We all know to eat 5 fruit and vegetables a day for our physical health. Now a top psychologist is prescribing a new “MENTAL 5-a-day” practice to safeguard our mental health
Like brushing our teeth or eating three daily meals, we need to make these five simple mental practices part of our routine – to help us cope and even B.L.O.O.M in troubled times
We all know, thanks to years of public health messages, that we should eat five fruit and vegetables a day to protect our physical health.
Now a top psychologist – and the app he works for – is saying that we also need a “MENTAL 5-a-day”, to protect our mental and emotional health, especially under the huge stress that Covid-19 is placing on us.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is also a mental health crisis,” says Dr Seth Gillihan, a clinical psychologist, best-selling author and Head of Therapy for Bloom, the self-therapy app that uses personalised, interactive video sessions to help users cope with stress, anxiety and depression. “And we urgently need effective ways to address this crisis.”
Bloom has therefore just launched both a new 7-day “Covid Program” and another feature, called “Routines”. Both are devised by Dr Gillihan to help Bloom users implement healthy mental routines and cope with the special stress that Covid is placing on our mental, emotional and relationship wellbeing.
“I’m recommending that we all start adopting a mental 5-a-day practice – consisting of five simple and practical things that we can all do each day to help nourish our mental health.
The five simple things that Dr Gillihan recommends we do each day are designed to help us not just cope right now but even B.L.O.O.M – the word which their first letters combine to spell, as follows:
BREATHE – Use your breath as the anchor to connect to the present moment
LOVE – Connect with others, with love, friendship, kindness
OBSERVE your thoughts – And practice helpful ways of thinking
OFFER thanks – Practice gratitude
MOVE – Exercise in ways you enjoy
Says Dr Gillihan: “It’s best to program these practices into your daily schedule and – like brushing your teeth or eating three regular meals – make them part of your routine, so that you don’t have to debate with yourself each day about if and when you’re going to do them.”
His mental 5-a-day is based – like all the mental routines on Bloom – on the science of cognitive
behavioral therapy (CBT), which, in recent decades, has revealed the power of simple and regular practices that can guard our mental and emotional well-being.
“While the science is new, the principles are not”, says Dr Gillihan. “They’re based in ancient wisdom like the writings of the Stoics and the teachings of many faith traditions.
“The power of CBT comes from consistency; one-off efforts do little to bend the trajectory of your mental and emotional lives. You need to repeat them every day.”
1. BREATHE – Use your breath as the anchor to connect to the present moment.
Our breath is our anchor. It connects us to the present moment. Using breathwork helps us train our minds to be in the present.
Breathwork can also help us connect with our bodies. When we join mind and body, we often find something that transcends both – a connection that keeps us grounded and helps us think more clearly.
Try, for example, taking three conscious breaths – in and out of your mouth – before each meal, noticing your physical body on the first, the people and things around you on the second, and the food in front of you on the third. Even one simple breath before you eat can connect you to the present moment. This will soothe the nervous system and help you take in whatever you’re doing with more awareness of the moment.
A few minutes of breathwork in the morning can help us start the day on the right foot; returning to the practice at night is a good way to release the events of the day before bed.
2. LOVE – Connect with others, sharing love, kindness, friendship, companionship
Few things affect our wellbeing as profoundly as the company we keep. Spend time with people – in whatever ways are currently safe and permitted – that bring out the best in you every day.
In the process, find ways to be of service and show love, kindness and friendship. Considering the needs of others is one of our own fundamental needs. When you’re with other people, put away distractions like your phone, so that you can experience their company as fully as possible.
If you can’t spend time inside with others, due to Covid-19, then spend it outside, with, say, a socially distanced walk.
If you can’t spend it outside either, for whatever reason, then spend it online but face-to-face on some kind of video call. Even just touching base via a friendly phone-call, text or message can benefit both parties.
3. OBSERVE your thoughts – Practice helpful ways of thinking.
Notice and challenge your thoughts. Recognise the unhelpful stories that the mind tells us about not being good enough, or about bad things that we fear are going to happen. Shift attention to what you can control – the intention and effort that you bring, doing your best …
Anxious and stressful thoughts are often waiting for us when we wake up – so, this is a great practice to do first thing in the morning, even before we open our eyes.
4. OFFER thanks – Practice gratitude.
Make space for gratitude throughout the day.
You don’t have to try to feel grateful – just direct your attention to everything that sustains your life, and let gratefulness emerge spontaneously.
It’s also beneficial at bedtime to recall three things that went well that day – three good things, that you’re grateful for – to encourage a positive mental space as you fall asleep.
5. MOVE – Exercise in ways you enjoy.
There are few activities that offer more benefit to both our physical AND mental health than exercise.
Any type of movement can be beneficial – the best kind, research has shown, is whatever we’ll do consistently. Whether it’s running or dancing, weights or gardening, find a routine for letting your body do what it loves.
Exercising in the morning can offer benefits that extend throughout the day.
Weather permitting, getting fresh air while you exercise can provide an added boost.