5 SELF-CARE PRACTICES FOR OUR OVERSTIMULATED MINDS
Our modern mental well-being struggle is real.
Unless we incorporate regular self-care practices, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by life's busyness.
A recent Microsoft UK study found that 86% of participants experienced anxiety from an “always-on” work culture in the last year, leading to difficulties with “switching off” from work and sleeping. A new Somerset House, London exhibition titled “24/7” is dedicated to exploring how to cope with “the non-stop nature of modern life.” With serious mental health conditions on the rise, and the World Health Organisation’s estimation that anxiety and depression costs the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity annually, it’s time to take mental well-being seriously.
Just like we might make time to stay fit, we can prioritise regular positive habits to keep our mindset healthy. This can give us more mental resilience for life’s inevitable ups and downs, a more positive mindset for our daily interactions, and ultimately help us know ourselves better so that we can aim to live a life that’s more closely aligned with who we really are. Also just like for exercise, I believe choosing mental well-being practices that we enjoy and that fit into our busy lives, increases the likelihood that we take them on as regular habits (rather than temporary health kicks).
Whilst working in finance and going through various stressful periods in my 20s, I delved into my own personal development. I gradually discovered books, teachers and courses that improved my mental outlook and resilience - things I had not been taught during formal education. After a few years of helping friends through their personal struggles, I joined as Co-Founder of Mind: Unlocked to build online courses, and to write and speak about better mental well-being.
Here are five tips to better cope with hectic modern life:
1. Take care of your body
Our mental and physical health significantly affect each other. Chronic stress is a known contributor to physical issues such as obesity, heart disease and even our risk of cancer. Equally, eating healthy food, exercising regularly, and prioritising quality sleep, can improve our mental well-being.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s book "The 4 Pillar Plan" discusses preventing lifestyle diseases through how we “relax, eat, move and sleep.” "Intuitive Eating" is a great read to help build a sustainably healthy relationship with our food.
Experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night and being chronically under-rested can lead to serious medical problems. Having a regular bedtime routine, and avoiding mental stimulation and "blue light" from tech devices (like by charging our phones outside the bedroom overnight) can help us wind down before bedtime. "Why We Sleep" by Matthew Walker is great for more tips using cutting edge sleep-science.
Exercise-wise, finding something we actually enjoy doing is key. Lower intensity, strengthening movement like yoga, swimming or pilates help calm us down instead of adding to high cortisol levels from a stressful day. Smart trackers like Fitbit or the Oura ring can also make us more aware of our quality of sleep, exercise and other metrics.
Smoking and over-indulging on alcohol can also affect our physical and mental health. The NHS’ alcohol support page has advice on reducing alcohol consumption, and the psychology behind GP-recommended book, Allen Carr’s “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking,” is the best way I’ve come across to leave cigarettes behind for good. You can also check out other articles on the ICBRKR Wellness blog for detailed physical health tips.
2. Meditate (on the regular)
Meditation is a booming science-backed way to improve mental well-being, praised by many of the world’s most famous and successful people (from Oprah Winfrey to Lady Gaga!). Meditation can have positive effects on our physical and mental health such as sleeping better, reducing stress, and improving our focus and emotional well-being. Over time, regularly inwardly checking in, even for just a few minutes, can help us stay calmer by slowing down our racing thoughts. Meditating also makes us practice focusing on the present moment, rather than allowing our minds to wander into worrying about the past or future - a common habit thought to make us feel unhappy.
Like exercise, the benefits of meditating build up gradually over time, and there are many ways to get going with a habit you enjoy. You can start small with a five minute regular practice at a time that suits your schedule and build up from there. Popular meditation apps like Insight Timer, Headspace and Calm have thousands of options available. You can also find free videos online or in-person, guided classes at meditation studios near you, or get a free quick-start guide sent to your email when you sign up at Mind: Unlocked. Longer online courses like Mind: Unlocked’s practical beginners course, can also help you get used to practicing regularly.
3. Take regular breaks (and get into nature)
It can be tempting to sit at our laptops for hours at a time, but taking a short break every hour during our work day can actually boost our productivity. Longer breaks are important too, like having boundaries around evenings and weekends to take proper mental time off work. Research even suggests that vacation trips away can improve our life satisfaction and anxiety levels, with the effects often lasting beyond the holiday (no further excuse needed!).
A daily walk outside, particularly within the first half hour of waking up, can also help prevent vitamin D deficiency and seasonal affective disorder. Spending regular time outdoors in nature has been shown to have wide-ranging health benefits, including improved emotional well-being and less stress.
I also love the BorrowMyDoggy app, which allows people who can’t have their own dog (like if you travel a lot) to find and look after a local pooch part-time. Spending time with dogs (and other animals) is proven to bring benefits (like improved heart health, reduced stress and depression), and it also gives an excuse to go for a walk outside and connect more with our communities.
4. Find digital balance
One of the most significant recent developments to our lives is the amount of time we spend using technology. It can bring a lot of convenience, but the average British adult checks their smartphone every 12 waking minutes, and tech insiders acknowledge that our phones and apps are designed to capture as much of our attention as possible. Unfortunately, research has linked smartphone addiction to anxiety and low energy levels, with heavy social media use particularly affecting our mood.
Smartphone usage-trackers can help us build awareness of how often we use different apps, and choosing to have “no phone” times of the day or rooms in the house, turning off all but essential alerts and notifications, and deleting social media or other time-wasting apps can also help. "How to Break up with Your Phone" by Catherine Price is a great read to take more control of our relationship with technology.
5. Self-discovery and community
One of the most powerful ways I’ve found to improve my mental well-being, is by better understanding how and why I react to the world around me. Working through the book "Designing Your Life" by Bill Burnett (based on a Stanford University course) and the profound personal development course iDiscover360 gave me better insight into what I wanted my career and life to look like. Byron Katie’s books also helped me take responsibility for my own feelings, and books like Michael A. Singer’s “Untethered Soul” and Krishnamurti’s philosophical classic “Freedom from the Known” gave me the understanding to stay more objective and positive through life’s ups and downs.
It’s also important to prioritise having a supportive circle of people around us. Research suggests that embracing community is one of the key factors to living a long and happy life. The ICBRKR app aims to connect us with like-minded people and curated events both locally and when we travel, so definitely join if you haven’t already! Cultivating a supportive working culture, where team members feel comfortable enough to talk about feelings of overwhelm or other mental health challenges, is key too. Being able to say “no” to projects can seem challenging, but in reality setting boundaries can help improve the overall quality of our work.
Using our expertise or people skills to help vulnerable people who need support via mentoring schemes, and volunteering with or donating to reputable charities can develop our feelings of gratitude for what we have, and our connection to humanity or to other worthwhile causes. Altruism can further our life's deeper purpose, and has even been shown to boost our own health, as well as changing the lives of those we serve.
If you’d like further help for any mental well-being issue, speak to a trained medical professional to find out about other options (like counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy).
With an estimated one quarter of people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem any given year, the struggles we all may go through are a normal part of life and more common than most of us think.
As we take ownership of and prioritise practices (like those above) that take care of our own well-being, we build mental strength that can help us emotionally self-regulate through life's ups and downs, and we also have more capacity to support those around us who might need it.
Jessica is Co-Founder of Mind: Unlocked. To keep up with mental well-being events and free resources, sign up to their three-bullet weekly emails. Or, if you're ready to meditate to transform your life, check out Mind: Unlocked's 21-day online course.
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