When we feel unwell, we might visit the doctor. But otherwise, many of us simply get on with life, not really being aware of the effects our behaviour and thoughts might be having on our general sense of wellbeing.
Wouldn't it be wiser to follow a user's manual for how to take care of your self?
With that in mind, here are six individual steps that are aimed at keeping you in top psychological condition. These are the areas that experts in the field of wellbeing and psychological health have highlighted as important for building self-confidence and living a life that is not thwarted by anxiety or low moods...
1. Work on accepting your situation
This doesn't mean you have to stay stuck in a bad job, relationship or environment, but simply trying to accept your current situation will benefit you much more than obsessing over how bad things are – or how much worse they could get.
In his book, 10 Steps to Positive Living, therapist Dr Windy Dryden uses the example of fearing uncertainty and how it leads to this 'awfulising': 'When you demand certainty and add horror to the mix, you still face uncertainty but you do so with emotional disturbance. Is it more mentally healthy to accept that uncertainty is the human condition and not to disturb yourself about it. Of course it is.'
In other words, you need to accept what you don't like in your life. That doesn't mean you can't try to change it, but acceptance helps everything feel far more bearable as you work towards a happier situation.
2. Be nice to yourself
In psychological therapy, there has been a movement away from self-esteem (seen as trying to feel above everyone else) towards self-compassion (which isn't based on comparing yourself with others).
Dr Kristin Neff, a pioneering researcher in the field of moral development, believes that self-compassion rests on the idea that every human deserves the same kindness and understanding, even you. As London integrative therapist Julia Bueno has written of Neff's research: 'It suggests that compared to self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, less reactive anger and more caring relationships.'
3. Try to keep your body healthy
The link between mind and body is now well-established. Your ability to cope with life is improved by a nutritious diet and some sort of exercise programme.
This is not just about cardiovascular health and general fitness. Gill Hassan in Mindfulness, for example, points out that team sports and individual activities such as swimming, yoga and marital arts are good opportunities for 'flow', the feeling that you get when you are engaged and focused and ready for anything. As Hassan says 'Merging activity and thoughts keeps you fully absorbed in the moment.'
4. Make efforts to connect with others
Loneliness is bad for us for a number of reasons. Without people who have an interest in our wellbeing, it's harder for us to control our habits and behaviour, and easier to fall into negative lifestyle habits.
Tests by US psychologists showed that even the expectation of isolation reduces our willpower and perseverance.
Lonely people are also at greater risk to their immune and cardiovascular systems, and sleep is often more of a problem for people affected by loneliness. Making connections with new people through social endeavours, in real life and online, is important. Tending to family ties is another connection. As Windy Dryden says: 'If you nurture others you will find that they are more likely to nurture you.'
5. Take time out for yourself
It's not just a well-worn cliche: you really do benefit from having hobbies and interests in your life. Looking after a pet, joining a book group, long-distance walking, learning a language, gardening, baking — all may deliver time out from the daily grind.
If your life is too quiet, they'll bring action and focus; if it's stressful, they will bring distraction. Take some time to work out which is the one for you and make sure it is a genuine decision, not one forced by anyone else's desires or limitations.
6. Stay organised
This may sound a little prescriptive, but disorganisation can bring on anxious feelings and low mood.
Procrastination is putting things off, often because you find them difficult or you believe that certain conditions need to be in place before you are able to start. But these are beliefs that need to be challenged.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a good way of dealing with this, if it's a serious problem for you. But for most people, simply finishing the day by clearing their desk or inbox, then planning what they will do tomorrow is a great start.