Written by: Rhyana Ebanks-Babb, Guest Writer
Since the pandemic, week in and week out, I hear from a range of people about how difficult it is to find balance and be happy. With frequent waves of shocking news, worldwide, it can be difficult to get up each day, be optimistic and endure the week ahead. Even looking forward to the weekend can be daunting for some as it either tends to be a short lived, escapist mini-break from reality or dedicated time to focus on the negative.
This is why maintaining our mental health, especially during difficult times, is such a priority. Even more so if the things that interrupt a routine, mindset or emotional disposition increase in frequency and are prolonged. So if gaining mental health can be so difficult, how do we achieve mental wealth?
I define mental wealth as having good and positive mental health where you are able to manage stress while having optimal emotional, psychological and social wellbeing ‒ but supercharged by being in a state of abundance: state of fullness, overflow, enduring supply and having more than enough for yourself to thrive.
Now, I know this may appear unrealistic as our ‘mental well’ can run dry. However, by having a mindset of knowing when to fill your own cup once the supply is running low, having the discernment to act and the practical tools to do so, is where you begin to move from mental health to mental wealth.
So here are 4 low maintenance, science-backed tips you should incorporate into your week to boost your mood, get those happy chemicals flowing and find balance.
Write a to-do list - planning is a proactive coping mechanism and when the week ahead is planned, it helps to organise your tasks, maximise productivity, gain clarity on competing priorities and acts as a tool for mental organisation. I like to think of it as mental feng shui, a perfectly fitting analogy as feng shui relates to “human life being connected to and flowing with the environment around it”. Therefore, planning ahead can help aid the flow of your week, through the art of mental feng shui.
Write your thoughts - journaling is great for self-exploration. It can help you gain clarity about what impacts your mental health, recognise the signs of when your mental health is declining and seek solutions to address it.
There are so many benefits and reasons for why I journal, which are listed below:
Justified and judgement free
Openness to express
Understand new ways to feel
Reality of your situation
Needs and wants safely explored
Assess the risks in your life
Lifelong wellbeing aid
Write affirmations and positive statements - this is a very personal practice, one that I have used for many years. Incorporating mantras into your morning routine is a great way to start your day with intuitive positive self-image, can build upon your self-confidence, promote your self-worth and encourage good self-esteem when used for a period of time.
Some affirmations for the start of the week that spring to mind are:
Great things are coming my way
Today is a great day to be awesome all over again
New week, new blessings are coming my way
Overall, science highlights that writing is a great tool for emotional expression and good mental health.
Physical activity and exercise have mountains of evidence on their profound effect on your mental health for a number of reasons. From helping you to maintain physical fitness, setting and achieving goals, lowering the stress hormone, Cortisol, to name a few.
Increased physical activity, whether it is small or elaborate, is like an antidote for declining mental health, even if it is 30 minutes a day. Developing a light fitness regime is one of the first recommendations anyone with poor mental health would be advised from any support service. It has been proven to help with anxiety, depression, loneliness and also can help with sleep regulation which are all factors that can impact your mental health and wellbeing.
Here are 7 different types of exercise that you can complete either by yourself, with friends or join a group/class for morale. These are examples, however I encourage you to choose a variety of exercises for each day of the week. I am also a big believer in utilising free or low cost techniques as practising self-care should not be a financial burden.
Walking - naturally increases your energy levels
Yoga - supports strength improvement, balance and flexibility
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) - can improve oxygen consumption
Tension Release Exercises (TRE) - reduces stiffness, muscle aches, tightness and pains
Body weight lifting - strengthens your muscle development in a healthy way
Swimming - helps to maintain a healthy weight, heart and lungs
Dancing - better coordination, flexibility and motor fitness
Engagement is a tricky one because we can over engage or become non-engaging very easily.
For example, being engaged in a news story can provide the information needed to be informed about a situation. On the other hand, having a non-engaging attitude towards the news can leave you un/ill-informed. Additionally, over engagement can turn into an anxious obsession. My recipe is to set a 2:1 ratio, engage in 2 news stories, then 1 thing non-news or media related. Essentially, balance is key!
I like to engage in my surroundings by regularly going outside and connecting with nature. Research from the Mental Health Foundation shows that nature is a critical factor in supporting good mental health, preventing distress and maximising our wellbeing through how much we notice, think about and appreciate our natural surroundings.
Even simply looking at nature through the window has major gains, both on your vision and on your mental health. This is especially helpful if you are limited in mobility or confined to a particular area of the house/office for long periods of time.
Engagement in mood boosting activities such as books, uplifting and powerful music or a range of different scents are naturally helpful to shift your mood.
Engage in things that bring you joy. I like to sing, dance and create new things such as a dish I haven't made before. Cultivating joyous experiences can significantly improve your mental wealth as it also supports the exploration of your creative talents.
Engaging with people or animals is vital as we require connection to maintain our mental health. If you make new friends, hang out with old colleagues, connect with distant family members or even walking a dog, connection, whether virtual or face to face can be beneficial.
