16 things you can do right now to improve your state of mind

Post by Open Colleges on June 20th, 2016

Every day we face battles. Some of these battles are big, some are small, some of them have to do with external things like finances and traffic, and some have to do with with internal struggles like anxiety, stress and depression.

These internal battles can be stressful and scary, and sometimes they can leave us drained and feeling flat.

So what can you do to protect yourself and get a bit of breathing room when these internal battles loom?

Below you’ll find our top tips to improve state of mind and boost positivity.


Life may not be what you expected, but it’s time to start living it

Most people grow up with expectations of what their life will be, and if they don’t, society generally chimes in with its own ideas about the milestones we should hit by certain ages.

But here’s the secret: life rarely goes to plan. The ‘milestones’ people are so eager to hit are either clever marketing ploys to make you buy things, or they are other people’s opinions about how you should live your life.

In truth, you only get one life, so living it by other people’s rules will never make you happy.

If you aren’t living the life that you imagined and are spending countless hours being down on yourself because of it, it’s time to give yourself a break.

Forget all the ‘missed opportunities’ and all the “I should haves”. Regretting your life and choices won’t change them. It’s just a waste of your time and energy, and it only makes you feel bad.

Stop beating yourself up over a past that you cannot change. That will keep you frozen. You need to let that go. When you do, you will start to move again. You will begin to really live the life that you have.

Once you’ve given yourself a break, you then need to drop all the other outside expectations about what your life should be. From society, family, friends, magazines, television, etc. Then, work out what will really, truly make you happy. Once you know that, make that your goal.


Set yourself a challenge

One really easy way to boost your self-confidence and mood is to set yourself a challenge and achieve it.

Now this doesn’t have to be a huge challenge like climbing Mt Everest. It could be a small one like “I will walk the dog for 30 minutes every day for the next seven days”.

Setting small goals, achieving them, then recognising that you have achieved them will work wonders for your self-esteem. It will prove to you that you really can do it. And if you can do that, how many other amazing things can you achieve?


Monitor your moods

One of the best ways to keep on top of your mental health is to regularly check-in with how you are feeling. Often we are in a deep well of despair before we even realise that we’ve been struggling.

It’s much easier to deal with a small problem than a big one. So take time each day to just check-in with yourself. Ask yourself how you are feeling, and why you are feeling these things.

If you realise you are stressed, upset, scared or sad, you can work out ways to get some help. These could include having a coffee and a chat to your friend, going for a 30 minute brisk walk, writing in a journal or booking an appointment with a therapist.

Dealing with a minor mood change is much easier, and better for you in the long run, than remaining out of touch with yourself, and then ending up in a much worse state.


Stop pleasing everyone else, and just please yourself

We all want to be liked, it’s human nature. It only really becomes a problem when you start to put everyone else’s needs before your own. When you sacrifice bits of yourself to keep everyone else happy. When you only feel valued if you’re getting outside validation, instead of knowing that you are worthy whether people like you or not.

Sound a bit like you?

Well it’s time to stop. People pleasing can have negative effects not just on your mental health, but your physical health as you stress, worry and work yourself into exhaustion to please others.

Tips to help you curb this habit include:

  • Write a list of boundaries for yourself. These could include getting enough sleep, avoiding negative people, spending time alone. Once you have your list of what’s important for you, say no to anything that will get in the way of these boundaries.
  • Remember that it’s okay for people not to like you, and for you not to like people. It doesn’t make you less of a good person for to not being able to gel with someone else. Know that you are a worthwhile person regardless of what others think.
  • Learn to say no. It’s okay to say no. People do it every day. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. If you feel uncomfortable about saying no, cage it in a way that makes you feel comfortable. You don’t need to tell white lies. You could say something like “I’m sorry but I can’t do that. I’ve planned some me-time because I’ve been stressed lately”.
  • It’s okay to feel guilty the first couple of times you say no. Recognise that guilt, and then let it go. You could do this by writing a list of pros and cons for your decision. It’s likely there will be a lot more pros for saying no than cons.


Be your own best friend

It’s highly likely that you would never treat your best friend with the level of negativity that you aim at yourself.

So it’s time to be your own best friend.

How do you do this?

Simply, whenever you get down on yourself, think, would I say this to my best friend? Then stop and give yourself two compliments.

Also important in your new BFF relationship is the ability to honour your own needs. Do you need a break? A massage? A night in with a book and a cup of tea. Take time to check-in with yourself and realise what it is that you need, then give yourself permission to fulfill that need.

Lastly, you will need a healthy dose of compassion for yourself. If your friend had a problem, you bring them down further. You would be compassionate and work out a way to help them. Being your own best friend means you need to turn that compassion inward and be kind to yourself.


Hobby just for you

What is it that you love doing but have always put aside as frivolous or something for a later date? Drawing? Knitting? Soccer?

Whatever it is, make now the time that you do it.

Your hobby should be just for yourself, and just because you love doing it. Give yourself a few hours a week. There are 168 hours in a week, surely you can squeeze a few out just for you.


Little indulgences

Treat yourself. Budget a small amount each week to buy yourself little treats that have nothing to do with practicality, and everything to do with self-care. This could be a good quality chocolate, a good book, some creamy moisturiser, or a hair mask.

It doesn’t have to cost the earth, it just has to be a little bit of special to brighten your week.


Start a memory jar

You have a whole store of amazing memories, but sometimes they get dampened by the darker ones.

It’s time to change the tables!

Every day for the next 30 days, write down one good memory and stick in a jar. At the end of 30 days tip them all out and read them.

