Hacks to supercharge your mind (you’re welcome!)
Overhaul your wellbeing, fast! These science-backed tweaks will help slash life stress in seconds
These 14 science-backed habits will help slash life-stress, stat!
Ah, life goals. At times, they can feel more out of reach than a million-dollar mortgage in beachside Bondi. And ain’t nobody got the time nor the inclination to climb Everest every day! Does this mean you should ditch your aspirations? Not at all. Instead, it’s about cleaning up the gunk and supercharging your life by making tweaks so tiny you barely even notice them.
This approach is based on ‘marginal gains theory’ – the idea that in order to achieve something in the long term, you need to focus on shortterm changes. The theory was popularised by British Cycling to turn around the fortunes of the beleaguered national team in 2003. Their aim? To improve multiple aspects by 1 per cent to accumulate gradually into an overall improved performance.
The success of the strategy made household names of the team in Britain, but this theory can do wonders for amateurs, too, argues clinical psychologist Dr Jessamy Hibberd. “It’s a commonsense approach to wellbeing, as opposed to a clinical one,” she explains. “Making small shifts has an accumulative impact on your overall wellbeing. You’re giving yourself a better chance of things going well, leading to a greater possibility of success.” So enhance your mental health with 14 easy, science-backed tweaks that work every time!
1 PUT YOUR TECH ON TIME OUT
If an actual human were pestering you every few seconds with pics of cute animals and Bachelorette goss, it would probably be time to have The Talk. So why do you put up with it from your phone? A recent study by the universities of Virginia and British Columbia found that smartphone interruptions cause inattention and hyperactivity – and you don’t need science to tell you how easy it is to fall down a Whatsapp wormhole when you’re on a deadline. A smartphone break-up is extreme, but some ground rules are a good start. Stick your phone on aeroplane mode while you’re at work and mute group chats if you’re stressed. If it’s really pissing you off, throw it in the washing up bowl. Easy!
2 Go with your gut
The mind-gut connection gets more press than Harry and Meghan. Why is that? “We’re starting to see a strong relationship between diet and mental health,” says dietitian, chef and Jodi Lee Foundation Trust Your Gut ambassador Themis Chryssidis. “A recent Australian study found that individuals who adhered to a Mediterranean diet showed a significant reduction in depressive symptoms over a three-month period.” His top tip? Focus on prebiotics: “These are a non-digestible carbohydrate which provides the healthy bacteria in our large intestine with food to ensure the healthy bacteria in our gut continues to grow.”
Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds; limit booze and high-fat and high-sugar foods. He adds, “Improve your diet, improve your gut, improve your mood.”
3 Fly solo
Whether you’re single or not-at-all-single, time spent alone is a proven confidencebooster and stress-reducer – headphones on the commute doesn’t count. You don’t have to dive in at the deep end and book a table for one (although, more power to you), but do choose activities that allow you to soak up some solo-ness. Peruse an art gallery in your lunch hour, take yourself out for a coffee and chill, or block out single time just as you would date nights.
4 Swerve some sugars
You’re well versed in the joy ride that is the sugar train; a 3pm chocolate bar spikes your blood sugar, giving you a temporary boost, followed by a sharp crash. But research published in Scientific Reports found that a consistent intake of refined sugar can increase your risk of developing anxiety and depression. No need to stick your birthday candles in a pot of hummus: it’s habitual sugar intake that’s problematic, so just be more discerning come snack time.
5 List the good stuff
If writing about the things you’re grateful for sounds like the kind of advice doled out by a marketing exec at a stationery company, get a load of this: a University of Miami study found that people were more optimistic and felt better about their lives after simply writing in a gratitude journal for 10 weeks. So next time something genuinely nice happens – your boss praises a job well done, you decide you do deserve that Apple Watch or your Friday night drinks escalate to dancing – park your cynicism and put pen to paper, stat!
6 START THE DAY LIKE A CEO
There’s a reason they’ve got where they are: they get shit done – even though that begins when most of us are still in REM. Anna Wintour is on the tennis court by 5:45am and Oprah is already mid-sunsalutation at 6am. Hal Elrod has written the book on the subject, The Miracle Morning.
He argues that, by rising just one hour earlier to exercise, meditate or even just to read a book, you can feel more energised and lower your stress levels. The early bird...
7 SWITCH OFF THE NEWS
Sometimes, watching the news/reading a paper/perusing Twitter can leave you feeling like you’ve gone three rounds with Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.
But worrying about the state of the world will do you no good. Research conducted by the University of California after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 found that repeatedly engaging with traumarelated media content prolonged viewers’ stress. We’re not saying you should go and live under a rock, but turning off the news alerts on your phone is a pretty good start.
8 Try a little metacognitive therapy
A thought is just a thought; it does not reflect reality. This is the theory behind MCT – the new kid on the cognitive therapy block that’s evolved out of some 20 years of research by scientists at the University of Manchester. The deal? Studies suggest it has promise in treating anxiety and depression when applied by trained clinicians. But the principle can help even if you don’t have a mental health condition. Next time you have a negative thought, recognise (yes, talking to yourself can help) that it’s just a thought and that it is separate from you and your situation. Have the thought, then move on.
9 Channel those chores
They may not top your list when it comes to chill-out tactics, but mindful chores are a legit thing. It’s all about reframing something you think of negatively as an opportunity. Menial it may be, but focus on the warmth of the water when you’re washing the dishes, the texture of the plates and the sounds of the suds and you might find that you can take small delight in the dull-asdishwater job. Repeat for tasks such as vacuuming, bill paying and your Sunday batch cook, and you’ll basically be bossing life.
10 Give something back
If you haven’t surrendered your time for a good cause since you got yourself a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, you’re human and that’s cool. But with a large amount of evidence linking volunteering to mental wellbeing, helping others could be a legit way of helping yourself. The theory goes that people who volunteer regularly experience spikes in oxytocin (the cuddle hormone). Need some inspo? We googled, and volunteering as a puppy socialiser is an actual thing.
11 Sweat around your cycle
When you buy a box of super tampons, head to the gym and can’t quite crush it like you usually do, blaming your biology will get you nowhere. Period. “During your period, oestrogen and progesterone are naturally low, so more restorative exercises can work best, such as yoga or walking,” recommends Heba Shaheed, physiotherapist and founder of The Pelvic Expert. “In the week after your period and before ovulation, oestrogen and testosterone rise, which is great for muscle building. This is the best time to do strength training.” If PMS is kicking in? Get back to restorative faves, such as pilates or swimming.
12 Get a pet
Academics at the universities of Manchester, Southampton and Liverpool reviewed 17 studies on the impact of pets on the mental health of their owners, and saw a positive overall effect. If you’re sans pet because of, you know, life, hit up borrowmypooch. com.au to look after someone else’s dog while they’re on hols. Or just get a goldfish.
13 Switch your focus
Meditation has been around for, oh, about 4000 years or so, but science has finally caught up and discovered that just 10 minutes per day can ease anxiety and stress, relieve chronic pain, increase creativity, boost empathy and make you cognitively sharper. Start by sitting in a comfy position and focus on your breath. Take in the sounds and smells around you – some people prefer to close their eyes, but the choice is yours. Tune into how your hands and feet are resting until you’re relaxed and your mind is clear. It’s not as simple as it sounds, but practice makes perfect.
WASH AWAY THE DIGI MESS
DUST OFF YOUR FOCUS