2020 was a rough year on our mental health. Although a global pandemic meant that coronavirus, and the physical implications, took centre stage, self-isolation, social distancing and virus anxiety created a potent cocktail for our mental health. As the tide turns and vaccines are rolled out, it’s time for a mental health reboot.
There’s no one-size-fits-all guide to mental health, but there are a number of practices which, if we carve out space for them in our lives, can give us the space to breath. Here are five ways to reboot your brain after a long, draining year.
1) Sleep Priority
In an increasingly hectic world where social media and other digital tools keep us connected, sleep is becoming a forgotten art. 2020 saw lockdown and remote working rise, leading to extreme disruption of patterns and habits – for many, these interruptions to our routines led to sleeping patterns falling by the wayside. 2021 is the time to reintroduce sleep hygiene into the vocabulary.
“If you find it hard to switch off at night, try distancing yourself from your devices before bed,” says Martha Phillips, a mental health expert. “Nowadays there’s a range of apps which will schedule a wind-down on your smartphone, helping you resist the temptation for one more check of the notifications.” Try going to bed at the same time each evening to hardwire that sense of switching off – sleep is a foundation on which you can build better mental health.
2) Finding Joy In Exercise
Exercise is linked to improved physical and mental health, but for many people the connection between these two forms of wellbeing remains obscure. Whilst physical exercise gets you fit, it also releases chemicals in the brain that can fundamentally change the way we think about the world.
Whether you take up a new hobby such as tennis or rock climbing that opens up a social world as well as a physical one, or start exploring your local parks and gardens on foot, exercise has valuable health benefits. The key to rebooting your brain through exercise, however, is in separating physical goals from the practice itself. Forget about weight loss and step counts for a while and find a way to enjoy exercise for its own sake. Your brain will thank you.
3) Practicing Kindness
As social animals, our brains are hardwired to benefit from operating in social settings. Reaching out to the world around you can provide impressive mental health benefits in surprising ways – for example, a recent study revealed that making charitable donations gave givers a brain boost similar to receiving a financial endowment.
“Finding ways to practice kindness in your daily life, from chatting to your elderly neighbor to gifting some spare change to a homeless person on the corner, can brighten up your day in powerful ways,” says Caroline J. Riley. “Volunteering in your spare time provides a way of building these practices into your routine so reach out to local organizations that interest you to spread the love.”
4) Don’t Take ‘Self-Isolation’ Too Literally
As distance, quarantine and isolation became increasingly deployed in our vocabulary, we were forced to quickly adapt to a new world, one where connection often came at a price. Yet nobody can live truly isolated, and as the pandemic wanes we need to take steps to rebuild those connections to provide ourselves with healthy outlets.
Social isolation and loneliness are often part and parcel of poor mental health, as depression causes us to recede from the world. Staying socially connected is vital to your mental health, so reach out to friends and family regularly to stay in touch. There are many ways to meet new people – we’ve touched on sporting hobbies and volunteering opportunities already, so never forget you’re not alone.
5) Wrapping Up
The global pandemic of 2020 took centre stage, but behind closed doors there’s a brewing mental health crisis. For 2021 it’s time to reboot our brain, rethink our habits and discover new healthy ways of living. Through sleep, exercise, kindness and connection you can create neural pathways that will foster happier thoughts and healthy habits. Make it a good year.