Paying attention to what makes us feel mentally healthy and reduces anxiety, is, and should be important enough to make it a daily priority.

“What?! It’s November already! Where has the year gone?”

At this time of the year I really start looking forward to having a little break in December. Typically in previous years, I’ve experienced a lot of anxiety towards the end of the year. It’s a very busy time for all of us and I know I’m not alone in sometimes having to dig deep to get through the daily tasks. Over and above our daily responsibilities we live in a world that demands attention from us all the time. We’re exposed to so many external stressors that it’s no wonder anxiety and depression are the most prevalent mental health concerns for South Africans.

Things that helped me keep anxiety at bay

When things get a bit overwhelming I find I have to be more vigilant to keep up with things that support my mental well-being and keep me grounded. I find that getting enough sleep, eating healthy, meditation and some regular exercise is essential. I often burn aromatherapy oils for their therapeutic benefits at home too – Lavender, Geranium and Bergamot are my favourites. We are also very fortunate to live near the beach and have incorporated a regular Saturday morning beach walk in our routine. It has had a definite positive impact on my stress levels and really helps to set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

Our office tip for squeezing in daily activity

Take a few minutes over lunch time to go for a walk around the block, or hop on a bicycle to commute to work rather than sitting in a car - we do both and can see the happy benefits!

It has been instilled in us by our parents that you’re never too old to learn. I certainly find that keeping in touch with new developments around nutrition, general – and psychological well-being makes me feel energized. I often listen to podcasts covering these themes while I cook supper. Over the last few weeks I’ve been listening to “The Happiness Lab” and it is truly interesting listening. The podcast challenges the way we think about happiness and what would in turn make us happy. It is filled with research and tidbits about happiness and tools to improve personal and mental well-being. Ironically, it may not always be the things we think that will make us happy that leads to the most improved well-being.

In the first episode Dr Laurie Santos interviews Prof Sonia Lyubomirsky, a professor in psychology at the University of California, author and expert on happiness. She defines happiness as “the experience of positive emotions”. It’s also a feeling of “my life is good” (being happy in your life and being happy with your life). She points out that even though some of us may be genetically blessed to be born more upbeat, happiness can be a learned skill. Learning and refining this skill to improve happiness takes consistent effort though. It’s work, but it’s worth it! There’s even a free online version of Dr Laurie Santos’ course available on Coursera.

Something that surprised me was the idea that talking to strangers could make you feel happier. Normally this would really raise my levels of anxiety as I’m quite shy. We know being around other family and friends makes us feel good. But it turns out that according to research, having a conversation with strangers (for instance on public transport or standing in queues) has amazing benefits for our mental well-being. Making a connection with strangers makes us feel really good and surprisingly also benefits the other person. It makes us feel more connected and in turn lessens loneliness. It makes so much sense and I’ll definitely try this more often.

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