33 Ways To Give Yourself A Mental Boost In 10 Minutes Or Less
Illustration by Ms Stefania Infante
The path to better mental health can be long, nuanced and often best walked with professional help. There is no panacea or quick fix in our collective search for happiness, but there are small actions we can take in the short term to boost our mood and help ourselves along the way. To that end, here are 33 quick tips informed by mental health experts that are easy to execute and proven to give us a lift.
Morning is everything
“Rethink your morning,” says Ms Sally Brown, editor of Therapy Today. “The first 10 minutes of our waking moments can colour the whole day, so if you usually start by grabbing your phone and scrolling, try something different, such as simply sitting up in bed and letting yourself wake up gradually.”
Take 10 to whip up a mood-boosting breakfast smoothie. This recipe is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid and potassium, all of which can aid mental health: 1 cup of spinach, 1 banana, ½ cup blueberries, 5-6 walnuts, ½ cup raw oats, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk.
Go with your gut
The brain and the gut are connected physically and biochemically. A troubled intestine sends signals to the brain and vice versa. Stop and take a few minutes to consider what’s in your next snack. Ditch the fizzy drink and introduce fermented and prebiotic ingredients, fruits and vegetables.
Cross your legs for 10
The co-founder of the running brand DISTRICT VISION, Mr Max Vallot, enjoys stillness. “Meditation is so much more than a wellness exercise,” he says. “It’s really the most profound method for exploring the nature of consciousness itself. I’ve been on many Vipassana retreats and continue to devote much of my time to it. I use a combination of classic, object-based mindfulness and Tibetan Dzogchen subject-based practice.”
“Feeling anxious? Lengthen your out breath so it’s longer than your in breath”
The Buddhist monk Mr Gelong Thubten, author of A Monk’s Guide To Happiness, explains. “If you start your day with even just a short session of meditation, it can help establish a foundation of calm and clarity for the day ahead,” he says. “You’re giving yourself something that can balance your mental health and help you become less controlled by negative thoughts and emotions.”
Be with the breath
The yoga and fitness teacher Mr Adam Husler heralds the power of the breath. “When your mind won’t stop wandering or if you find yourself overwhelmed, try to find the beginning of the next inhale,” he says. “What do you feel during it? Try to hang out with those sensations for at least 30 seconds. Come back to that whenever you need.”
“Feeling anxious?” asks the life coach Mr David Waters. “Lengthen your out breath so it’s longer than your in breath. This type of breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from your neck through your diaphragm. This shifts your nervous system, heart rate and blood pressure to a more restful state.”
“A lot of time is consumed by what has to be done. Do something you don’t need to do”
Do needless things
Mr Kieran Setiya teaches philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the author of Life Is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way. “A lot of time is consumed by what has to be done,” he says. “We can’t lose touch with the value of activities that do not meet regrettable needs, but make life positively good. Pursue a passion project or a hobby that brings you joy. Do something you don’t need to do.”
Talk to a stranger
Just a few minutes talking to someone whom you wouldn’t usually talk to can promote feelings of connection and community and thus increase wellbeing. If you smile while you’re at it, you’re going to release neuropeptides and reduce stress.
Sit with the feelings
“Our instinct is often to numb or ignore uncomfortable feelings,” says Brown, who is an accredited psychotherapist. “A build-up of unacknowledged emotions tends to cue behaviour you come to regret. Next time you want to ‘numb’, take 10 minutes to make space to be curious about the ‘weather pattern’ inside. You may find that as you breathe into it, it naturally starts to dissipate.”
Listen to a podcast
“I’ve been listening to Andrew Huberman religiously for the past couple of years,” says Vallot. “He is a super relatable Stanford neuroscientist focused on health and wellness. I now expose my eyes to early-morning sunlight, have caffeine only between 9.00am and noon and have two meals per day.”
Try an app
Download Waking Up, “an operating system for your mind”, created by the neuroscientist and philosopher Mr Sam Harris. Try a 10-minute guided meditation or listen to talks with masters of mental health and wellness.
“Are you getting irritated by someone on social media? The solution: delete and block. Simple”
In 2020, research by the Journal Of Medical Internet Research showed that just 10 minutes on a mindfulness app every day for three months decreased anxiety levels by 57 per cent.
