It’s all too easy to become caught up in the bustle of everyday life and feel anxious and disconnected.
But if we can become more mindful, both our physical and mental health will benefit, with evidence that a quiet mind allows us to be happier and healthier.
So don’t let a racing mind affect your wellbeing. Here are nine simple methods to help you reclaim your awareness so you can feel calmer and more connected.
If you can, try to take a deep breath slowly through your nose, pause, then exhale through your mouth. On the exhale, try to keep your breath steady, blowing out as much as you can before the next inhale. It can help to close your eyes and place a hand on the top of your stomach, just below the rib cage, so you can feel your diaphragm rise and fall. Count the seconds each breath takes and gradually extend that time.
Don’t worry, you won’t need to reach for the lycra. It doesn’t take much to spark the endorphin kick we get from aerobic exercise. This can be anything from a brisk 15-minute walk around the block to a more intense session of an exercise of your choice. Either way, the body begins to produce chemicals that can help you focus, get a better night’s sleep and improve your mood.
Go outside for a better connection
Whether you’re taking the dog to the park or lacing up your hiking boots, the research has spoken – get outside. The great outdoors can reduce your blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones, protect your vision, fight depression and anxiety and lower your risk of early death. Need more reasons? It can improve short-term memory, reduce inflammation and fight fatigue, and preliminary studies have suggested that spending time surrounded by trees and nature stimulates the production of anti-cancer proteins.
Watch fish swim
According to WebMD a study has revealed that when people watch fish swim in a large aquarium, their blood pressure and heart rate drops. The more types of fish that were added, the happier and calmer you became, so it might be time to start appreciating those goldfish.
Relax muscle tension
This one is particularly helpful if you’re feeling tense or can’t sleep at night. Sit or lie down – in bed or on a bus it doesn’t matter, so long as you’re comfortable. Now tense your toes, count to 10 while you focus on feeling all the muscles in them. Then relax. Now move on to your feet, doing the same thing. Then your calves, your thighs, moving all the way up your body, tensing and relaxing your muscles. As you relax each muscle, focus on the tension being released, leaving your body. This is a great way to become more relaxed, aware and centred.
A song for serenity
That’s right, a favourite tune or two can help calm the mind, studies have shown. When you listen to music, neurons in the part of your brain that registers fear, the amygdala, fire less frequently. So to calm a busy mind, pop on a tune and try to focus on it, pinpointing different sounds and trying to immerse your senses in the song.
See the sun again
Despite our inbuilt fear of sun damage, small doses can have some serious benefits. Sun exposure stimulates the brain to make more serotonin and reduces the amount of excess melatonin, leading to a more positive mind. While too much sun increases our risk of skin cancer, too little has been linked to an increased risk of breast, prostate, colon and lung cancer. Spending a few minutes in the sun in the morning may help you sleep better and have a positive long-term effect on your mental health.
That’s right, just practising gratitude can enhance your brain function and make you feel better. A study has shown that over time regularly expressing gratitude assists brain activity and helps you be happier and healthier. Some of the best ways to practise gratitude include writing down or noting the things you feel grateful for when you notice them. If this doesn’t come easily, when you lie in bed at night, force yourself to list three things you were grateful for that day. They don’t have to be big things, even ‘I’m glad for my cup of tea’ counts, but it will all add up to a happier mind!
Man’s best friend
Get excited, because it’s time to hang out with a dog … or two. The easy companionship we experience when hanging out with a friendly pooch can reduce tension, anxiety, restlessness and confusion. One theory is that the experience of easy companionship we find with a happy dog works to calm us; another from WebMD suggests that oxytocin, a hormone involved in trust and bonding, is released when we play with dogs.
What puts your head in a spin? What techniques help to calm you?