Boosting your brain - to improve your mental health
The awareness around mental health has grown considerably in the last 10 years, and thankfully societies understanding of the need for good mental health and the impact it has on our physical health and day to day lives are much more widespread.
However, there remains a bit of confusion around what encompasses mental health and mental wellbeing, for example is it your brain health? Or is it your mood?
I would say it’s a blend of both.
Healthline explain that mental health includes your psychological and social well-being. But also includes your emotional health, or your ability to name, address, communicate and regulate your emotions (especially at highly stressful times in life).
And of course it’s worth remembering that no ones mood, or mental health remains on an even keel all the time! With life’s high and lows comes new challenges, new frustrations and demands on us both mentally and physically.
And it’s not only negative experiences that increase our stress levels, but also the good in life such as a promotion, wedding, a new home or welcoming a new family member, which are usually wonderful – but can be highly stressful. But good mental health can help us manage whatever life brings, in the best way possible, for us, as an individual.
Many people live in highly stressful environments and situations every day, and it’s often manageable (on a small scale) and even helpful at times when it comes to meeting deadlines or spurring us into action (see our quick read blog thriving on stress).
However, when stress stops being helpful and becomes harmful, dominating your mind and body’s balance, it becomes important to know how to improve our mental health and return to a more balanced state of mind.
Good mental health helps us enjoy:
A positive and upbeat mood
A reduction in anxiety and stress symptoms
Clearer thinking and a mind capable of finding solutions to problems
Deeper relationships and a better understanding of others
Improved self-esteem and confidence
The good news is there are many ways to improve our brain health, mood and energy levels with simple, helpful habits. Whilst there are naturally factors such as genetics, past experiences and family history that can impact both mental health overall, the simple steps below can make a dramatic difference to our mental wellbeing.
Whilst the NHS state there are 5 keys steps to improving mental health, I’ve included a few of my own, ones I’ve seen help create positive mental shifts and attitudes for my own clients and I’m sure some of them will surprise you!
Connect with other people
Good relationships are essential for your mental wellbeing, because simply put – humans are social creatures. Not only do relationships, friendships and other person to person connections help build a sense of belonging and in turn improve feelings of self-worth, connections to others help us share and focus on positive experiences, provide emotional
support and allow us to support others.
It may surprise you to learn that it takes 5 positive interactions to balance out one negative one – so having a healthy network of support and connections really can help managing your mood, problem solving and understanding situations from another perspective much easier.
My quick read blog on why social connectivity is essential for happiness shares lots more.
Move your body (on your own terms)
I’m going to make it clear – this is not ‘lose weight’. It’s a reminder that moving your body in a way that you enjoy, is going to change the chemical and hormone levels in your body, which in turn promotes brain health.
Not only will moving your body release endorphins which help us feel good and improve our mood, but when we set mini goals, and achieve them (even in a small way) we get a boost of pride in ourselves, enhancing our worth, determination and will power.
Some simple movements might be:
Stretch at regular intervals during the day or on break times
A 15 minute walk where you can smell grass, see trees and move away from just buildings
Dancing around your living room
Trying an exercise class or a gentle swim
Learn something new
Learning something new challenges the brain in the best way, not only will it mean your using parts of the brain not always active, but it can help you improve your memory and concentration, whilst connecting you to others. Plus learning new skills often provide a focus and a sense of purpose which are essential for feeling good about oneself.
Being a learner can be a challenge for many people (including myself) especially if we are hold with high expectations of ourselves, or have people with unrealistic expectations in our life.
Learning means being brave enough to be bad at something new, and will require self patience and lots of understanding, so you’re often giving yourself double the brain support – your encouraging good mental health whilst drawing on lots of self love and self care as you learn.
The Open University has over 1000 free short courses for learning
Practice a new recipe
Follow YouTube tutorials for origami or making something new & different
Choose a fact book on a topic of your choice
Interestingly, learning an instrument has been found to be one of the most rewarding tasks for improving mental health and increasing IQ, because it involves using both hemispheres of the brain.
However, even listening to music creates more overall brain activity, improving cognitive performance, and supporting better memory and intellectual functioning.
Give to others
Giving to others, whether it’s through acts of kindness, help and support and your time, can help improve your mental wellbeing by creating positive feelings within, and helps provide a feeling of purpose and self-worth.
Helping someone else also helps you connect with other people whilst practice problem solving and building on your listening skills.
Some simple steps might be:
saying thank you to someone for something they have done for you
asking friends, family or colleagues how they are and really listening to their answer
spending time with friends or relatives who need support or company
offering to help someone you know with DIY or a work project
volunteering in your community, such as helping at a school, hospital or care home
Relax and be mindful
Mindfulness and the ability to stay present in our day can dramatically improve our mental health. When we are anxious, we are usually mentally in the past, thinking over what’s happened and repeating problems or situations – or we are mentally in the future worrying over what if’s and all the things we fear will happen (that actually haven’t happened yet) including unlikely scenarios.