The memories can be monumental or they can be small, like the smell of muffins from your favourite bakery.

You will be surprised at how powerful it is to focus on positive memories, even if it is just for a few minutes a day.

If you love this exercise, you can continue your memory jar for another month, then another.


Cut toxic people from your life

You wouldn’t sit in a room full of toxic air would you? Then why surround yourself with toxic people? You know the ones: they manipulate you, are passive aggressive towards you, put you down, gossip behind your back, make you feel bad or guilty and don’t support you.

Really think about why you have them around you. What are you getting out of it? Likely you will find the answer is, very little.

So it’s time to get rid of them. Admittedly, this is easier said than done, but a few tips for kindly cutting them out of your life include:

  • Set boundaries. Let these people know your boundaries. If they cross these, politely but firmly let them know they’ve crossed a line. If they still continue to push you, tell them that you need a break from them. Don’t put up with their manipulation when you say this, just walk away.
  • Go cold turkey. Cut off all communication. Block phone numbers, drop them from Facebook and don’t respond to emails. They’ll get the message eventually.
  • If you can’t drop them all at once, set a time limit for when you won’t see them. Start with a week, then two weeks and work your way to a month. After this time, work out how you will limit future interactions.
  • Spend the time that you would have with this person, hanging out or chatting with positive people in your life. The ones that support you, encourage you and care about you.


Treat emotional pain like physical pain

If you hurt your back, you would probably go to the doctor, take some time off work and care for it. It really should be the same for your mental health.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and often they are intertwined. So when you start to feel yourself in mental distress, it’s time to take yourself home, to a doctor, and to take care of yourself.

Taking a small amount of time out for self-care will really help you in the long run. Often, if you deal with the issue when it first surfaces, rather than letting it fester, you can get on top of it quicker.

You wouldn’t stand in the rain on a winter’s evening with a cold, you would likely get pneumonia. The same goes for mental distress. If you feel the twinges of distress, don’t make it worse by ignoring it and continuing to battle through the stress. Instead take care of yourself.


Stop comparing!

You are not your boss, or your friend, or your co-worker. Nor are you a Kardashian, or Miranda Kerr. You are uniquely you! And who that is, is a constellation of amazing qualities and gifts.

There’s an old saying which holds true to this day: comparison is the death of joy.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

Firstly, when we compare ourselves with others we are looking at all our faults and all of their wins, it’s not a fair comparison.

There are millions of people in this world who are talented, beautiful, rich, etc. You could spend your whole life comparing yourself to others and feeling bad, or you could live your life according to your rules and values.

Secondly, no two people are the same. Even genetically identical twins are different from each other.

You are a total individual. What you have, from your fingerprint to your personality, your laugh, and your imagination, are completely individual. There is no comparison. You can’t compare an apple to a puppy, they are totally different things.

Take stock of who you are, what your gifts are, what you value in this life, what you find funny and how you measure success. Celebrate who you are, and then start living your life striving for what you believe in, and what your values are.

Once you let go of comparisons you will find your happiness levels soaring!


Look for meaning

According to Viktor Frankel, the famous psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, humans can survive almost anything if they can find meaning in their circumstances. What he means by this is that if you can find a reason or a meaning in your circumstances, then it makes bearing them easier.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how,” he said.

Having a purpose in life, finding meaning, can be a guiding light out of dark places.


Block out 30 mins of worry time

If you find your days are constantly interrupted by pockets of worry, it may be better for you in the long run to set aside 30 minutes of specific worry time per day.

To do this, schedule 30 worry minutes a day, whether that be in the morning, afternoon or in the evening. Every time you find yourself starting to worry outside of this time, write it down on a ‘worry list’ and forget it. When you get to your ‘worry time’ pull out your list and go over each worry and how you can solve it.


Start a journal

Journaling has long been heralded for mental health. Here are the top reasons you should start writing a daily journal:

  • It’s great for clarifying how you think and feel.
  • It reduces your stress by giving you an outlet to pour your negative emotions into.
  • It may help you to see things in a different light, giving you more empathy, understanding and solutions.
  • It helps you to get to know yourself.


Social media diet

Social media can provide a great distraction and escape from our daily lives, but it can also skew our view of the world and keep us ‘on’ at all times. So, if you’re feeling a bit stressed or down, do a digital detox.

Step away from all your social media accounts for three days. Don’t check your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc. for a full three days.

Instead, use that time to pamper your body and mind. Read a book, do some yoga, get to bed early, have a bath. Whatever relaxes you, make sure you schedule a lot of it in!


Focus on one thing in the moment

If you find your stress levels rising, or the black dog of depression and anxiety lurking, try doing one thing at a time.

If you are going to eat, eat. Focus only on eating. The smell, texture, flavour of the food and the process of chewing and swallowing.

If you’re going to walk, walk. Take all your focus to the act of walking. What does your body feel like in motion? What does the ground feel like beneath your feet? Don’t try to multitask. Just focus on how your body and breath feels as you walk.

The same goes for any activity. Pour all your focus into one thing at a time, you will be surprised at how much calm it gives you.


Calm your mind

When depression, anxiety and stress hit, it can pull us under. Having strategies to deal with these feelings when they come rolling on in, can help us to keep our heads above the waves. So next time you feel them pulling at you, try one or two approaches from the list above.

Make sure that you also speak to those nearest and dearest to you, to let them know what’s going on. And importantly, if you feel it’s getting too much, speak to your doctor and get the advice of a therapist or counsellor. You don’t have to struggle alone.

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