increase the grey matter in our brains, which is associated with empathy, attention and self-awareness. It also strengthens and builds the neural pathways increases activation of the prefrontal cortex, which lifts your mood. Research has also shown that mindfulness and meditation are linked to a decrease in depression, anxiety and stress, and lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
So what are the best ways to practice mindfulness and meditation? "The best forms are the ones that you’ll do," says Macfarlane. You can weave mindfulness into your everyday life by being present in the shower, going for a walk or drinking a cup of tea. You can also start every day with 10 minutes of meditation or yoga. These practices are proactive and preventative.
Find And Savour The Joy In Your Day
"People think joy has to be the big stuff. But really it’s the little things," says Macfarlane. Whether it’s a walk with friends, baking a loaf of bread or putting on some music and dancing—finding, appreciating and savouring the joy in each day improves our mental health. Taking in all the good in our world increases our gratitude, and research has shown that improves our general and emotional welling.
If we savour positive experiences and appreciate the joy in life, those neural pathways will form and grow. Focus more on taking in the good moments, and there’ll be more of them.
Spend Less Time On Your Phone
"We need to remember social media is a virtual world filled with judgement, fake news and rumour mongering, and it actually disconnects us from our real world," says Macfarlane. Spending too much time online and on social media can take us down a road of comparison, where we feel guilty for not doing enough, or being enough.
So, what can we do? Ask yourself, is this serving me? Is this helping my mental and emotional health? And if I am choosing to do it, I am choosing to do it with awareness? Set boundaries and time limits, turn off your alerts if need be, and stay in control of your connectedness.
Seek Professional Advice
If you are really struggling, Macfarlane encourages you to seek professional help. Remember, a struggle for one person will be different to another's. If you are finding it difficult to fall asleep, lack motivation, or feel down for several weeks, go and get some support.
Getting support earlier means it will be less likely that you will experience a more severe and deteriorating mental health condition. When we seek help, it’s important that the people we speak to are qualified and belong to a professional association with a code of ethics. And just remember—you are not alone and there is support out there to help you.
If you or anyone you know needs support please contact Lifeline.
Image credit: Urban List