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Feed the birds, bake a cake and see how life is more than money

MATERIALLY there's not much prospect of life getting better in 2013 but mentally, there's a lot we can do to make ourselves feel better.

It's easy to reduce life to worrying about money and the future. I do it all the time.

But every now and then you have to give yourself a good kick and promise that your life is not going to be defined by financial problems. Life is about good and bad habits, and developing some good mental habits will change your life.

Here are my Top Ten Tips to Improve Your Mental Health. They're guaranteed to work: the trick is applying them.

1. Do things for free

Your golden rule should be to pick activities that don't cost any money. For instance, exercise really does improve your mental health, but don't worry about gym fees. Just get your runners on and run.

2. Feeding the birds

Stale bread and cakes softened up with a bit of milk, old fruit or rinds from orange or melon -- these are no longer rubbish.

Put them somewhere you can see them and watch the birds arrive and entertain you with their antics. As I pour warm water into the birdbath (an old saucepan does) my husband laughs and asks if I'm getting them a Jacuzzi.

3. Music, not talk

I present a talkshow on Newstalk radio so shouldn't really be saying this, but listening to yet another panel of commentators grumble about the economy would put the sunniest person alive into a temper.

Sometimes the best thing to do is turn them off and play some music instead. Hard rock to deal with the rage, country music for the laugh and to soothe the mind, there's always classical.

4. If you have children, enjoy them

I spend most of my time managing my children instead of having fun. Ordering them to get dressed; supervising homework; urging them to eat their dinner and clean their rooms. It's all hassle. When I give up trying to make them better people and just sit down and watch television with them or play a card game, we end up having a giggle. I keep meaning to this more often.

5. Go to Mass

I started going to Mass a couple of years ago and now that I'm in the habit can't get over the lift it gives me. You get to know your neighbours and get a bit of perspective on life. And if you go home thinking "peace be with you", it makes you feel much more positive about everyone.

6. Mindfulness

If you're like me then you spend most of your internal life worrying about the future or analysing the past. Instead of having actual conversations with people, do you imagine things you'd like to say to someone, good or bad? Stop. Be mindful of what you are doing at this moment -- tidying up or washing your teeth. Think about that and do it well.

7. Play an instrument

I was forced to have piano lessons as a child and always hated it. A few months ago we rescued an old family piano and I downloaded music from the internet and started learning it myself again. It's so enjoyable.

8. Join a choir

Like playing, I think the buzz comes from having to concentrate and then creating something beautiful. You don't need a great voice to sing in a choir; there's safety in numbers.

9. Bake

Author Marian Keyes swears by this and I have to agree. Eggs, flour, butter and sugar and you've got a lovely sponge or buns for the children. Taking a warm cake out of the oven warms up the whole house, hearts and all.

10. Help someone else

Whether it's a bit of housework or an odd job for a friend, volunteering locally or having a chat with an old person for half an hour. You feel more supported too. It's not you against the world. Together, we really are stronger. That makes me feel much better.