Tackle social media
“Are you getting irritated by someone throwing criticism your way on social media?” asks Husler. “Or perhaps there’s someone filling your feed with anger, hate and negativity. The worst thing to do is enter a futile dialogue. The solution: delete and block. Simple.”
Read a book
Read Ten To Zen by the psychotherapist Mr Owen O’Kane. He uses a mix of cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapy, EDMR and mindfulness to promote happiness.
Read this article
“Do a short yoga sequence focusing on your breath,” says the fitness influencer and coach Mr Peter Maciver. “I like to start the day with a mobility sequence to open up my shoulders and hips. Find a sequence that works best for your body.”
“Boost your mood with a walk, run or exercise in a green natural space rather than on a city street”
“I see Hatha yoga as a way of training the mind through the framework of the body,” says Vallot. “My daily practice is very slow and alignment-based, in the style of [the Indian teacher and author] BKS Iyengar, with more flowy parts peppered in.”
“Our life is full of things we can objectively succeed at and often we make our movement practices another one of those things,” says Husler. “Try to add some movement to your life for movement’s sake. Yoga, Pilates and dance fit the bill perfectly.”
Go for a run
Recent research carried out at the University of Tsukuba found that just 10 minutes of moderate running increases blood flow to the various loci in the bilateral prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that plays a crucial role in controlling mood and executive functions.
Go for a walk
“Boost your mood with a walk, run or exercise in a green natural space rather than on a city street,” says Waters. “Research says green spaces reduce cortisol, the stress hormone and boost greater feelings of satisfaction and positivity.”
“Set a timer for 10 minutes, then think, but using only ‘what’ rather than ‘why’ questions”
Forget the big picture
“When you step back from your life to imagine alternatives, it’s easy to be gripped by regret,” says Setiya. “But the detached perspective is no wiser than the close-up view, zoomed in on the people you love and all the little things for which you’re glad. If you take a few minutes to immerse yourself in the specifics, you may find that you’re attached to the life you have. Don’t be fooled by the grand cartoon of lives unlived.”
Brown has a fix for obsessive thinking. “If you’re ruminating on something, set a timer for 10 minutes, then think, but using only ‘what’ rather than ‘why’ questions. ‘Why’ tends to be blaming. By contrast, ‘what’ is information-seeking. What’s happening? What do I need? When the timer goes off, park it for the rest of the day.”
“Train yourself in gratitude, appreciation and thinking kindly of others,” says Thubten. “Try to think of the simple things in your life for which you can feel grateful. It is also good to train your mind to feel more kindness and compassion for others, which will help you move away from self-centred attitudes.”
“Ask yourself what you have enjoyed, feel grateful for and feel satisfied with,” says Waters. “This can be really small stuff such as a barista smiling at you. Jot these down in a notebook beside your bed and when you wake up each morning read through them. This reprogrammes our brains to be less negative.”
Connect with your values
“Do a 10-minute values exercise,” says Brown. “Getting in touch with what really matters to you can help reset your course when you feel like you’re drifting or have lost sight of your purpose. There are lots of free exercises available online.”
Value the process
“When we pursue a project, satisfaction is always in the future and the moment it’s achieved, it’s in the past,” says Setiya. “No wonder the present feels empty, like we’re sprinting to stay in place. The solution is to take a few moments to value the process, the ongoing activity of work, or marriage, or parenthood, regardless of its results.”
“Feel the ground under your feet as you stand in a queue. This will recharge your mental batteries”
Appreciate your surroundings
Thubten recommends short moments of mindfulness many times per day, even in busy situations. “Feel the ground under your feet as you stand in a queue or become aware of the contact between your body and your chair,” he says. “This will recharge your mental batteries and help you stay one step ahead of stress.”
Give yourself a pep talk
Whether it’s chiding ourselves for making a mistake or telling our brains we can’t do something, we often speak to ourselves like dirt. Would you talk to a friend like that? No. Counter a negative thought by taking a minute to come up with three positive affirmations.
Control your mind
If you are unfamiliar with the spiritual teacher Mr Anthony De Mello, take 10 on Spotify to learn from his short sharp teachings, such as “Your Mind Causes Unhappiness” and “Attachments Drain Us Of Life”.
“Even a 10-minute chat with the right person could help shift your perspective or make you feel less isolated,” says Brown. “There is something about putting what we are feeling into words and saying it out loud that helps process emotions and create shifts.”