Dr Lynda Shaw’s top tips to boost your mental health this year

Every week in England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, but we could all probably benefit from finding ways to improve our mental health after a tumultuous and difficult year. Here is my advice on how to boost your mental health in the coming year:

1. Show Compassion

 …by expecting nothing in return

The purest form of compassion is when you have no expectation of being ‘paid back’ in any way. Knowing that you helped to turn someone’s day around is an invaluable reward on its own. Show compassion simply because you feel it is the right thing to do and you would like to.

…by thinking of others first

Consider the needs of others over your own, particularly if they are vulnerable. Compassion is the willingness to give and could be as simple as listening to someone who needs to be heard or giving comfort or your time.

… by demonstrating acceptance

Compassion embraces the diverse nature of humanity and treats all as equals. Try to avoid passing judgement and remember you never know someone’s full story.  Making acceptance a habit will lead to you having a more positive mindset overall.

… through little acts of kindness

A single compassionate act can turn someone’s day around. It could be as small as opening the door for someone struggling with their shopping to smiling at a stranger or paying someone an honest compliment. Smiling, for example, releases endorphins which make you feel happier, so not only does this random act brighten someone else’s day, it will brighten yours too.

2. Show Self-compassion

 …by cultivating your inner advocate

We all have an inner critic – that little voice in our head that niggles away at us, so we need a more powerful inner advocate too. When you feel your inner critic taking over, your inner advocate needs to jump in to remind you of your good qualities, what you have done well and stops you putting yourself down.

…by forgiving yourself

We all have moments of regret where we relive in our minds something we said or did and unnecessarily kick ourselves repeatedly. We all make mistakes occasionally and any other person involved might not have even noticed or may have moved on anyway. Come to peace with the situation and think of ways to better handle it for next time.

…through respect

Self-respect means valuing yourself for who you are and not letting others undermine it. Trust yourself to make your own decisions, form your own opinions and behave with dignity.  Respect yourself regardless of successes and failures.

…by accepting yourself

Instead of comparing yourself to others or trying to strive for perfection, know that we all have strengths and weaknesses and things we like and dislike about ourselves. Social media plays a huge role in projecting a fake reality loaded with damaging imagery and ideals.  Keep the promises you have made to yourself and know that you are enough.

3. Be Empathetic

…by checking in

When someone tells you a personal problem, they are likely to be feeling vulnerable, low and in need of support. Make sure that they know that you are there for them perhaps by sending a simple text or taking ten minutes to call them, whatever is most appropriate for them. Ask them how they are, if they need anything and how you can help them – most people don’t feel comfortable asking for help, but just because they haven’t, doesn’t mean they don’t need or want to.

… by putting yourself in their shoes

Imagine you are the person who is confiding in you. Try to picture yourself in their position so you can best try to understand what they are going through. Be mindful, sensitive and caring.

…by not judging

Being judgemental immediately shuts off a conversation, and invalidates that person’s opinions and feelings, making them feel worse overall. Be open minded and know that the person you are talking to is doing their best.

…by asking open questions

Ask meaningful and relevant open questions to show that you have been listening, that you want to help and that they can confidentially confide in you. Conversely, if they don’t want to talk, just let them know you are there if and when they do.

4. Be Courageous

 …by embracing change

For many people, change and uncertainty is daunting. Seeing change negatively can increase stress and anxiety levels which will have a negative impact on both your emotional and physical health. When your body is feeling stressed it produces the hormone cortisol which is associated with weight gain, fatigue and even impaired brain function.  Instead try and embrace change by finding positives in it.

…in your decision-making

Making the ‘right’ choice can be overwhelming at times and there is often a bias that affects how we reach conclusions and ultimately make choices. We fear making the wrong choice when so often there are so many options to choose from, and the more decisions we have to make each day, the less mental energy we have to make the bigger decisions. Filter out all the unnecessary background noise and be decisive.

…by letting go

There are many things in life that we have little influence over and it is particularly important to remember, just like we can’t change the past, we also can’t change others. Try not to obsess over things or people we can’t change as this will only negatively affect your happiness, productivity and thinking. Let go of what is troubling you and move forward to enjoy your present and future.

5. Be Humble

… by understanding that this year in particular has hit some of us harder than others

Even though our experiences are different, it really is important that we deeply consider the feelings and wellbeing of friends, colleagues, neighbours and family whenever possible.  Who can you help?

… by valuing and listening to others

We should spend time talking to loved ones, friends, colleagues and our children, asking them questions, listening to how they are feeling and giving them an opportunity to express themselves. Giving your time can the greatest gift of all.

…by checking yourself when you feel the need to self-promote

Rather than showing off what you have, a humble person is more likely to share what they have and consider other people’s feelings if they are unable to have the same good fortune.  Perhaps consider how posting on social media about how you are having the best time might make others struggling only feel worse.

…by admitting you don’t have all the answers

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  There is no shame in reaching out and learning from, and being helped by, others.  All we have to do then is reciprocate.

6. Build Resilience

…by having a plan

Plan for just today or perhaps the week ahead. Address important issues so they are dealt with. Careful time management and organisation is key and makes your capacity to recover from difficulties quicker.  Work out your new normal. Routines help most of us feel in control whether we are a child or an adult but be sure to throw in a lot of time for fun and laughter.

…by adopting positive thinking

Accept that we don’t know how long the challenges we face are going to be for but know that this difficult period will end.  While we should all be allowed to feel how we feel, it is shown that those who face adversity with a positive mindset deal with stress and problems better and have a better health outcome long term. Talk to other people with a positive mindset rather than those who drain you. Stay social and focus on what brings you enjoyment and fun.

… by playing to your strengths

What can you do right now that you are really good at? Boost your and your family members’ confidence and self-esteem by playing to your strengths.  Are you a fantastic leader, baker, runner, organiser, teacher or gardener?

7. Be Confident

Confidence boosts your health

Confidence is associated with good mental health. Building self-esteem begins in childhood, developed during early social and family situations. Confident children tend to do better in school, take better care of themselves, excel in sports and are better at withstanding peer pressure. We can grow in confidence at any time in our lives with the right people around us and by achieving goals.

Confidence increases performance

Being confident means you are more likely to stay motivated, recognise your own strengths and skillset and apply them efficiently and effectively for tasks.  Self-doubt can dramatically affect performance. Knowing what you are good at and quietening self-doubt can matter as much as ability.

Confidence correlates with happiness

Confident individuals are reported to be generally happier and more satisfied with their lives. Confidence increases energy and can help build healthy relationships. Boost your confidence by practising self-compassion, being kind to yourself and knowing who you are and that that is enough.

Confidence is attractive and contagious

Confidence is an attractive quality which is highly valued by others and so confident people are more likely to have larger social circles and more friends. Try not to compare yourself negatively to others, because being you is enough.  Have confidence in yourself, so that others can see all the wonderful things about you too.

Dr Lynda Shaw is a change specialist, regular professional speaker, chartered psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist and author. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and Fellow and ... (Read More)

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