One Simple Secret for Boosting Your Mental Health

2022 is almost over. If there is one thing that the pandemic taught us, it might be the fact that..

It is okay to talk about how we feel.

It is okay to admit we are not okay.

Thanks to the pandemic, everything was switched online. Work, exercise, hangouts with friends.. even therapies.

Yes, I think that the pandemic helped destigmatise mental health, and “I’m seeing a therapist” should not be a taboo topic anymore.

Today we are exploring the BEST way to boost our mental health (hint: hugely inspired by the lockdown) (P.S. I said “simple”, not “easy”. Read on).

Mental health is your foundation. Without a healthy and solid foundation, you cannot do anything well. You won’t even live well.

Here at Strike A Chord Music Therapy, mental health is THE focus. My vision is to improve emerging adults’ mental health through music. If you’re interested to learn more about music therapy and all the benefits it brings, read the article here.

Today we will talk about ways to boost our mental health. Although things might slowly get back to “normal” (as normal as they can be), there is no denying that:

Change is the only constant in life.

Which means that, no matter how lucky you get or how smooth your life journey is, it is only temporary. Nothing lasts forever.

We must learn how to deal with uncertainties, and how to navigate difficult times when unexpected things happen.

That’s why being calm, resilient, and all in all, good mental health will get you a long way.

Here is a sneak peek of what you will take away from this article:

  • The urgency and importance to prioritise your physical and mental health
  • Self-care isn’t selfish
  • The secret tip to improve your mental health

My Mental Health Journey 👣

TW: suicide, social unrest, police brutality

Why do I care about mental health so much, especially young adults’?

I consider my life to be pretty smooth. I am lucky enough to call both Hong Kong and Sydney my home. I have parents who care for me, I achieve good academic standing, and I was lucky to be able to learn a bunch of skills since I was a kid – piano, drawing, calligraphy, swimming and more. Yes, I took both my physical and mental health for granted.

My first real crisis started after I graduated from uni. Not only was I in the infamous quarter-life crisis, but I lost two of my mates between 2014-2017 to suicide. The constant dissatisfaction and the confusion made me seriously question my future and the purpose of life. I relocated back and forth between Hong Kong and Sydney.. until 2019. A series of protests broke out in Hong Kong, followed by countless tear gas, rubber bullets and mysterious death cases.

Amid the complete darkness and hopelessness, I found light.

It ignited me. I had a strong calling to finally do something about my urge to help young people. I found out about music therapy, and decided to pivot my career from accounting.

It has been the lowest point of my mental health. Suffering from PTSD symptoms but got no time to take care of myself due to a demanding day job and preparation for the music therapy master degree audition, I neglected my emotions and rest. I knew I needed professional help but I couldn’t trust anyone at that time. A few months later, I got accepted by the uni, and I left this place that broke my heart. Then the pandemic hit, which gave me all the time and space I needed to heal. I also attended therapy sessions. The rest is history.

This is the backstory of how I became a music therapist, and why I will devote my whole life to help young adults with their mental health. Here at Strike A Chord Music Therapy, you don’t just get access to music therapy services, but also lifelong impacts and transformation from my personal experience.

How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health (and Vice Versa) 💪🏻

Your physical and mental health are related.

One does not exist without the other.

For example, if you had a rough night, you lack quality rest. That makes you grumpy and tired the next day. On the other hand, if you are depressed, you most likely would want to stay in bed and do nothing, which means you are not getting enough daily movements to maintain fitness. The same goes for smoking, drinking etc.

It is all a cycle. You either thrive, or you shrink.

Pick your battle wisely.

Maintaining your health is a long game: which means that you have to actively schedule time for it. You need to budget your time and energy to activities that sustain a healthy body and mind. This leads to the next important point:

It is not Selfish to Practise Self-care. 💛

Repeat after me: it is not selfish to take care of yourself first.

In fact, being “selfish” might as well be the most selfless thing you can do for yourself.

You cannot do anything, not to mention care for others without a healthy body.

Life is too short to experience burnouts.

Imagine taking the night off, rereading your favourite fiction or listening to your favourite soundtracks.. we all need to recharge, and disengage from the everyday busy-ness.

Self-care is not about going to a deep forest for meditation, or some Instagrammable luxurious spa trips.

It is about finding activities that help you rejuvenate. Things that get you into a flow state.

For me, it’s boxing (surprisingly refreshing and rewarding), reading and making music. I make sure I regularly do these things to keep me healthy and SANE.

Only when you are healthy, calm and in control, you can fight your battles, help others and reach your full potential.

There is no option – you MUST prioritise your health. I never liked using words like you “have to” or “must”, but this should be your non-negotiable.

