Optimising Your Mental Health

A few years ago, I moved to Auckland for a dream job. I was excited but also deeply anxious about whether I would be ‘good enough’.

I put huge pressure on myself. Worked long hours. Overthought everything. Didn’t eat enough, sleep enough. Toiled over things too long, desperate to make sure they were perfect.

After a year of this, my body basically shut down from stress. My doctor diagnosed me with burnout. I had to take a hiatus from work to get myself back on the right track.

The whole experience taught me an enormous lesson about prioritising self-care. Taking care of your mental health and wellbeing is not weak. It’s a prerequisite for slaying your career and your life.

Here are my top self-care tips to help keep you mentally happy and healthy.

1. Make sleep a priority.

The benefits of sleep to your life and career are endless. Ariana Huffington wrote the literal book on it! Yet hardly any of us are getting enough.

We are trying to fit so much into our lives these days. Careers, social lives, side hustles, young families, gym routines, networking, education, the list goes on. That’s a recipe for long days and late nights. Add to that our constant use of devices, which screws with our body clocks, and you’re looking at a sleep-deprived generation.

Sleep has to be a priority.

Do you have good sleep hygiene? Create a routine for yourself that signals to your brain ‘it’s bedtime’. If you have trouble getting off to sleep, try sleep apps and sleep podcasts (Sleep with Me podcast is a great one). Resist the urge to use devices in bed. Help your brain associate the bedroom with sleep (not work, or Netflix) by making your bedroom a cool, calm place where only sleeping happens.

2. Become the boss of your brain.

Ever found yourself lying awake in bed replaying a conversation or situation in your brain, over and over? Our brains have a way of running away with us, don’t they?

Your thoughts have a huge impact on how you feel and what you do. But if you can gain some control over your thoughts, you’ll be able to influence more positive thinking in your life. That’ll lead to positive behaviour and decisions.

A practical way of becoming the boss of your brain is using mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness is a fantastic tool for stress management. It enables us to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. It helps us stop focusing on the rapid stream of thoughts constantly running through our minds. Give it a try and I bet you’ll see your stress levels come down.

3. Record your gratitude.

It’s easy to say ‘Be more grateful!’ But how can we enact gratitude in our lives?

It seems the act of actually writing it down seems to make the things we’re grateful for ‘stick’ in our brains. Research shows that recording experiences you’re grateful for, for only two consecutive weeks, has lasting positive effects sustained for up to six months!

My favourite gratitude journal app is called ‘Grateful’. If you prefer old-fashioned pen and paper, buy yourself a gorgeous journal and create a beautiful space to record the beautiful things in your life.

4. Perfect is the enemy of done.

Recent research confirms millennials are the most perfectionistic generation yet, but it’s taking a toll on our mental health. We have higher rates of issues like depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

It’s commendable to focus on executing your work to the best of your ability. But seeking utter perfection all the time just raises stress levels and gets in the way of simply getting something done. And really, have you ever seen anything in life that’s truly perfect!?

I’ve learned that most of the time, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about getting something out the door and adjusting from there as needed.

As Confucious said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”

5. Break things down into smaller pieces.

Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking about the enormity of a goal or project. It’s a sure-fire way to stress yourself out.

Break your goal down into small, manageable chunks and tick them off as you achieve them. You’ll start to see that nailing all those smaller goals eventually adds up to the achievement of that big kahuna goal.

There are lots of detailed systems out there for breaking down your goals. But a simple way of starting is by simply taking out a pen and paper and writing down, say, your top 3 goals for the next 90 days. Once you’ve done that, write down the 3 steps you need to take to achieve each of those goals. You can even break those steps down into smaller steps!

6. It’s OK to ask for help.

Without a doubt, my biggest lesson from burning out was that I should have asked for help earlier. So, if you get to a point where you need support – please go get it.

See a therapist, talk to your friends and family for support. If you’re short on time, use an online therapy service like Betterhelp. Don’t put it off. Make it a priority to get whatever help you need to manage life’s pressures, avoid burning out and continue to slay!

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