This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, so we spoke to top British writer Rachel Kelly, who is a mental health campaigner and speaker. Rachel has written three best-selling books following a major battle with depression in her early thirties. Her latest book, published in January 2017, is called The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food, which took five years of research into how to eat to feel happier.
Written with nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh, the book is packed with recipes and practical tips which are designed to boost energy, relieve low moods, comfort a troubled mind, support hormone balance and help you sleep better.
Rachel has given us her top five tips for how to feel happier on a day to day basis, telling Lumity that she believes in a 5 per cent rule. The idea is that if you can build something small and very do-able into your daily routine, then you will become gradually become happier, as the thought of doing a complete life overhaul in one go is far too overwhelming for many of us, but especially for those of us who are battling with depression.
Sleep: “Sleep is so important for happiness and wellbeing,” says Rachel. “But I have learned that if you try hard to fall asleep, often that’s when you end up lying awake. So my tip for a good night’s sleep is to learn a poem off by heart to recite as you’re trying to nod off. One of my favourites is James Hogg’s “A Boy’s Song’ which has the hypnotic lines: “Where the pools are bright and deep / Where the grey trout lies asleep” – while you’re reciting it in your mind, before you know it you will have drifted off.”
Breathing: “A brilliant tip for when you’re overwhelmed is to press your finger against one side of your nose and breathe in through the other nostril. This halves the rate at which you breathe which lowers your blood pressure and triggers your body’s relaxation response. It’s the opposite to the stress response when our body goes into fight or flight mode triggering that awful anxiety feeling. You’ll enter a state of deep physical rest and feel better swiftly.”
Mindful activities: “Try to slip a mindful activity into your day which will give you a pocket of peacefulness,” says Rachel. “We all have things which we do unconsciously, like brushing our teeth or combing our hair. As you do this, focus on the physical sensations in the moment. You can incorporate several activities which you can do whilst at work, or at home, it could be as simple as doodling, or cleaning your glasses, the aim is to have a few moments where you’re truly focused on the moment and not worrying or thinking about everything else in your life.”
Habit linking: “We all have habits that we do every day, perhaps pick one like going for a coffee, then simply add a new habit to it, like cycling. If you want to exercise regularly building that habit into a pre-existing routine will help you steadily achieve that goal.”
Hugs: “Saving the best for last, never underestimate the importance of hugs,” says Rachel. “Even a brief hug releases oxytocin which reduces stress and stimulates the brain’s reward circuit. The next time you’re hugging someone, hold them closer for longer and you’ll notice the difference.”
Rachel Kelly is the bestselling author of Walking on Sunshine: 52 small steps to happiness, Black Rainbow and The Happy Kitchen. She began her career as a journalist on The Times. She is now an official Ambassador for SANE and Vice President for the charity United Response. Rachel lives in West London.