Healthy habits can help your mental health

Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

When there is a lot of uncertainty in our lives and in the world around us, we can slip into comforting behaviours that have a negative effect on our wellbeing. If your diet, daily routine or exercise has lost structure, you might want to consider making some constructive changes.

The link between physical and mental health

Our physical health has a direct impact on our emotional wellbeing. Improving physical health won’t necessarily prevent or cure all mental health problems, but it can give us more energy and focus to confront challenges and solve problems.

Here are some elements of physical wellbeing that can help improve your mood:

  • Good sleep
  • A healthy diet
  • Regular exercise and sunlight
  • A balanced daily routine.

Making changes to your daily routine can be hard if you are feeling low or anxious. In this circumstance, don’t feel the need to change everything at once: pick one or two small changes to make. Once you have embedded those, you might find it easier to make the next change. It may help to recruit a friend or family member to help you: committing to a change together can make it easier to succeed.

Focus on improving your current situation rather than on trying to reach perfection. Whatever you do to improve your physical wellbeing will help you maintain or improve your mental health. It will provide you with more energy to tackle the challenges you face and make it more likely that you will enjoy fun activities.

Changes to consider


  • Cut out caffeine after lunch time
  • Set regular times to go to bed and to get up, every day
  • Try to get out into sunlight in the morning
  • Try to stay away from screens and devices in the last hour before bedtime.

More tips for better sleep


  • Keep fruit at home and with you, when you go out. Eat this when you are tempted to reach for a fatty or sugary snack
  • Try to eat a healthy breakfast each day.

More tips on food and your wellbeing

Nature and sunlight

Take a short walk each day and spend 5-10 minutes focussing on some aspect of nature. You could pay close attention to the sway of a tree, a bird or the sunlight on a field or park.

The role of sunlight in your wellbeing


  • Try to make small gains in the amount you exercise - even by getting up and walking around inside.
  • Socialise with friends or family by taking socially distanced walks, runs or cycles, so your focus is on the conversation and pleasure of their company

More tips on exercise

Page last reviewed: October 2022