10 tiny changes to brighten your day

Even doing small things for yourself can help calm your mind and boost your self-esteem

Buy some nice cosy clothes to wear at home and invest in a hot water bottle. Photograph: iStock

Buy some nice cosy clothes to wear at home and invest in a hot water bottle. Photograph: iStock


I’m a big believer that small changes can have a big impact on your mood and well-being. But for someone who talks a lot about the importance of looking after yourself, it took me a long time to realise I had to look after myself too.

Some readers may remember I was a music columnist for The Irish Times for the better part of seven years. Now I’m an editor for a busy media company, which requires me to be on top of deadlines and in control if things go wrong.

I always thought my focused mindset and determination to share my experiences with readers meant that over-thinking was par for the course. (“I’m not over-analysing my bad day, I’m filtering for the reader!”) But to be fair, I have always been a worrier. (Who doesn’t panic if they don’t arrive at the airport exactly two hours – three for long-haul flights – before their flight takes off? Who doesn’t lull themselves to nervous sleep by revisiting that mean joke they once made in the pub?)

Ailbhe Malone.
Ailbhe Malone.

Maybe you can see where I’m going with this. My life went on this tiring, anxious way for the better part of 28 years, until I started treatment for a generalised anxiety disorder. When I finally began treatment, I found the process of getting better overwhelming. However, through baby steps, I learned that the sky wouldn’t come falling down if I put myself first every now and then. I decided to begin looking after myself by focusing on the little things.

Even for those of you who don’t suffer from anxiety and simply need a pick-me-up from time to time, here are some easy-to-follow, practical tips that I gathered together in my book 101 Tiny Changes to Brighten Your Day that will help to calm your mind and boost your self-esteem.

1) Buy some nice cosy clothes

That doesn’t have to mean cashmere joggers but maybe a pair of comfy H&M tracksuit bottoms. Make a conscious decision to be comfortable at home. For a lot of us, our “cosy clothes” aren’t actually that cosy – they’re old tee-shirts that have come to the end of their life. Decide to make your leisurewear something you actually enjoy wearing, not an afterthought.

2) Find a YouTube channel that calls to you.

I can’t get enough of Yoga with Adriene – free, chill, inclusive yoga classes with an instructor who stops every few minutes to make sure you’re doing what feels best for you. In an ecosystem of crunches and HIIT, it’s so great to have a pocket of positivity. She’s also got the best dog, if that floats your boat.

3) Experience nature through your phone

Take a photo of a green space you love – it can be something from a holiday, or even a snap of supermarket flowers that add a dash of colour. What’s really cool is that you don’t actually have to be in nature to reap the benefits of the outdoors. There are loads of studies which show that even looking at photos of “restorative environments” (like a mountain range!) has a positive impact on “mental fatigue”. Good reason to change your desktop to a chill nature pic.

4) Eat something

Even if you’ve not got much appetite. It does not matter what you eat. Eat whatever makes you feel good. Eat toast, eat McDonald’s, eat cereal. Now is not the time for mindful cooking or turmeric lattes; it’s the time for basic nourishment and whatever will keep you going. If you’re eating in bed, try to put the dishes in the sink afterwards.

5) Invest in a hot water bottle

When I’m low and sluggish, the idea of leaving my snugly bed is not inviting. But a hot water bottle costs a few euro, and filling it up is a valid reason to leave your bed and sit on the sofa for a bit.

6) No work emails at home

Remove your work email app from your phone!!

7) Say ‘no’ rather than yes

If plans and commitments are overwhelming you, it’s okay to cancel or adjust them. If you’re someone whose default is to make no plans, then make a couple of small, low-risk plans – maybe to walk around your local park with a friend, or to read two chapters of your book in a new coffee shop.

8) Turn off notifications on your phone

There’s an interesting study by the Future Work Centre about phone messages. They call push notifications a “toxic source of stress”, explaining that the combination of an emotional learned response to messages and an “unwritten organisational etiquette around email” doubles down into a no-win situation. All of which is to say: push back against answering everything straightaway. If it’s urgent, they’ll call you.

9) Don’t wake your phone

Don’t look at your phone for at least 10 minutes after you wake up. Although I am pathetically tied to my phone, I refuse to let it set the agenda for my day. I try not to look at Instagram immediately after waking up. Instead, I try to stretch and look at the sun coming through the curtains. Easing into the day in a more mindful way sets your mood to being less anxious, from the outset.

And lastly . . .

10) Block out a piece of time in your calendar for yourself

Take a critical look at your week, and figure out which day is your most stressful. Then keep aside one hour on that day to let yourself catch up. (It’s okay to reschedule. I used to take pride in the fact that I kept to a tight schedule. If I said we would meet at 10.15, I would be there at 10.11! But living like that is exhausting , and puts others’ needs ahead of your own.)

– 101 Tiny Changes to Brighten Your Day by Ailbhe Malone (£9.99/€12.99, Icon Books) is available to buy now on Amazon, Eason and bookshops