A study has found early risers are less likely than night owls to suffer from mental health problems. While it might not be possible to alter your body clock, there are other ways of boosting your well-being as psychotherapist Noel McDermott explains here.
Get enough sleep
Sleep itself is one of the biggest things that can impact on our happiness. Noel says: “Lack of sleep is really stressful. People really need to think about their sleep hygiene. It is not about sleeping for a certain amount of hours, it is about doing what is right for you. Normal sleep can be anything between five to 10 hours a night. It may sound simple, but making your bed in the morning can set you up for a positive day. Research has found this simple task starts a chain reaction of productivity for the whole day.”
Spending a few minutes, a day practising mindfulness and meditation can transform your mental health. There are apps available to download or videos on YouTube, and mindfulness is available on the NHS via GPs. Noel says: “It is the most simple thing in the world to do. But it can help you deal with the stressful situations life throws at us.”
Learn to forgive
When you are unhappy and stressed out, your body produces stress hormones. “Our brain is designed to focus on possible threats, because they might kill us. So when we are really angry or upset with somebody, or are harbouring resentment, our brain brings us back to that thought. When we go back to those thoughts our body produces stress hormones, and stress is the biggest killer in our society, it is the biggest cause of depression,” Noel says.
“Stress reduces the body’s capacity to fight off infections, so you are more likely to get ill. If you tell yourself to think nice things about somebody, they stop being a threat inside your brain and you feel better about them and the whole situation.”
If you clean the dishes in your sink you are going to feel better. Noel explains: “The payoff of such a small task is ridiculously big, the sense of well-being you get. Investing in cleaning and tidying is investing in your own well-being.”
Get more friends
Noel says: “If people are depressed they are usually socially isolated. One of the key things to help this is to broaden your social network. When we have a diverse group of people around us, it makes us feel good and produces hormones which make us feel better. This can increase your life expectancy by five to 10 years.”
Ignore your phone
If you put down your phone to listen properly to a conversation, or even concentrate on a TV programme rather than scrolling through social media it can actually help you to feel more connected to the world. Noel says: “Evidence shows that if you can manage today well, then tomorrow is likely to be better and then yesterday will cease to be of any significance.”
We all know that exercise is good for us but Noel says: “It is not about saying I am going to go to the gym five times a week. It has got to fit in with our lifestyle, as part of our daily tasks. Walking is fantastic - getting off the bus or tube earlier than normal, getting up from your desk and going for a quick walk. Adding that sort of exercise into our lives is shown to have hugely positive effects on our health and well-being.”
Being in nature has been shown to have fantastic effects on our mental health. Noel explains: “You don’t have to go climbing Ben Nevis or trek in the wilderness. Going to the local park has hugely positive effects. One study showed that even noticing a tree at your bus stop is an engagement with nature that improves your emotional, mental and physical health.
“When we engage with natural objects like plants and trees we go into a meditative state, it moves our consciousness from one part of the brain to another, so we get some of the effects of meditation simply from being with nature.”
Get a pet
Owning a pet has been shown to make people happier for three different reasons. Noel explains: “Firstly you are nurturing another living thing, which goes back to the benefits of kindness. Secondly, if you have a pet like a dog then you have to walk it which takes you outside and is a form of exercise. Thirdly if you stroke or hug a pet it actively reduces stress - you are less likely to have a heart attack if you stroke a pet. Also, animals like dogs adore us and it‘s a really nice feeling to be adored.”
The simple act of smiling has been found to reduce stress and increase happiness - even if you are forcing or faking the smile. Noel says: “Putting on a happy face actually makes you happier. And you smile at others - friends, family members or even a complete stranger - it can actually make them happier too.”