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6 Daily habits to improve your mental health

It’s 2023, and while most of us value mental health more than we did even a few years ago, the world seems to be more stressful than ever. Inflation and the rising cost of living, load shedding, currency woes…all the external pressures we deal with daily can be overwhelming. But the truth is that feeling calm (at least on a regular basis) is actually more attainable than you’d think.

With small daily habits put into practice over time, you can rewire your brain to look at the world in a way that’s more optimistic – and improves your mental health at the same time. So, what are these small daily habits that can promote a sense of wellbeing? Here are six places to start:


Besides reducing anxiety and depression, exercise helps improve self-esteem and cognitive function. It also reduces stress, improves your memory, helps you get better quality sleep and enhances your mood, thanks to the endorphins your body produces when you sweat. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to reap these benefits either: any regular aerobic exercise that elevates your heart rate will do the trick, whether it’s running, swimming, cycling, walking, dancing, hiking or even gardening. If you participate with others – such as joining a running club, for example – you’ll have the knock-on benefit of connecting with others (see point 4 below).

Get into nature

Being in the natural world has a calming effect on our physical bodies, which in turn affects our mental state. A 2022 German study from the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience showed that after a 60-minute walk in nature, activity in brain regions involved in stress processing decreases. Breathing in fresh air, being out in the sunshine (of which South Africa has an abundance), even just walking down a street filled with trees…all of it helps to calm our nervous system.

Practise gratitude

Practising gratitude for what we have, rather than what we don’t, is one of the simplest ways to alleviate stress. Yet how many of us actually do this? Our Western world trains us to look for problems and then solve them, rather than looking at what is already going right and being thankful for that. Practising gratitude doesn’t have to mean only appreciating when momentous things happen (the birth of a baby, getting a promotion, winning the lottery) - it means appreciating even the smallest things in our everyday lives. This could be having food in the fridge and a family who loves you…or even a good rainfall after a dry summer.

Connect with others

One of the biggest contributors to poor mental health is the tendency to isolate. Humans are naturally sociable creatures, as we’re hard wired to connect with others as it makes us feel more content and supported. These could be close friends or family members, but connecting could also mean meeting like minded people doing a hobby or sport you enjoy. Connecting online can also be an easy way to meet others, as well as get help with your mental health if you need it. If you belong to a medical aid, you may be able to access these resources through your medical aid scheme. Fedhealth members, for example, can access the Panda app where you can engage with peers who are going through the same issues as you, or connect with mental health experts and have your consultation directly through the app.


In our ‘always-on’ modern world, there’s a belief that if we’re not constantly productive, we’re less valuable. But doing things all the time – whether it’s work, chores at home or even exercising – means we don’t allow ourselves valuable downtime, which is vital for our mental health. Besides getting sufficient good quality sleep, try and take pockets of rest during the day – take 30 minutes to eat lunch outside rather than at your desk, or spend 30 minutes in the morning doing a meditation before the rush of your day starts.

Eat well

There’s emerging evidence that our gut is inextricably linked to our mental health, as our gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotions such as anger, anxiety, sadness and elation. Therefore, eating foods that promote a healthy gut can be beneficial to our overall mental wellness. Foods that are good for the gut are high in fibre, such as broccoli, oats, peas and avocados, as well as rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and flax seeds. Adding probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods can also help, such as apple cider vinegar, kimchi and sauerkraut.

Staying on top of our mental health is not a one track approach – it involves looking at many different aspects of our lives and making sure they’re in balance. It doesn’t have to be an impossible task though. With some small daily habits adopted consistently over time, you can make a noticeable difference in maintaining a positive mindset and better mental health to keep you happy, balanced and positive.

Image: Unsplash

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