Over the weekend marked World Mental Health Day, a day where we as a collective are encouraged to promote the awareness of mental health. After such a turbulent year that has pushed many individuals, families and businesses to their limits, it's important to remember to be kind to ourselves and others. Today on the journal, we share some feel-good tips on how you can boost your health, happiness and immunity. These small steps that we can take every day to boost our happiness, can play an essential role in improving not only our mood, but also the happiness of those around us.
We’ve done a little research into the practices and habits we can incorporate into our lives to boost our mood, along with our immune function – steps that we can take to be happier in ourselves, and contribute to a healthier society.
It sounds obvious, but it’s an important and easy step to boost your feelings of happiness. By simply forming your mouth into the shape of a smile, hormones such as dopamine and serotonin are released, and this chemical response enables a sense of increased mental happiness . You can achieve the same effect by putting a pencil lengthways between your teeth, but this is a less COVID-safe option. Practicing smiling in the mirror has been found to result in the most dramatic mood improvement, so incorporating a mirror smile into your morning routine is a good trick to boost your happiness off the bat.
Studies have been highlighting the positive impact of gratitude on mental health for years. While thinking about the things you’re grateful for is a powerful trick, research has found that writing down your gratitude list has a far greater impact on your levels of happiness, and has even been found to reduce stress, improve sleep and decrease the risks of heart disease .
Cold water showers have been a wellness trick since way back, but the benefits extend beyond improved circulation. The Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hoff has spearheaded a growing global interest in cold water swimming, but if a dip in an icy ocean isn’t available (or appealing) a cold shower will do. Research has shown that exposure to cold water can reduce rates of depression by releasing endorphins and reducing inflammation in the brain  which improves the flow of happy hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. Exposing yourself to cold water has also been found to reduce stress levels throughout the day, by activating the brain’s parasympathetic nervous system  (avoiding the cortisol-driven fight or flight response).
Image courtesy of Prema & Rituals @prema_rituals
Soak up the sun
Sitting in the sun is more than just an indulgence: getting Vitamin D is vital to mental wellbeing, which is one of the reasons that our hearts go out to anyone facing hotel quarantine. If you’re lucky enough to have access to direct sunlight, make the most of it (while practicing necessary sun protection, naturally). Vitamin D supplements have been found to be comparable to antidepressant medication in improving moods , and is referred to by the Alliance of Integrative Medicine as “the happy hormone” . As well as improving mental wellbeing, getting your dose of Vitamin D is vital for maintaining a strong immune system. Vitamin D receptors in the immune cells of the body see the immune system weaken during the winter months, when access to sunshine is limited . Staying safe in the sun is essential of course, but getting some sunshine every day is an important step for boosting happiness, health and immune function.
Fuel your body with feel-good foods
The gut is often referred to as “the second brain”, not only because of the connection between the two in terms of intuition, but because of the dramatic impact that what we eat has on our emotional wellbeing. Studies have found that 90% of serotonin (the neurotransmitter largely responsible for chemical feelings of happiness) is produced in the gut , and what we eat can make or break the healthy functioning of our digestive tract. Foods that promote healthy bacteria are the ones to look for when it comes to improving the gut microbiome’s ability to produce serotonin: this means a healthy balance of fermented foods, anti-inflammatory ingredients and fibre-rich plants. Other mood-boosting foods to incorporate into your daily diet are vitamin-rich foods (such as berries, oysters and leafy greens)  and those high in healthy fats (such as walnuts, eggs and fatty fish ). Your digestive tract also plays an essential role in supporting your immune defence system, so keeping your microbiome healthy is one of the most important steps you can take to stay safe from illness and infection .
Staying active is essential for positive mental as well as physical wellbeing, with studies showing that sedentary behaviour dramatically increases the likelihood of developing depression . Benefitting from the mood-boosting effects of exercise doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym – studies have shown that going for a ten minute walk can make you feel instantly happier, more calm and inspire a more positive engagement with life . If walking isn’t for you, yoga has also been found to improve happiness: resulting in higher self-esteem and improved psychological wellbeing . Exercise also helps keep you physically fit, which means you’re less susceptible to illness and infection.
Research carried out in America found that people who drink more water report higher levels of happiness , so if you were waiting on another reason to up your aqua intake, this is surely it. Drinking water has also been found to improve immune function by naturally eliminating toxins , so there’s really no excuse.
And finally, sleep – everybody’s favourite activity. Staying well rested is not only vital for maintaining a strong immune system , but a reduction in sleep duration has been found to result in higher levels of repetitive negative thinking .
It’s nice to know that the steps we can take to make us happier on a day to day basis will also help improve our immune function, but studies have shown that the very sensation of happiness results in a stronger immune response . So if there’s anything you can take away from this article, it’s that taking the time to make yourself a little happier – through a smile in the mirror or an afternoon walk – is an altruistic act. During a pandemic more than ever, one of the most important contributions we can make to society is keeping ourselves healthy and well.