Statistics from the COVID-19 pandemic have been shocking. Millions of people have suffered mental health issues or seen loved-ones struggling. An ONS report on depression shows that one in five adults in the UK have experienced depression this year – more than double the number who suffered pre-pandemic.

A growing body of evidence shows that mindfulness positively impacts mental health. Studies have found that mindfulness creates increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion – the pre-frontal cortex – which is generally less active in people who are depressed.

As May 10th marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d share my top five mindful practices for maintaining excellent mental health.

1/ Journaling

Numerous studies have shown that journaling can help ease anxiety and improve physical and psychological health. I’ve always kept a diary since being a child and these days spend an hour journaling every morning. Each day I write my ‘morning pages’ – three pages of uncensored freehand writing. This is a great way of processing everything going on in my mind and also helps to increase creativity. I come up with so many insights and ideas in my diary! Rather than offloading to friends about any issues in my life, I take them to my journal and often find that I come up with solutions myself. This process really sets me up for a positive and mindful day.Before bed each night I also like to write down a few things I’m grateful for and list what I want to achieve the next day. This helps my mind feel clear so I can get a good night’s sleep.

2/ Dancing

Back in the 90s I was a bit of a raver, but as I got older I found there was less opportunity for dancing in my life. Then I discovered a movement practice called Five Rhythms, in which you literally dance out your emotions and I’ve been hooked ever since.At first I was self-conscious, but over the years Five Rhythms has become an essential part of my life. If I find myself feeling a bit stressed out or pent-up, I often realise it’s because I haven’t danced in a while. Luckily since COVID the classes have gone online, but in the absence of a class I just put on track and dance around my kitchen! My favourite track for getting rid of frustration is Underworld – Two Months Off.

3/ Yoga

I literally can’t live without yoga and have to do a little every day. I don’t do the energetic type with handstands or anything fancy – I prefer long slow stretching with yin yoga or relaxing restorative classes. These really help me connect with my body and release any stored tension or emotion.I’m also a total Yoga with Adrienne addict and love doing her 30 day challenges on YouTube. She’s practically my virtual bestie and has a yoga practice for anything you can imagine. If you want to get into yoga I recommend checking her out her free sessions.

4/ Connecting with nature

One of the practices in the Breathworks mindfulness courses is looking at the sky and since first taking the course I’ve become a sky-watching addict! The great thing about the sky is that it’s always there for you (even if only from a window). If I’m ever having a stressful day I just take a few minutes to watch the clouds and breathe. The constantly changing sky reminds me that everything in life is always in moving and flowing. Even when it’s cloudy we know the sun is still there and will eventually emerge again – a great metaphor for life. My favourite way of looking at the sky is lying on my back in the grass and I take time to do this as often as possible. It feels so grounding and never fails to help me feel at peace.

5/ Meditation I left the best until last! Meditation has been totally life-changing for me since I started a regular practice back in 2013. These days I meditate three times a day – in the morning, evening and at 3pm. If I ever miss my practice I really notice a difference in how I feel and my general tolerance levels. If you find it hard to find time to meditate I recommend starting with this easy three minute practice which can be done any time in your day you need to relieve stress or check out mindfulness courses which can help you develop a regular meditation routine.

I hope these mindful practices have helped inspire you. What are the regular practices that support your mental health?

And if you’re really struggling with your mental health please consult a medical professional or call a helpline such as the Samaritans.