For many of us, it goes without saying that we need to take care of our bodies to stay in shape. But what about our mind? Our Mental wellness influences our body just as our body in turn influences our well-being. It is an interplay of both positions. In order not to forget our mind in the bustle of everyday life we have written this list.
In a Nutshell, tldr
Mental wellness is the feeling of contentment and happiness. Thoughts come to rest and we are in harmony with ourselves and others. In this flow state, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are at a minimum.
Activities such as gardening, meditation, sun bathing, Shinrin Yoku, time in nature, painting, drawing, pottery, creating art, walking barefoot, decluttering, being mindful with everyday tasks improve your mental wellness. Drugs, other addictions such as social media and fast food, on the other hand, reduce your mental wellness. Read the whole article for further information.
It is important to find the right balance of activities that improve your mental wellness as well as things that are fun for you. It is essential to establish positive habits here. Small steps are often enough to make a big difference. For example, through daily meditation or a daily walk in the woods.
Gardening has longterm positive effects
Recent studies have shown that daily gardening improves mental health and drastically reduces the risk of developing dementia. This is because gardening uses a particularly large number of brain functions.¹
It has been documented that people who garden regularly are better able to solve problems and learn new things more easily. On the other hand, stress and anxiety are reduced, as well as the severity of depression.²
In addition, the sense of responsibility can be strengthened. The good thing is that the effects do not only occur during gardening, but can also sustainably increase serotonin levels, so that the positive, happiness-inducing effect can last throughout the day.³
Meditation is the best mental wellness activity
In the meantime, most people are aware that meditation has positive effects on the general well-being and also on the interaction with others. How drastic the changes are, however, with regular practice, is also measurable in the brain.
Meditation Helps Preserve the Aging Brain
The brains of people with many years of meditation experience are better preserved in old age than those of non-meditators. Participants who had meditated for an average of 20 years had more gray matter throughout the brain.¹
Reducing Mind Wandering
The wandering of thoughts is associated with dissatisfaction, rumination, overthinking and worry about the past and the future. Regular mindfulness meditation calms this default mode network and we can control when our thoughts should wander.²
Helps against Depression, Anxiety and Addiction
The ability of mindfulness meditation to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain is now well studied. In terms of depression, the effect is about the same as taking antidepressants.³ The positive effects on social anxiety have also been documented. This is due to the fact that the anxiety-provoking thoughts are mediated.⁴ Because self-control is also increased, meditation can also help in the management of addiction.⁵
Reduces Stress, increases overall mental wellness
Just 8 weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) resulted in an increase in the size of the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory, in participants of one study. In contrast, the amygdala, which is responsible for anxiety and stress, became smaller. In addition to the changes visible in the brain, participants also rated their overall well-being higher after the study than before.⁶ In another study, regular meditation was found to lead to better concentration⁷ and attention⁸.
Our thoughts on meditation
The list is so long because, in our opinion, meditation is one of the essential pillars for mental wellness. Certainly, a relaxed state can also be achieved through the other activities, but if you want to change your brain positively in the long term so that it can bring about the beneficial state itself, you cannot avoid mindfulness meditation.
The particularly positive – it is available everywhere⁹ and you do not need any tools for it. Everyone carries the breath with them and this breath is ideal as a meditation object. The reason many people don’t do this is not the lack of willpower or being weak! It is their subconscious mind, which wants to protect them from dealing with unaddressed issues from the past. Because in the silence, the subconscious suddenly has the space to address unfinished thoughts and situations. And this can be a painful experience. Which is why people with severe trauma are best to meditate only under guidance.
Sun bathing for a better mood
It is strange how some positive things in society have acquired such a negative image. One of them is sunbathing. The first thing that comes to mind for many is the fear of skin cancer. The worry about this is so great that the positive effects are forgotten.
Because regular sunbathing of 5 to 15 minutes without sunscreen, depending on the skin type, immediately lift a variety of positive effects.¹ Depending on the latitude, vitamin D is produced* and the overall mood and mental wellness is lifted. The positive effects of vitamin D on the immune system and health are well researched.² The high level of brightness also makes us more alert and fit, while at the same time allowing us to sleep better in the evening³. In addition, we allow ourselves a mental time-out where we do nothing for once.