Incorporating Routines in Life to Improve Mental Health ⏰

You never question why you brush your teeth first thing in the morning.

This is a perfect example of healthy habits you have created to maintain your health.

Essentially, we want to incorporate those self-care activities in our daily lives so that we can live a balanced life of work, fun and rest.

The Beauty of Routines

Okay. I get it. You might be the anti-schedule type of person who freestyles everything. It’s okay. But think. No matter how much you love “freedom” or serendipity, you still have some sort of routines going on in your life. There are places you need to be at a certain time. There are certain activities you do in a sequence that might have been formed unconsciously.

I often like to think of myself as an artist (musician, creator and whatnot), and I love a spontaneous, impulse-driven day like you. But over the years, I figured how having certain routines in my life as a loose structure helped me live better.

Routines are a series of habits. Whether it be your work routine, workout routine, night time routine, they all share some common themes:

  • They are predictable
  • You are in control
  • You sometimes do them “out of habit” – that is, you don’t think much about them, you just do them on auto-pilot

This is the beauty of routines. Especially healthy routines.

They are the keys to a calm mind.

In times of chaos and uncertainties (#pandemic), they represent something under your control. Something that grounds you. Something that you can always go back to no matter how bad the day has been.

That’s a huge comfort for me during the first lockdown.

And then I brought my routines everywhere with me: workout plans, recipes, meditation soundtracks, journal – all in different apps, for me to access anywhere, anytime.

This is how I always prioritise and maintain mental health (and physical health).

Self-awareness is key.

We have already established the importance of health. The next step is to make time and energy for activities that recharge your body and mind, then make them habits.

When they become habits, you stop questioning why you do them, and you stop making excuses like “I’m too busy”, “I’m still young”.

Step 1: identify self-care activities: what brings you joy, ignites you or gets you into a flow state?

Step 2: look at your calendar: how can you allocate time for those activities? How often, and how long will each activity be? How can you make sure you don’t skip those activities?

Step 3: Track and tweak: try sticking to your new calendar for a week or two and see what works and what doesn’t. Adjust if necessary.

This is the secret. This is how you incorporate self-care activities into your daily life. Leverage the compounding effects by making them routines. No matter how your day goes, you can always lean into your routines for a sense of control and health maintenance.

Pairing Music with Meditation

I have created five handpan guided meditation soundtracks for you if you are looking for ways to enhance your routines. I covered five different scenarios for you to regulate your mind and body:

🆘 SOS: to hold onto your anchor in times of chaos

🏝 Relaxation: to chill in your private island and have quality rest

💛 Gratitude: to fill your mind with gratefulness and eliminate worries

🔍 Finding Focus: to prioritise your tasks and work on things that matter

🔋 Energy Boost: to tap into your power so that you can get up and do the damn thing

Mental Health Awareness

Another great habit to increase your mental health awareness is journaling – or another form of recording your thoughts, really. It can be doodling, vlogging, rapping.. anything to express yourself. When you lay out your thoughts and emotions, you become aware. It is easier to spot patterns and triggers when you lay them all out. Then you can do something about it.

For example, you might not be aware that you always release your anger on your family and friends on a bad day at work. You might rely on “shopping therapy” too much when you are stressed at work. The list goes on.

Why Mental Health Should be Taught in Schools 🏫

Mental health education is suicide prevention.

Read that again.

You have never been taught how to properly manage stress, handle pressure, deal with breakups, rejections, uncertainties and setbacks in life. You only learn by experience. But not many people have the intention to get better. Some accept that “this is my life” and never train their resilience and grit. Some potentials are never realised. If we had been taught how to regulate our emotions, find meaning in life, persist through challenges, can you imagine how different life would be?

We should at least learn how to cultivate more self-awareness. Most of us don’t even understand ourselves nowadays. Before we know it, we are stuck in a negative cycle, a life we hate, which harms our mental health because we are not getting fulfilment in life.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, apart from the basic needs like water, shelter and clothing, human beings all need a sense of safety, meaningful connection and recognition in life in order to thrive. What do we lack? How do we live a better life? And what roles does mental health play a part in this?

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs

Final Words 💬

Maintaining health is a long game. It requires you to play an active part on it every single day, just like brushing your teeth. Therefore, we can all live a more enjoyable, healthy life by incorporating fun self-care activities in our routines. Sit down and write that song. Call your friend. Try a new recipe with your parents. Try pilates. There is so much in life to be experienced.

Cultivate self-awareness to start with. As you get to understand yourself better, you will know what you want and what to improve.

It is a lifelong journey. Don’t forget to enjoy the ride 🎢

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