Why Mental Health MattersMay 31, 2017
Over the past 10 years I have noticed the increasing prevalence of mental health problems in society. The latest statistics are that about 1 in 5 people are going to be experiencing some type of mental health problem at any given time. If you have 5 people in your work team, chances are that at least 1 of those work colleagues (it may be you) are going through something big in their life. Things have gotten to the point where their literally are not enough psychologist/ psychiatrists/ social workers/ counsellors to deal with Australia’s mental health problems. I was reading my professional body’s magazine (APS) yesterday and apparently in Silicon Valley they are creating virtual reality psychologists who are going to listen to your problems. This is all well and good but I feel that technology is part of the problem and not necessarily the solution.
What I want to do in the rest of this article – is show you how you can be your own psychologist. Specifically how you can structure your day to maximise mental health. This is what life is – a number of days bunched together. If you can successfully navigate 1 day – then there is no reason why you can get through a whole month, year or lifetime. You really need to be able to do the simple things well before attempting more complicated things. This is no different with mental health. And it all starts with your daily routine.
6am-8am (Wake Up/ Morning Routine)
It is very important that you wake up early. Upon waking I also recommend actually getting out of bed and getting ready for the day. People who are depressed tend to lay in bed too long, check their phones, watch you tube etc. Or sometimes they just tend to indulge in all their worries too much. It is very important to start the day with momentum/ not lethargy or anxiety.
Upon waking It is important to get ready for the day. In the winter I very much recommend taking a shower (finishing with 30 seconds of cold water). There is nothing that wakes you up faster than cold water. Anthony Robbins talks about shocking your nervous system – and a cold shower is very good at doing this.
If you are feeling particularly motivated doing 20 mins of meditation or exercise is also a very good way to start the day. If you are looking for meditation exercises to do download the Headpace App on your phone and they will give you 10 free guided meditation exercises. For physical exercise I like to do body weight expresses and stretches. For example, pull ups, push ups, planks etc.
Then it is breakfast time. Remember this is your biggest meal of the day. Also make sure to drink plenty of water because your body is going to be very dehydrated 1st thing in the morning. For me, I try and drink 600ml of water and have either rolled oats with bananas and nuts or an egg based breakfast.
Then you are ready for the day.
8-9am (Getting Ready for the Day)
Most people choose to listen to the news, commercial radio, check their phone for emails etc. If mental health and focus is your goal then don’t do these things. Instead what I recommend is that you find a really interesting podcast to listen to first thing in the morning. Something that will really stimulate you mind. For example, I love listening to TED talks, Tim Ferriss Show, Revisionist History or merely learning about something that is relevant to my life. For example, when my wife was pregnant I was listening to pregnancy podcasts. So download a podcast player on your mobile phone (I personally recommend Stitcher) and get started. If you are worried about using data on your phone, download the show before you leave home.
9am-1pm (Time to Shine)
This is your peak time of the day in, terms of brain power. Do not waste it! Most people use this time to grab a coffee, socialise, check Facebook, return phone calls or emails etc. If possible do not do this. There are other times in the day when you can do this. Now is you time to do some deep work. By deep work, I’m referring to writing books, reports, strategic thinking etc. Tasks that are going to take you a few hours to complete. It is extremely important that no distractions are present during these hours.
During this time your mind is going to be in a completely different headspace. After lunch you are going to experience what is known as a post lunch dip, where your energy levels are going to drop for approximately 60-90 minutes. This is the time of the day where you can do your socialising, phone calls, emails, meetings etc. At about 3 or 4pm you will also experience mild boredom. At this time of the day – try and get out of the office. Go for a walk, head to the park for 20 minutes. Your mind and body will really thank you for it. Personally, I’m lucky because I have a park literally 20 minutes behind my office. I try and go here around 4pm most days. It really helps me to get through the days. Especially when I need to work until 8 or 9pm seeing clients.
At the end of the day it is important to minimise technology disruptions. Most people make the mistake of taking work home with them. Checking phones/ emails or watching You Tube, Netflix etc. Instead make this time about spending quality time with yourself or others. If you have a family spend time with them without distraction. Do some exercise, join a social sports team, go to a play. Or even read a book. Again this is another time for deep work. Or as I like to call it – Deep Play.
And then you are ready for Bed.
Some people struggle getting to sleep of a night-time. There are a few basic things that I recommend. I often take a small over the counter dose of melatonin before bed. Melatonin helps to regulate your circadian rhythms (i.e., so you feel tired when going to bed and awake when you need to rise). Secondly, make sure that you have good sleep hygiene. Clean sheets, wash your teeth, go the toilet etc. Thirdly, about 2-3 hours before bed make sure that you are not exposed to any bright lights. Dim lights in your house if you can. When you do hop into bed – your whole purpose is to quieten your mind and to get yourself into a dreamlike state. What I do is count to 50 or 100 (on a bad night) and then allow my mind to start lightly dreaming. Then before I know it I will be fast asleep.