October is World Mental Health Month. This month is an opportunity for us to reflect on the importance of good mental health in our daily lives, and take positive steps towards improving our mental health and wellbeing, as well as that of others.
‘Tune in’ — that’s the theme and the message of this year’s World Mental Health Month. Tuning in to what is happening within us can help build self-awareness, help us make more effective decisions, and improve our relationships. At the same time, tuning in to our communities around us can help remove the stigma associated with mental health.
This World Mental Health Month, here are a few steps you can follow to be more mindful and tune in to ourselves and the world around us.
Give yourself permission to be present
We live in a world where we’re always on and always connected. For many of us, it can feel like we’re always racing from one thing to the next and trying to squeeze in as much as possible throughout the day. Amid the race to always be busy, mindfulness often falls to the wayside. We forget to give ourselves the permission, time, and space to simply exist — to get comfortable and just be, without judgment.
A big part of tuning in to ourselves is practicing mindfulness: the act of being fully engaged and in the moment. This act of being present comes with several benefits, from reducing anxiety and stress to improving memory, and preventing or even treating depression.
So how can you become more mindful?
It can be as easy as stopping what you’re doing and focusing on your breath as you inhale and exhale. This small act draws your attention to the present moment and helps you tune in to what is going on in your body.
Another way to be present is to connect with your mind with your body. For a large part of the day, our bodies are present but our minds are elsewhere — occupied by work or family stress, our to-do list, or future plans or worries. By breathing in and out, and bringing your attention back to your body, this act of concentrating on your physical being allows you to simply exist for a second, rather than letting your mind wander elsewhere.
Along with mindful breathing and mind-body connection, meditation is also a valuable tool to draw our minds into the present. Apps like Headspace and Smiling Mind can help you establish a daily meditation and mindfulness practice in as little as ten minutes a day.
Schedule time throughout the day for self-care
We wouldn’t cancel plans with a friend, but we break promises with ourselves all the time. When we’re busy, self-care often becomes our last priority…but it’s exactly at this moment that we need it the most.
Self-care can be something as small as taking some time out throughout the day to do things that are just for you. Add self-care activities into your daily routine, such as a 10-minute meditation at the beginning of the day, a 15-minute walk at lunchtime, or a 5-minute stretch session every hour.
Beyond these smaller breaks, create rituals once a week to rejuvenate and unwind. Set a standing appointment with yourself every week where you completely switch off and do something just for you, such as a massage, a long walk, or even a full hour of alone time. Commit to this activity like it’s an important meeting — just the act of setting this firm boundary with yourself helps you find some “me” time every week.
Opt for a digital detox
It can be challenging to tune in to ourselves when we’re constantly plugged in to our devices. Whether it’s social media, emails, or Netflix, the distractions presented by technology can significantly hinder our ability to be present in the moment.
When you’re tuning in, it helps to tune out technology. Unplug the laptop and put it away in another room, put a limit on your leisure screen time, and use these moments to read a book, go for a walk, or practice meditation. Most phones these days also have a ‘Do Not Disturb’ or ‘Zen’ mode, which allows you to turn off notifications entirely for a certain period of time.
Tip: Switching off one hour before bedtime can improve your sleep quality, as the blue light emitted from electronic devices can suppress the sleep hormone melatonin.
Find your ‘thing’
We all have our own ‘happy place’. From being in the great outdoors, listening to music, dancing, sweating it out in a training session, or cooking up a storm in the kitchen, there are certain activities that allow each of us to find joy in the moment. Regularly immersing ourselves in activities we love, such as exercising or exploring our creative side, has a positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing.
Make it a goal to do something that makes you happy every single day, and don’t be afraid to experiment — after all, you might find a new hobby that you love. These moments of happiness allow you to de-stress and help boost your mood, while also enabling you to fully embrace the present.
Connect with your tribe
If you’re struggling to find ways to be mindful, it may be time to call in your nearest and dearest. Spending time with friends and family can instantly lift your spirits and pull your mind into the present — plus, building supportive friendships can increase your sense of belonging and security, which has been shown to lessen stress and anxiety.
Round up your tribe and gather for shared activities such as golf, yoga, or a weekend hike. Remove any distractions while you’re spending time together: make a shared commitment to turn your phone on to airplane mode (or switch it off altogether), so you can all truly be present in the moment. These are also valuable moments to check in and see how everyone in your tribe is feeling.
Tune in to sleep well
Beyond allowing us to be in the present, studies have shown that mindfulness can also improve sleep health and quality. When we practice being mindful on a regular basis, such as through meditation, this can help reduce insomnia and promote a better night’s rest. Getting a good amount of sleep has, in turn, been shown to improve our mental health, giving us the mental resilience and clarity to navigate difficult situations, and helping us to operate at our best.
This year, A.H. Beard has teamed up with Beyond Blue to raise awareness of the link between sleep and mental health. Learn more about the partnership here.
Lastly, if you’re experiencing mental health issues, it’s important to reach out to someone you trust. Beyond Blue offers a support service where you can talk to a counsellor or connect with others in the online community.