9 Ways To Improve Your Mental Health In The New Year

We all make New Year's resolutions that usually don't stand the test of time. But for you to achieve a lot of those resolutions, be it going to the gym, healthier diet, going to bed early etc. If your mental health isn't working it's best, then most of these things are unachievable. Most things become a chore and a huge mountain to climb if you're struggling mentally.

Of course, achieving better mental health can require professional help. People may need a therapist, or even medication, to deal with disorders like depression or anxiety. While taking care of your mental health can mean seeking professional help, it also means taking steps to improve your emotional health on your own. Making small changes can have huge payoffs in all areas of your life. It can boost your mood, build resilience, and add to your overall enjoyment of life:

1. Look at the positive in things

It may seem like something so obvious, but it's easier for our brains to focus on what's going wrong and it can be challenging to find the positive when our minds have gone into overdrive. Research has shown that what we think about ourselves has a significant impact on how we feel. When we see ourselves and our lives negatively, we can end up seeing this negative view in our day to day experiences. Meeting with negative people, things not going our way, etc.

Treat yourself with some kindness and respect, speak to yourself as you would to others when they need some support. Cut out being so self-critical. Make time for the things that make you happy, your hobbies, spend time in the garden, a bath, broaden your horizons, take a dance lesson, learn an instrument. Anything that makes you feel at peace while doing it can help to boost your wellbeing.

2. Practice slow breathing

15 breaths per minute are the average breath rate for an adult. Take time to practice slowing down your breathing each day, make a conscious effort to make your breath rate slower for a few minutes. By doing this, you activate your lower Parasynthetic Nervous System, which regulates your bodily functions for the "rest" state. The knock on effect of doing this lowers your heart rate and this, in turn, helps reduce anxiety.

3. Practice gratitude

Improved mental health and well-being, along with happiness has been linked to gratitude. The best method shown by research to increase your feelings of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal or write a daily gratitude list. Mentally practicing gratitude does work, but it takes regular daily practice to receive long-term benefit. Each day, find something you are grateful for, it doesn't matter how small, if it helps you in your daily life, then it's something to be thankful for. The more you make the time to notice and focus on what you are grateful for, the more things you see to be grateful for!

4. Focus on the now, in the moment

When you are mindful of the present moment, it frees us from the negative thoughts or difficult emotions from your past experiences that weigh us down. Going over past negative things brings us down, it alters our moods, and this spills out into our day today. Make a conscious effort in the morning to start your day off by bringing awareness into your routine. Be present when taking your shower, eating breakfast/lunch, walking to work and so on. Pay heed to your physical sensations, sounds, smells or tastes when your mind starts to wander off. This helps back to only focusing on what you are doing.  Overthinking the future, dwelling in the past, over analyzing things can lead to negative thinking, stay present and in the moment.

5. Eat dark chocolate to boost brain power

Anything that recommends chocolate, sounds good to me! Treat yourself to a couple of pieces of dark chocolate every few days. The Flavanoids, caffeine and theobromine in chocolate have been found to work together to improve alertness and mental skills.

6. Hugs

Not everyone is okay with physical contact, it's ok if you are one of these people. Try to give more hugs or receive more hugs, be it from your children or partner. Hugging releases endorphins and hormones, like oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. It's sometimes known as the "cuddle hormone" or the "love hormone," because it is released when people snuggle up or bond socially.

7. Eat a good meal

When you eat you nourish your entire body, including your brain. Carbohydrates increase serotonin, a chemical that has a calming effect on your mood. Protein-rich foods increase norepinephrine, dopamine, and tyrosine, which all help with keeping you alert. Vegetables and fruits are filled with nutrients that nourish every cell or your body including the cells that affect mood-regulating brain chemicals. Omega-3 found in fish, nuts and flaxseed have been shown to improve moods and restore structural integrity to the brain cells which is necessary for cognitive function.

8. Do something for someone else

Being helpful to others has a beneficial effect on how we feel about ourselves according to research. Being helpful, kind and valued for what you do impacts our self-esteem in positive ways. Helping others can enrich and expand your life.

9. Go to bed on time

There have been countless researches gone into the effects of sleep deprivation, and all have shown it has a significant impact on our mood. Try going to bed at a regular time each night, and practice good habits to get better sleep. These can be little things like shutting down screens at least an hour before bed, using your bed only for relaxing, no technology. Restricting caffeine for morning times only. Setting the mood for relaxation.

Start today, you have the power to make positive changes right now to improve your mental health. Don't wait until you're in a crisis to pay heed to your mental health. It's much easier to form new habits when you are strong, pick something that works for you and slowly put it into practice. Before you know it, it's become part of your daily routine that you won't even notice, but will feel the benefits from.