In therapy: your 2021 mental health resolutions

Our resident columnist, psychotherapist Jess Henley, PGDip., MA, shares five top tips to boost your mental health for the year ahead

Apart from the usual things known to support a healthy mindset, such as exercise, sleep, a healthy diet and less alcohol, there are a few other tactics you can use to help up your resilience for whatever life throws your way. Try these mental health resolutions…

1. Breathe properly

This can be a total game-changer in any situation. It helps reduce stress and anxiety, and encourages you to feel grounded almost instantly. Imagine the space that’s two inches below your belly button and a third of the way into your body. Breathe deeply into this place, with each inhale lasting four seconds and each exhale also lasting four seconds. Practise this as often as you can, whatever you’re doing, until it becomes your natural way to breathe. If you find yourself in an anxious situation, it’s likely that your breath will be short and shallow into your chest, so focus on your breathing and switch to this deep-breathing technique. Do it for as long as you need to until you feel calmer, which should only take a minute or two.

2. Still your mind at night

Keep a notebook by the side of your bed and jot down any thoughts that are whizzing around in your head. Once they’re on paper, you can’t forget them. This relaxes a buzzing mind and frees up space for your brain to slow down and allow you to sleep.

3. One step at a time

Reduce feelings of being overwhelmed by breaking down any task into small, manageable steps. Looking at a giant task, such as getting a new job this year, can seem too big, so it stops you even starting the process. Breaking it down into bite-sized chunks makes anything possible, no matter how many steps are needed to reach your goal. For a new job, begin by having a few chats with people, updating your CV and slowly, step by step, work towards getting that new position.

4. Be in the now

Most anxieties and stress live in the future or the past, not the present. Did I offend my friend last time we spoke? Will I be able to present in my meeting this afternoon? Bring yourself into the present as often as you can, because the chances are, in the present, things are manageable and OK. Do this by focusing all your attention on your senses – what can you see, hear, taste, touch, smell? Take in the minute details of each one and try to let any other thoughts leave your mind, until you feel more grounded.

5. Learn something new

Using your mind in a different way can exercise your brain and not only get you feeling excited and enthusiastic again, but also sweep away the cobwebs and help you look at old tasks and dilemmas in a new way. It takes you out of your ongoing daily routine while giving you something else to focus on, which can help put other problems into perspective.

If your thoughts are spiralling out of control and you feel excessively anxious or depressed, talk to your GP. Or contact SANEline, a mental health helpline, on 0300 304 7000.