But as with everything, we should not overdo it and the dose makes the poison. If we plan to be in the sun longer than our skin’s own protection time, we should definitely put on lotion.⁴
*It is difficult to cover our vitamin D needs through pure sunbathing and our food. According to the current state of science, it is recommended to substitute vitamin D.⁵
Forest bathing and a walk in nature to calm down
Spending time in nature automatically has a relaxing effect on us. In Japan, for example, walking in the forest is an integral part of health care and there is a word for it called Shinrin Yoku. This means something like “taking a bath in the atmosphere of the forest.”¹
Thus, after a forest bath, we feel less tense, more alert, less irritable, clearer and happier. It has also been proven to increase our vitality. The rustling of the leaves, the soft green and the earthy smell stimulate alpha waves in our brain.² These are largely responsible for our relaxation and connection with ourselves.
It is also scientifically proven that spending time in the forest significantly lowers cortisol levels compared to spending time in the city.³ The effect is a little stronger when we walk in the forest, but equally strong when we just sit and enjoy the surroundings.
The interesting thing is that the positive effects of the forest can also be brought into our lives digitally, for example by watching or listening to pictures, videos and sounds of the forest.⁴ That’s why you can find exactly such videos in our Evano Everyday app.
Painting, drawing, pottery and creating art
More and more people are realizing the relaxing effects of painting, drawing and creating art in general. Similar to some meditation methods, we keep the focus on a task for a certain amount of time. In one study, the cortisol levels of 39 healthy adults were measured once before the art session and once after. Compared to before, the participants were measurably more relaxed, as evidenced by the lower cortisol level.¹
The experience was described as “relaxing, enjoyable, helpful for learning about new aspects of self, freeing from constraints, an evolving process of initial struggle to later resolution, and about flow/losing oneself in the work.”²
There is no right or wrong, good or bad in creating art. It is about the process, not the result.
If you have no experience here, it doesn’t matter, because there is no right or wrong, good or bad! It is about the process, not the result. This experience can be ported well to other areas of life, because with our own expectations we often sabotage ourselves.
Meanwhile, there are also mindful coloring books for adults, where you can color plants or mandalas, for example. Here, too, the relaxing effect has been well studied.³ But even if you have no instructions at hand, it is also a great way to simply draw on a white sheet of paper what you just see. This can be the view from the window, your cat or the houseplant. Try it yourself.
If we, as in pottery, also strongly address the sensory of our hands, this has a relaxing effect on our mind, because it also stimulates alpha waves in the brain.
Walk barefoot or visit a barefoot trail near you
Just like on our hands, the density of receptors on the soles of our feet is very high. But in our modern times, we do not notice this so often, because we wear shoes most of the time. However, when we consciously walk barefoot, these sensory impressions also have a calming effect on our brain. Studies have shown that a reflexology foot massage can increase serotonin levels, decrease depression and improve the quality of sleep. ¹ When we walk barefoot we stimulate some of the point of our feet themselves.
Try it once and the next time you are in a meadow take off your shoes and socks and walk through the grass with bare feet. It doesn’t matter if the grass is damp or wet. Pay attention to how it feels. Then change the surface, for example, if you walk on the asphalt of a road, or on the soft ground in the forest, or the sand on the beach.
If there is a barefoot trail near you, we recommend you visit it. The great thing about it is that you can try out different surfaces at short intervals. A very relaxing experience.
Wellness for the body is wellness for the soul
Already at the end of the 90s, studies were published that showed that regular massages can significantly reduce stress levels, as well as lift the general mood.¹² Research is also currently underway to determine whether aromatherapy massages, for example, can help with anxiety disorders. Initial results suggest that this is the case, but the size of the study is very small, with only 8 participants.³
There is no doubt that a visit to the spa is relaxing for those who have already experienced it. The tactile feedback on the skin is crucial for a relaxed state. This is measurable by an increased activity of the alpha and theta brain waves.⁴
In addition to relaxation, this also gives us better access to our subconscious mind and allows us to make better decisions. This is supported by a combination of different influences: the pleasant temperature, the dim light, the soothing sounds, the relaxing massage or the warmth in the sauna.
You can create a similar relaxing atmosphere at home by taking a calming bath. While doing so, light candles and turn on relaxing sounds. If you have a partner, ask him or her to massage you afterwards and your wellness day at home is perfect.
A tidy environment for a decluttered mind
As the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki said, “I can tell a lot about a person’s mind by the way they put their shoes in front of the dojo”. Conversely, we can use our willpower to create an environment that is good for us.
More light in the home has been shown to have a positive effect on our mood and can reduce depression and anxiety. This can be achieved with both natural and artificial light.¹ But keeping the home tidy and functional also has a positive effect on our mental health.² In addition, if we choose an apartment that has trees directly outside the window, this also has a positive effect on our mental wellness, as a recent study examined.³
Getting rid of old things and things we no longer use also helps us mentally let go of old things. Did you know that in the 1950s, people in Germany owned an average of about 180 things, and today that number is about 10,000 things.⁴ This also leads to a loss of appreciation for individual objects.