Engagement is a required activity to promote good mental wealth throughout the week but remember that striking the right balance is key. Over or under stimulation and engagement can adversely impact your mental health, and in turn, your ability to gain mental wealth.
Kindness is the universal language of love and to this, I adopted an ethos that kindness is my currency.
While the term 'currency' is an economics term that's defined as 'a system of money in common use within a specific environment over time', the energetic currency of kindness is free, everywhere, all of the time.
I have interpreted it to mean kindness never depreciates in value, is always in circulation and should be the standardisation and default of any being ‒ regardless of the situation in which it is shared with others.
Kindness multiplies with the more people operating within its energetic exchanges. The more kindness available for us all, the smoother the world goes round ‒ well so I like to believe. It is a permeating and perpetual energy that I choose to exude, leaving a legacy of kindness through the interactions and teachings of kind acts that I will leave behind for future generations to come.
Evidence shows that being kind or even witnessing a kind act, activates our emotional soothing system which increases the production of your Oxytocin hormone, also known as the ‘love hormone'.
Additionally, the increased Oxytocin aids production of the natural antidepressant, Serotonin, which relates to your happiness. Kindness is proven to decrease anxiety and depression, but more importantly plays a huge role in lowering stress ‒ all of which positively impact your mental health.
Research tells us that even the smallest act of kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing. The NHS website states that kindness creates positive feelings and a sense of reward, aiding in your sense of purpose and self-worth while helping you to connect with others.
It is important to note that giving kindness to others is just as important as self-kindness. Dr Kristen Neff's work states that practicing self compassion is “acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself”. This practice is grounded in acceptance, mindfulness and forgiveness which support your ability to regulate your emotions, develop emotional intelligence and support sustained mental wealth.
Dr David Hamilton’s research highlights further benefits, as he states kindness makes you happier, is good for your heart, slows down ageing, improves our relationships and is contagious. So engaging in kindness, either with others and with yourself, seems like a no-brainer. Even for personal gain, both parties reap the rewards, so let's make happier days for everyone.
Acts of kindness can include:
Helping someone with a chore
Being gentle with yourself
Listening to a friend
Donating to charity
Volunteering at a local community centre
Taking a mini break away from your desk
I hope you have found this helpful. Now it's time to put the knowledge into practice and have a great W.E.E.K!
Rhyana Ebanks-Babb, Brainz Magazine Guest Writer
Rhyana is a qualified Mental Health First Aider, an award-winning Mental Wealth Advocate, mentor to young girls and university graduates. She considers herself a non-clinical mental health and emotional wellbeing practitioner where she provides tools for self-help, self-healing and self-care practices and solutions through her project ‘The PLANN’.
Having worked in the health and social care sector for over 12 years, both front line support and as a strategic change consultant, she has extensive experience and a passion for social justice, community psychology and advocacy around issues that impact them. Rhyana supports people to build resilience from everyday life adversities through advising on their self-care education, solutions and practice. She is a volunteer show host for Black Mental Health Matters and a contributor to Talking Mental Health as a mental health writer.
Rhyana is in the process of reviving a family-run charity, Creative Arts Productions, that focuses on building the healing power within local communities using creative mediums such as poetry, song, dance, music and arts.
To get in touch with Rhyana, check out her work and follow her on social media: https://www.plannweg.org.uk/helpful-links
Writing as Therapy: https://www.psycom.net/mental-health-wellbeing/the-healing-power-of-writing
The Basic Principles of Feng Shui: Tips for Creating Balance in Life and at Home By Anjie Cho: https://www.thespruce.com/what-is-feng-shui-1275060
Random Acts of Kindness ‒ The Science of Kindness: https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/the-science-of-kindness
The Act of Kindfulness: https://brightblueday.com/blog/the-act-of-kindfulness/
NHS.UK website ‒ 5 ways to wellbeing: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/five-steps-to-mental-wellbeing/
Mental Health Foundation ‒ Mental Health Awareness Week 2021: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-06/MHAW21-Nature-research-report.pdf
Mind ‒ Physical activity and your mental health: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/about-physical-activity/
Self Compassion ‒ Definition of self-compassion: https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/
Positive Psychology ‒ Benefits of journaling for depression, anxiety and stress: https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling/
Mental Health Gov ‒ What is mental health: https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health
Why kindness is the new currency: https://www.everybodyroar.com/all/why-kindness-is-the-new-currency
Happier Human ‒ 45 mood-boosting activities to lift your spirits: https://www.happierhuman.com/mood-boosting-activities/
Mental Health Foundation ‒ how to look after your mental health using exercise: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/publications/how-look-after-your-mental-health-using-exercise
Mayo Clinic ‒ Maintaining mental health during challenging times: https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/maintaining-your-mental-health-during-challenging-times/
BBC News ‒ How planning helps us to cope with uncertainty: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200720-how-planning-helps-us-cope-with-uncertainty