Mental health is a big conversation right now. With the pandemic, so many of our lives are at risk of suffering with our mental health. For those already diagnosed with mental ill-health, these circumstances only exacerbate already diagnosed conditions. While things feel unpredictable and overwhelming, there are steps we can take to boost and improve our mental health. Here are ten of the best to try.

1. Channel Positive Thoughts

Time and again scientific research has proven that the way we think impacts on how we feel. If we are constantly thinking of ourselves and our lives in a negative manner, we end up engaging in self-fulfilling prophecies that mislead us into thinking that these notions are true.

To combat this, a good practice is to promote positive feelings of self-worth, success, happiness and optimism. For example, instead of thinking: “There’s no point in me applying for that job because I won’t match up to the other applicants,” flip your thinking. Try thinking: “My qualifications and experience are just as relevant as all the other candidates and I’m going to do my utmost to do well.”

How we think impacts how we act. Think positive. Act positive.

2. Find What You Are Grateful For

According to the Harvard Health institute, gratitude can mental health, and can in fact make us happier. Mental health experts like counselors and therapists recommend keeping a journal or notebook and jotting down things we come across in our day to day lives that we’re grateful for. Examples could be as simple as having somewhere to lay our heads at night, right down to the finer details like a stranger smiling at us or our pet acting happy to see us.

Once we get into the practice of always being grateful we are uplifted; it makes it hard to let the negative swamp our lives and thinking. Instead we can bask in a feeling of goodness and positivity.

3. Focus Solely on the Moment

In mindfulness practice, meditation is used to look inside ourselves and bring our focus to one particular aspect, issue, worry or thought. Once we’ve focused on it, accepted it, and evaluated it from every angle, then we can reveal solutions to it and finally, experience a sense of peace in letting it go.

Meditation and the art of mindfulness can be implemented everywhere. Whether it’s in the heat of an emotionally overwhelming moment, or when things feel they are spiraling out of control. Pausing, taking a breath, and bringing our attention to our emotions and reactions can help us respond calmly, in a more constructive and controlled manner. That way we take back the control in order to remain free of negative thoughts and destructive emotions.

In our everyday lives, this awareness can start in our fitness routines by paying attention to the sensations of our bodies, eating lunch by noticing the different tastes or smells, and even walking home and taking in the fresh air and birdsong. If your mind tries to spiral, use mindfulness to bring it back in the room and take control.

4. Release Endorphins with Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to manage and improve mental health. Exercise releases endorphins which by nature make us happier, calmer and more relaxed; it serves as powerful tools in the battle against anxiety, depression and stress. The best part is we don’t even need a full gym session to access these. Exercise can still have these mood boosting benefits just by being undertaken for 30 minutes a day.

At lunchtime, try to combine the soothing power of nature with the endorphins of exercise and get out for a quick twenty minute stroll, or do some yoga to wind down in the evening.

5. Eat Well

Yes, while chocolate is a guaranteed mood booster, eating well in general nourishes our minds as well as our bodies. Carbohydrates increase serotonin, a chemical that has proven calming effects on our moods. Meanwhile foods high in protein increase dopamine, norepinephrine and tyrosine, helping to keep us alert and boosting our energy levels. Fruits and vegetables are, of course, loaded with nutrients that benefit our entire bodies. They also regulate our brain chemicals to better balance our mood.

Make sure to include foods with Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids too. These can be found in fish, flaxseed and nuts. Omega-3 is known for its brain-power benefits which include improving mood and restoring structural integrity to brain cells necessary for the right levels of cognitive function.

6. Talk to Someone You Trust

Opening up to our friends and family about how we’re feeling can improve our mental health by simply letting go of the weight we’ve been carrying. Support, opinions and advice from those we trust can be invaluable; it can help us consider different perspectives and ideas which could lessen our troubles.

In addition, being more trusting has been shown to increase emotional wellbeing. If we see the positive aspects in other people such as trust and reliability, it makes us get better at recognizing our own strengths and can also encourage us to emulate the things we admire the most in the people we respect the most.

7. Do Something for Someone

There’s a reason it feels so good to give back. Research has proven that being helpful to others can boost the way we see and feel about ourselves. By being kind and helpful we build self-esteem and confidence, and plus we receive an endorphin thrill just by feeling valued for our actions. Volunteering at a local charity or for a service can be a great way to experience this sense of giving and the satisfying, rewarding experience it brings.

8. Take Breaks

Everybody has the right to leave an environment, even if only momentarily, if they feel is negatively affecting them. To prevent being overwhelmed and losing control, enact the aforementioned mindfulness but also take breaks. Get up from the desk, leave the room, step outside, take a ten minute walk or close your eyes and do some deep breathing techniques.

Once such technique is to close your eyes and take ten deep breaths. For each breath, count to four when you inhale, and exhale for another four. The effects are instant grounding, tension and stress relief.

9. Stay Hydrated

While it may be tempting to repeatedly reach for the coffee pot, too much coffee, or subsequently, too much caffeine, can have detrimental effects on our mental health. Too much caffeine in coffee has been proven to cause anxiety, heart palpitations, insomnia, nervousness, and panic attacks. Instead, opt to drink water which alongside many physical benefits like improved circulation and weight loss, it also has mental health benefits too.

Dehydration can cause low moods and even anxiety, but drinking around 8 glasses of water a day could see drastic improvements in both memory and mood. Water hydrates the brain too, boosting cognitive function so it makes it doubly essential when we need to concentrate or be at our very best.

10. Be Gentle on Yourself

Finally, we must learn to be gentle on ourselves. We can put ourselves at risk of spiraling into deeper negative thoughts if they are all we focus on. Instead, we can put our attention elsewhere into the things we value about ourselves and our lives.

In addition, it’s important to not compare our story with anybody else’s. Comparison will steal our enjoyment and appreciation for all the things that we have around us. Simply putting in place new routines, trying new things and adjusting to regular, healthier patterns can help improve our mental wellbeing through gradual change.