7 ways to improve your mental health If you're experiencing depression, doctors can direct you to forms of treatment like talk therapy or antidepressants, but there are also other things you can do to benefit your mental health. Here are a few suggestions that could help improve your mood and sense of well being. Exercise The benefits of exercise are well-known, especially for those experiencing mild to moderate depression. NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommends that these people three sessions of exercise per week, lasting 45 minutes to one hour. Why is it so helpful? Exercise can help tire you out for more restful sleep, release mood-boosting endorphins, and provide a regular change of scenery. However, it’s worth remembering that every case of depression is individual. Many people find exercise beneficial, but others do not, and given that depression’s symptoms include lethargy, lack of motivation, and reduced energy levels, you may as well ask some people to walk on the moon. Try exercising and see how you feel. It’s best to try something you know you enjoy, so if you’re a natural swimmer and love the pool, try taking a dip instead of hitting the treadmill. Doing something you like means you’re more likely to continue exercising. Practice sleep hygiene The collapse of regular sleeping patterns is a familiar battle for people experiencing depression. The self-fuelling cycle can feel impossible to escape. Try following the rules below. · TV and videogames make not a sleepy head – These can prevent your brain from releasing melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. In the hour before bed time, try reading listening to music, or even simple crafts like knitting instead of screen-based activities. · Take a relaxing bath – A good soak can help your body reach the temperature that is ideal for sleep, as well as helping you unwind. Try bathing just before bed-time. · Avoid afternoon caffeine – The caffeine in coffee and tea can linger in the body for many hours after that 4pm cappuccino. Try restricting your intake to the morning. · Set a regular sleep time – It can be hard at first, but going to bed at a regular time can help program your body clock to send you to sleep, and awake, at set hours. · Relaxation exercises – Doing gentle yoga, or stretching exercises can help you unwind before bed time. Don’t engage in vigorous exercise right before bed, as this will stimulate your body and brain, having the opposite effect. Avoid drugs / alcohol – When your mind is racing, or you’re feeling particularly low, drugs and alcohol may appear an easy way to escape your problems. However, the knock-on effects of both are often far worse than the fleeting relief they provide, including disruption of natural sleep. Celebrate small victories If you’re severely depressed, getting out of bed or taking a shower can feel like mammoth tasks. Try creating a list of the things you have done, or tried to do that day. This can include everything from washing your clothes, to brushing your teeth, or even making the bed. If you’ve found these tasks hard, but managed to complete them anyway, then you succeeded! Even if you didn’t finish them, you tried, you did something! You deserve congratulations, not self-scorn. Take the pressure off It’s usually a good idea to honour your commitments, but failing to meet them when you’re sick may make you feel worse. Think of your mental health like you would any other ailment: you wouldn’t load yourself up with extra work when you have the flu, would you? Don’t take on more responsibility to force yourself to “snap out of it”. This doesn’t apply for everyone; some people find the focus and distraction of work comforting. Identify which approach is for you. Talk to a trusted person Your teacher, personal tutor, or manager can be of great support when you’re navigating a mental health issue. If you’re comfortable doing so, talk to them about what you’re going through – it’s not easy, but you may find it a huge relief. An arrangement which benefits your mental health is good for you and them; you are more likely to be productive and able to focus on recovery if you are comfortable. There are a tonne of possibilities that may make your day-to-day easier. If you work, you can arrange a set number of working from home days a month, or relief from travel / presentation responsibilities. If you’re a student, relaxing your deadlines for essays could be a good idea. Make a list of the things you think could help, and talk them over. Read about other people’s experiences The internet can be both a positive, and negative influence when you’re depressed. It’s easy to become stuck in a Facebook cycle, wistfully scrolling through pictures of fabulous people having a fabulous time. It goes without saying that this can be negative for your mental health. If you’re an internet junky, then there are better ways to occupy your smartphone digits. Try accessing mental health forums where you can connect with peers who can provide advice and support. You’re far from the only person in the world to be depressed. It can also help to read about other’s experiences of depression. There are some great blogs out there, some of which will make you laugh, others nod vociferously with the “that’s me!” look in your eye. Hyperbolicandahalf’s “Adventures in Depression” is one of our all-time favourites. Above all, be kind to yourself It’s easy to become frustrated when your best efforts don’t pan out, or you find yourself lacking the energy or motivation to engage with any of the above advice. Regardless of how much you’ve read, or how much you’ve done, try not to use the above list as a rod with which to beat yourself. If you successfully used some of the tips, then great – if not, then give yourself a break.