The best way to improve your mental health and become more resilient is to put in the work on a daily basis. This doesn’t have to be time-consuming or particularly difficult. By taking a moment to consciously reflect on the things you do and checking in with yourself, you’re already on the road to making a huge difference.
What routines or exercises do you have for your mental health?
“Each day I take some time for myself. This doesn’t necessarily have to be hours; I just try to make sure that I’m spending at least half an hour each day alone and disconnected. That means no work, no phone, no TV – just me, myself and I. At these moments, I check in with myself to see how things are going and then I’m able to completely relax.
A short walk is a good activity to do during these moments by myself. My professor Erik Scherder always says: “A good walk makes you more creative, happier, and improves your concentration.”
Too often, we forget how necessary it is to take a break and step back from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. Your brain needs rest so that it can move onto the next task with more focus and a fresh outlook.
Finally, each day I reflect back on the things I’m grateful for and what I’ve accomplished throughout the day. Even if they’re really small things, it still gives me a sense of satisfaction.”
What do you do when you’re not feeling so great about yourself?
“Basically, I just do something I enjoy or something that changes my mindset. I’m Colombian and I love salsa music. If I’m not feeling great, I force myself to make music. I’m always surprised by how quickly this improves my mood and I’m soon back dancing around my room.
Doing something different breaks your patterns and helps you to focus on something else. This is the opposite of getting stuck in a cycle of thoughts. That’s why, for instance, I’ll push myself to take a walk around the block, cycle to the grocery store or go dancing.”
How do you practice mindfulness in your daily life?
“I like walking outside and being present with nature. I also love being creative, for example by doing crafts or making things with my hands. At moments like these, I forget everything that’s going on around me; I’m not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow and my mind is clear. I’m concentrating fully on that moment and the thing I’m doing. Some people get this when they exercise; I experience it when I make things.”
What is your motto?
“There’s always a way.”
Why is that so important to you?
“I don’t give up easily and I’m even a bit stubborn. These qualities help me to keep going, even when something seems difficult – maybe impossible. I don’t step back or bale, instead I always look for new options, solutions and alternatives. Sometimes you have to be creative, or put in a little extra effort to get what you want, but I believe there’s always a way.”
What would you recommend to somebody who is having difficulty dealing with or talking about their thoughts?
“Write down your thoughts and feelings. It’s not always easy to put things into words when you’re talking. Writing it down – whether that’s in a letter to yourself or through a rambling story – helps you to get a better understanding of your thoughts and takes a load of your mind. As a result, you’ll have a better idea of how to articulate yourself and how other people can help you. This will then make it easier to talk about it.”
What’s the biggest life lesson you’ve learned so far?
“Set yourself up to be resilient. Being flexible and resilient in life is a skill that will help you in a wide range of situations, for example when things aren’t going according to plan. At these moments, instead of being completely thrown off your game, you’ll tackle the situation by changing your approach. When you’re resilient, a problem becomes a challenge.”
From your perspective as a psychologist, what piece of advice would you like to pass along?
“Be kind to yourself. Self-love is one of the first steps towards getting better at tackling the challenges you face. Check in with yourself regularly to see how things are going and make sure you’re taking plenty of time to relax. And don’t forget: You’re allowed to make mistakes. Forgive yourself and then just try again.”