Small, simple lifestyle changes and habits can make a big difference to our overall wellbeing. Here is a handful list of tips to help improve mental health and the science to support it…
According to a Deloitte report from January 2020, a sixth of workers were experiencing a mental health problem at any one time, while stress, anxiety and depression are thought to be responsible for almost half of working days lost in Britain due to health issues. The onset of Covid-19 only saw this situation worsen, with ONS stats revealing that instances of depression doubled during the first part of the pandemic.
GP consultations, talking therapies and other forms of psychological support, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), alongside prescribed forms of medicine, are available for those who may need help – especially where there may be a diagnosis of mental illness. Alongside the NHS, support can also be offered through employer-led private health insurance and other related products, such as health cash plans and employee assistance programmes (EAP).
However, there are a number of ways that individuals can preserve their mental health and wellbeing through straightforward lifestyle factors as well as preventative techniques. Here are just five.
When our stress response is triggered, our autonomic nervous system enters fight or flight mode. Stress hormones are released, and these create a set of physical reactions that change our state of mind. One of these responses is breathing. For example, faster shorter breaths when in a state of greater stress and anxiety. However, we can change our breathing to influence our mind, prompting our body to revert to a state known as rest and digest. Engaging in this can also help distract us from troubling or repetitive thoughts – a common CBT technique.
Mindfulness is learning how to be fully present and engaged in the moment, aware of our thoughts and feelings without distraction or judgment. Through meditation and greater self-awareness, these practices can help us become more aware of our thoughts, feelings and body sensations, so that instead of being overwhelmed by them we are more able to manage them. Recommended as a preventative mental health tool by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), mindfulness was also found to have the same effect as anti-depressants in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Physical activity can increase our lifespan, as well as reduce our risk of serious and chronic illnesses. But evidence also shows that it can help prevent health conditions and to treat them if they occur. It is also effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and enhancing our overall cognitive function. In other words, it can boost our energy, mood and performance. The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise for our overall health. Just a 10-minute walk can be as effective as a 45-minute workout in relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Alcohol is a depressant and disrupts the chemistry of the brain – the neurotransmitters that influence our mood. Over time, this can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression. It can also disrupt our sleep and weaken its quality when we do sleep, which can negatively impact our physical and mental health. A 2018 study found that the more we drink before sleep, the greater the negative impact. For example, high alcohol consumption was found to decrease sleep quality by 39% – compared to 9.3% for low amounts. On top of this, it can put strain on other areas of our lives, such as work and relationships, which can also lead to mental health challenges.
Sleep is critical to our health and wellbeing. It affects almost every type of tissue and system in our bodies, including brain, heart, lungs, metabolism, immune system and mood. Poor sleep increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and lead to early death. There are also close associations between poor sleep and mental health issues. Historically, it was thought that where both are present, not sleeping well was a consequence of poor mental health. But increasingly evidence is showing they are connected – there is a bidirectional relationship between them, which means they influence one another.
 Deloitte, Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case of investment January 2020
 ONS data June 2020
 Medation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being, JAMA Network, March 2014
 Saarland University, Germany, 2015
 Anxiety & Depression Association of America
 Anxiety & Depression Association of America
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