There is so much focus on our physical health that it’s easy to forget about the importance of taking care of your mental health too.
This was the idea behind Mindapples - mindapples.org, a project originated by Andy Gibson, a self-titled social entrepreneur, which asks people to think about what they can do to look after their minds – their ‘five a day’ for better mental wellbeing.
Participants posted ideas such as coffee, meditating, eating yummy food, dancing in a silly way, baking, outdoor swimming, a long shower, a glass of wine at the end of the day.
The idea being that by focusing on just five things that made people feel good, it would help make them feel better – because they would be more likely to do those things and also just thinking about what makes them feel good would make them smile.
It might not seem like an approach that would make as much difference to the nation’s health as eating five portions of fruit and veg each day, but according to a review undertaken for the Government Office for Science in 2008, if people were encouraged to look after their own mental wellbeing, fewer would develop mental health difficulties.
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Five steps to wellbeing
With this in mind, the same review project came up with the Five Steps to Wellbeing:
Connect with people around you
Be physically active
Take notice of the world and people around you, find time for reflection
Give your time and support to something that helps someone else.
Now, however, funding for the Five Steps has been stopped. Mental health costs the NHS £105 billion each year and yet there are few programmes for preventing problems, rather funding is funnelled into treatments. But that needn’t stop you from using the methods outlined to increase your wellbeing.
Take a pen and paper, and jot down the first five things you can think of that make you feel good each day. It could be anything from opening the curtains to saying hello to the bus driver, to taking a hot shower or riding your bicycle through the park.
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Make each thing as simple or complex as you like. Think about why those things make you feel good and try to make at least some of them happen today. See if you can add more things to your list and then keep trying to hit your five-a-day.
NB To be clear, these methods are not intended as a treatment or solution for those with serious mental illness. Patients who are clinically depressed or suffer with severe anxiety, for example, are not the target of these projects and they should seek professional help. Rather, these projects are intended for those who might otherwise become mentally unwell and as a way for everyday people to increase their overall feelings of wellbeing.