So what treasures are still hiding in the basement? If you don’t want to sell some things, you can also give them away to people who desperately need them. Try the liberating effect yourself.
Being mindful with everyday tasks
A misconception is that we always need to do something special to relax our brains. But being mindful in our everyday tasks is one of the most effective forms of mental wellness. The problem, this behavior is not intuitive to us. This is because once an activity becomes habitual for us, we no longer need to actively think about it.¹
Our thoughts are then no longer in the present moment, but wander blithely into the future and past. For example, we can easily think about our work while washing the dishes. But if we focus on our current task, then this also has a relaxing effect. In the dishwashing example, we can focus on how the water flows around our hands. Or how our fingertips, touch the tableware. We can focus on the smell of the dishwashing liquid. Or how our feet are standing on the floor.
Normally, we always try to do everything as quickly as possible. But do the opposite for once, consciously take the pressure out and reserve enough time for your tasks. Avoid multitasking, but take care of one task at a time. You will be surprised how this small but subtle change affects your mental wellbeing. Give it a try!
1) Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Behaviors you should reconsider and why balance is key
We do something good for ourselves not only by doing something, but also by the things we don’t do. This seems trivial, but it is not at all. The important thing is that the dose makes the poison! For example, at Evano we are fans of conscious enjoyment. The key word here is again mindfulness and balance. Eating fast food once every few weeks or partying the night away with friends won’t kill you on the spot. In fact, the positive effects of having fun, being part of a group and socializing will be good for the wellbeing of your mind. Life also wants to be lived. But as we said, everything in moderate amounts.
However, many who have explored mindfulness and mental wellness are very strict here, almost ascetic. This is not at all our interpretation of modern mindfulness. Because it is just as much about having fun and enjoying life. Maintaining a balance in one direction or the other is true luxury. Still, there are some activities that, if done frequently, work exactly opposite to mental wellness. Let’s take a closer look at them now.
Regular consumption of fast food
Today it is well studied how harmful simple fats and sugars are for our organism. What is even more surprising, the regular consumption of fast food is suspected of promoting and triggering anxiety.¹
The use of drugs of any kind
Whether alcohol, nicotine, cannabinoids, opiates,
psilocybin* amphetamines or similar, most of these substances mean a serious intervention in one’s own psyche. Under all circumstances, regular consumption should be reconsidered, because some substances increase the internal stress level, up to the unlearning of the brain to experience happiness without substances.
A great site with more information and help: https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/
*As Reddit user Weak_Plenty correctly pointed out in his insightful comment, this is not true for all types of drugs. In particular, the effectiveness of psilocybin for depression1, anxiety2, and increasing overall life satisfaction3 has been well researched in recent studies. However, these mind-altering substances should always be taken under supervision. For further information make sure to read the full comment on reddit.
Not so obvious addictions
In this day and age, many people who have never had contact with traditional drugs have become addicted. According to Statista, already 40 percent of U.S. online users aged 18 to 22 years reported feeling addicted to social media.
These networks, many apps and websites are designed to trigger a dopamine kick in users. We become addicted to the news and sometimes spend hours in a loop, opening the same apps over and over again, hoping to have received a notification.
To activate our reward system anyway we then binge watch Netflix series or Youtube, like TikTok videos.
But this behavior makes it very difficult for us to switch off, because we constantly need new stimuli. Observing our own behavior mindfully is the first step out of the spiral. Visit this website, if you need help to overcome your addiction.
Doing one thing at a time for a better mental wellness
Mental wellness always has something to do with coming into the present moment. As Daniel Kahneman has shown in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, our brain is able to work in two different modes. Autopilot and focus mode. As important as the autopilot is for our survival, it is just as important to consciously leave it now and then.
Therefore our tip – when you do an activity, do only that activity. Even if it’s hard, or maybe boring at first. Switch your smartphone to flight mode more often, for example when you’re meeting up with friends. It’s not only about valuing the time of others, but also about valuing yourself.
Mental wellness and a happy life can be learned. In this day and age, however, everything around us is so loud and screaming for our attention that it’s hard to resist these distractions. Being aware of this and, for example, deactivating notifications on the smartphone or setting them to silent already helps immensely not to become permanently stressed. If you also manage to integrate some of the above activities into your everyday life, your mind will thank you. This will not only improve your own life, but as well your relationships to others.