Since early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions of movement, physical distancing measures, lockdowns, loss of employment, social isolation and the added stressors of remote work and schooling heightened psychological distress and impacted the mental health of many Australians1.
However, this period has also seen more investment2 and increased uptake3 in mental health services than ever before.
From the top of news bulletins to the topic of group chats — there’s greater awareness of an issue that touches most people in their lifetime, whether it’s battling with their own mental health, their family members’, or their mates’.
Here are some healthy habits that support mental health4.
Strong relationships with friends, family members, pets, neighbours, colleagues, and the wider community are essential for mental well-being, as they provide support, security, and a sense of purpose. Spend time with loved ones or try a new hobby, club, sport, or volunteer work.
Close relationships are important, but if you’re really struggling professional help is essential. Your GP can help you with referrals to trustworthy professionals and can let you know what to expect when you see a psychologist or psychiatrist. Getting onto it early is the best thing you can do, but it’s never too late to seek help. Routine mental health checkups are a great habit for all of us.
Exercise can improve your mood and emotional well-being, reduce your risk of developing mental illness and help treat a range of mental health conditions. Start with 30 minutes of movement each day, which could be a walk, working in the garden, or kicking a footy with the kids.
Eating a balanced diet can improve mood, energy, and physical and mental health. Serving vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, and fish, while limiting junk food and added sugar, may help prevent and treat depression.
Instead of bottling up uncomfortable feelings or letting critical thoughts run rampant, take a moment, tune in with how you feel, and express it. This could be through talking or writing.
Whether it’s a lap around your local park or a day of hiking — exposure to nature is linked to lower stress, better mood, improved attention, and reduced risk of psychiatric disorders.
Getting enough quality sleep can improve mood, concentration, and performance. However, sleep problems can be both a cause and a consequence of mental health problems. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, put away screens well before bedtime, avoid caffeine later in the day, and get some natural light in the morning.
Whether it’s volunteering to walk rescue dogs, joining local clean-ups, or just asking your neighbours if there’s anything they need a hand with — giving back to your community can create a sense of purpose and help you connect with others.
Learn a new skill or start a hobby — setting goals and challenging yourself can foster confidence, and self-esteem and help you switch off. There’s more to life than work and enjoying downtime is important.
Limit alcohol and other drugs
While they might make you feel good in the short term, excessive alcohol consumption and drug use can make your mental health worse in the long run.
These habits are excellent resources for looking after your mental health proactively. However, sometimes we need more support. Help is always available. If you or someone you know is having feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, or thinking about suicide, call Lifeline for 24 hour phone support on 13 11 14. For more resources including useful information and where to get help, check out Beyond Blue at www.beyondblue.org.au.
 Aknin, L., De Neve, J., Dunn, E., Fancourt, D., Goldberg, E., & Helliwell, J. et al. (2021). Mental Health During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Review and Recommendations for Moving Forward, The Lancet, doi:10.31234/osf.io/zw93g.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Mental health services in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mental-health-services/mental-health-services-in-australia
 Mahoney, A., Elders, A., Li, I., David, C., Haskelberg, H., Guiney, H., & Millard, M. (2021). A tale of two countries: Increased uptake of digital mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia and New Zealand. Internet interventions, 25, 100439. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.invent.2021.100439
 Healthy Male. (2022, January). Habits to support mental health. The Male, (6), 10-11.