Staying present in the moment allows us to enjoy each moment and give our best self to those around us.
Mindfulness, therefor doesn’t require any particular ‘practice’ because it is more of a mindset, but bringing our attention to the present moment can helps us align with our thoughts and feelings, our body and the world around you. Having this mindful awareness can positively change how we react to situations when they arise and how we feel about life and our part in it.
However, the ability to relax and focus our mind where we want to, can be improved through regular relaxation and consistently practicing Meditation.
Some simple ideas for being mindful, relaxing and meditating might be:
A mindful walk, notice all that you can with all 5 senses and walk without need other than enjoyment.
Deep breathing practices to increase your oxygen flow and promote brain and body health
Visualizations of your best self, listening to positive affirmations regularly and listening to guided relaxation practices for physical relaxation
Actively scheduling 'downtime' so your schedule is no longer packed with an endless to do list
You can enjoy our selection of free relaxations and meditations now or download a live class for Meditating at home, or enjoy a guided deep relaxation session now.
Enjoy nutrient rich foods
You are what you eat has never been more true! There are plenty of nutrient rich, mood improving foods out there to include in your diet:
Berries – rich in antioxidants and can prevent cells from damage, also found to change neuron signals in the brain to reduce inflammation.
Bananas - contain high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid, which is converted into serotonin (the feel good chemical) for your body.
Beans - support healthy brain function and growth and regulate positive neurotransmitters in the brain.
Wholegrains (such as barley, oats and quinoa) - rich in many of the B vitamins that work to reduce inflammation of the brain, potentially preserving your memory.
Fatty Fish (like salmon) – similar to beans, good fish contains plenty Omega 3 fatty acids, which support healthy brain function and growth and regulate positive neurotransmitters in the brain.
Nuts - containing fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants help the brains cognitive function, reduces the of depression, improves your mood and attention.
Water - whilst not a food, water is essential for brain health and mood (yes it's an obvious one). With the brain 90% water already, if we are not topping it up our brain can not function as it should.
Get some sunshine!
We have already noted that moving your body helps boost your brain and improve your mental health, but even sitting by the window can make a difference to your mood.
Sunshine helps our bodies create more vitamin D, and the National Library of Medicines research shows sunshine really can improve your mood and attitude – even with just 5 minutes of blue skies.
If your struggling to get outside, or struggling with mobility, try:
Taking a gentle walk
Sit in your back garden
Standing outside your front door and deep breath fresh air
Open the window near your desk or bed
Suggest a meeting or coffee with a friend whilst sitting outside
Our brains are geared towards nature, and it can be a healer in it’s own way as we cover in our quick read blog focussed on understanding our bodies response to natures healing power. Naturally occurring shapes known as fractals (the kind found in the curve of the shore line, tree lines or the swirl of a pinecone) give our brain reassurance, helping us feel safer and more at ease.
The bottom line
Good mental health is essential for a happy, healthy life, and whilst there may be factors out of your control, by making simple but effective adjustments to daily life you are is giving your brain the chance for better wellness.
When making changes, stay clear of the “all or nothing” attitude, and start by making small changes first, before adding in more. Adding positive changes gradually not only helps make them become sustainable, it will help you notice what is actually working for you in a positive way.
And remember, you know what’s right for you, and only you will know what the best change will be for your brain, your body and your lifestyle.
For those looking for more guidance on Meditating at home you can enjoy one of our recordings from our Inner Wisdom Meditation or Sunday Night Stress Release class or one of our free downloads and enjoy a mind that feels more relaxed, at ease and focussed.
- ACS, Strong scientific evidence that eating berries benefits the brain (2012) Available from https://bit.ly/3zhVIuS (Accessed 29 March 2023)
- Carolina Wellness Psychiatry, 5 habits to improve your mental health (2023) Available from https://bit.ly/3nlDvd8 (Accessed 28 March 2023)
- Healthline, 8 Daily Habits to Boost Mental Health (2022) Available from https://bit.ly/3zdKl7t (Accessed 28 March 2023)
- Mead, M. Benefits of sunlight: A bright spot for mental health (2008) Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/ (Accessed 29 March 2023)
- NHS, 5 steps to mental wellbeing (2022) Available from https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/five-steps-to-mental-wellbeing/ (Accessed 28 March 2023)
- The Stand, University of Wollongong Australia, 5 foods to boost your concentration (2023) Available from https://bit.ly/3KedODp (Accessed 29 March 2023)