It is no surprise that we can often feel overwhelmed and lack mental clarity within our daily lives. The pace of life we are often exposed to does not allow for simplicity however in order to protect our own mental health it is vital that we understand what we can do to simplify our lives in order to improve our mental health.
In this article we cover the benefits of journaling, cold water therapy, adopting a minimalist approach, building positive habits and the importance of reducing our screen time, how sleep can help us refocus and boost our happy hormones. If you are looking for ways you can easily simplify your life then we have got you covered.
Journalling is a form of self expression that can help you to understand complex feelings and empower you to improve your level of mental clarity. It is well understood that journalling has many health benefits but in particular it serves to strengthen the mind especially through reflective practice. Evidence suggests that by setting aside dedicated time to carry out journalling you can reduce your levels of stress as you enter a state of mindfulness as you write.
The science behind journalling explains that as we are exploring the mind through journalling our bodies are releasing hormones as we unpick problems and identify solutions. These hormones are known as endorphins and dopamine, both are neurotransmitters and are responsible for the feelings of happiness and pleasure.
In order to effectively journal, the analytical and rational left side of the brain must be engaged whilst the right side of the brain is engaged as our levels of creativity soar and take over. By carrying out this simple practice you can help to boost your mood, strengthen your working memory and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Cold Water Immersion
Cold water swimming and cold water immersion have increased popularity over the past few years as more individuals are reporting health benefits. Repeated immersion in the cold water triggers our body to enter into our fight or flight mode as the cold water activates the bodies stress response. We can therefore use cold water swimming to strengthen our psychological coping mechanisms.
Research shows that cold water therapy can be used as an adjunct in treating depression and associated inflammation levels within the brain. Whilst we are immersed into the cold water environment, our heart rate increases dramatically along with blood pressure whilst adrenaline is rushing through our body. In addition to this glucose and fat is being released into the bloodstream which provides a quick energy source during this fight or flight stage. The stress hormone cortisol is released from our adrenal glands which allows our body to remain in the fight or flight stage whilst beta-endorphin hormones flood the brain giving a sense of pain relief and euphoria. Some swimmers often describe this as a post swim high.
Don’t worry about not being an expert straight away as it is important to start slow and build upon this practice gradually. Over time your body will learn to adapt, you will learn to control your panic and breathing which can result in making you less reactive to everyday stress.
Live Simply With Minimalism
Minimalism isn’t about living with as little as possible but instead about discovering what is important and can enrich your life. It allows you to have clarity of the mind and freedom to tune out the noise in your life which will in turn help to improve mental health outcomes.
Having a simple life is paired with a sense of ease and control, allowing yourself to let go of unnecessary possessions and focus upon what is important. By adopting this practice, you can gain more freedom as you no longer feel tied to material possessions. Minimalism can give you an added sense of independence and is linked to improved levels of happiness. Creating an environment with little clutter reduces stress levels, enhances clarity and can help in dealing with long term stress in all areas of your life.
This holistic approach can help reduce the damaging long term effects physiological effects of chronic stress including reducing high blood pressure, anxiety/depression and insomnia.
Build a Habit
Poor mental health is often experienced when our rhythm of life is off kilter. By developing a daily routine, it can help you to feel more in control and help to focus. Routine can help aid our mental health as we learn to cope with change and form healthy habits to reduce stress levels.
Often when we are expected to cope with unpredictable periods of time in life it can feel that we have little structure and nothing to anchor us. Routine can help eliminate stress levels by allowing us to remove the guesswork. Building a habit can help us to cultivate positive daily habits and allows us to focus upon self-care and development.
By building a regular routine it helps us to feel more relaxed which in turn allows our body to relax easier and lead to realignment of our circadian rhythm. It is this that is responsible for our sleep-wake cycle and allows us to build a healthy sleep pattern and relax. Creating a routine allows for balance, more energy and stronger resilience.
Reduce Your Screen Time
It is true that we now live in a time where everything is connected and it is very difficult to escape the domination of technology. Research shows that the blue light from our phones, laptops, tablets and TV screens can be harmful to our health.
Studies suggest that it can cause disruptions to your circadian rhythm and affect the quality of the sleep you get. This is due to the unnatural light emitted from our devices which suppress the brain chemical melatonin which leads to less quality sleep in terms of time spent in Rapid Eye Movement (REM). REM sleep is an essential stage of sleep as it helps our brains to consolidate and process new information whilst improving our memory, mental focus and mood.
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When you are in REM stages of sleep, your eyes will be moving rapidly and it is during this stage that most dreams take place. Your muscles are temporarily paralyzed which stops you from moving during your active dreams. This phase is associated with increased brain activity and is vital to ensure better mental concentration and mood regulation. By controlling this you are allowing yourself to take control of your daily performance and overall quality of life.
Prioritize Your Sleep
By keeping our sleep pattern regular we allow our brains and internal body clock to get used to a set routine. In order for humans to benefit from optimal performance it is recommended that adult gets between 7 - 9 hours of good quality sleep a night. Science has proven that poor sleep is a major risk factor in all mental health issues. Healthy sleeping patterns can help improve learning, memory, creativity and overall feelings of happiness.
There are various stages in the sleep cycle from light sleep and rapid eye movement as mentioned earlier. It is vital that we successfully cycle through these stages multiple times during one night in order for the body to fully benefit from sleep and allow it to perform the critical restoration of our physical and mental health as we sleep.
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It is important to note that it is not just the quantity of sleep we get but in fact the quality that we get. We need long periods of uninterrupted, consistent sleep schedule in order to see the benefits. Poor sleep is often an issue that accumulates over time as you gradually adjust to less and less sleep without recognizing the negative impact this will be having on your health in the long term.
Slow Down and Boost Your Happy Hormones
We all need to take time to slow down and relax, making sure we take time to escape the demands of modern life. If we ignore warning signs of stress and do not take time to refocus upon ourselves then we run the risk of allowing stress to dominate.
When we are able to relax and clear our minds, we are able to see problems and solutions a lot clearer meaning it is easier to manage our emotions. It allows time for us to focus on the present moment instead of worrying about a future which may or may not happen and is essentially not yet a reality. It allows us to be more reflective rather than getting caught in a trap of anxiety.
Methods which can help us to slow down and cherish the moment include yoga, meditation, tai chi, and breathwork. When you perform physical exercise, your body also releases chemicals called endorphins which can help to trigger feelings of peace and happiness.
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About the Contributor
Lauren Williams is a sailor, nurse, and writer enjoying a simple life onboard a sail boat. She’s passionate about health, wellness and the ocean. She will be documenting every step of her journey on her Instagram page as she explores and looks to harness the healing power of the ocean.
Swimming in Ireland: Immersions in therapeutic blue space - ScienceDirect
The relationship between screen time and mental health in young people: A systematic review of longitudinal studies - ScienceDirect