10 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health
In recent years, mental health has been in the spotlight. Researchers, doctors and all the rest of us are starting to take our mental health much more seriously. Stigma is lifting and people are feeling more comfortable to talk about mental illness and mental health problems. Studies and research have shown time-and-again the impact that mental health has on our physical health and overall wellness. If your mental health is suffering, your entire health suffers.
In any given year, 1 out of 5 adults will suffer from a mental illness or a mental health problem. Approximately 8% of all adults will suffer from major depression at some point in their lives. Mental illness and mental health problems are real, serious, and could be impacting someone you love (and very possibly, you).
There are many experiences in our life that can lead to mental health problems. A limited list of reasons includes breakups, job loss, retirement, divorce, infertility, abuse, financial loss, marital problems, critical illness, weight gain, death of a loved one, exposure to war, and surviving a natural disaster. Even seemingly happy events like pregnancy, a new baby, a wedding, or a new marriage can lead to mental health problems. Our ability to adapt to any situation or experience will impact our mental health. Problems can arise if we are unable to cope with an experience or adapt to change. We can also be hit with mental illness following any trauma (big or small).
I suffered depression and episodes of anxiety after my marriage ended and I was coming to terms with the loss and transition that accompanies divorce. It was a dark time; however, I did heal. Now I understand the importance of taking mental health seriously and I take daily steps to always keep things in check.
Even if you don’t have a diagnosed mental illness, that doesn’t mean you don’t have mental health problems or will never experience mental health concerns in your life. If you want to improve your overall health and wellness, it’s incredibly important to always prioritize your mental health as much as you prioritize your physical health.
When it comes to improving your mental health, here are my top 10 must-do’s:
1.Make time for your squad
Want to lift your spirits and fill your heart up with some serious happiness? Start making time for your squad. I’m not talking about just any old acquaintance. I’m talking about those people who understand you like no one else and make you laugh until your belly hurts. Make time for the people who love you, genuinely care about your happiness, celebrate your accomplishments, listen to your heartbreak and go out of their way to help you feel good. If someone makes your heart feel full, make sure you are getting in face-to-face time as much as possible.
An important thing to do when you're struggling with mental health is to get feelings, thoughts and memories out of your mind. A journal is a perfect tool to help accomplish this. The act of writing can be therapeutic on its’ own, no matter the topic. Focused journaling can help you work through any traumas that are keeping you locked in the past. If you are unsure why you’re unhappy, journaling can also help you identify what’s causing your mental health problems. Once you start making journaling a habit, you’ll most likely notice patterns in what you write about. It’s very possible you’ll uncover some uncomfortable truths that need to be addressed to help you move forward.
Want to improve your mood? Get to the gym and workout. Maybe the gym isn’t your jam. That’s ok! Get active in whichever way you choose. Hike, ski, swim, play a game of soccer, or chase the kids in the backyard. It doesn’t matter; just get your heart-rate up. Why? Fitness has been scientifically proven to improve mental health, overall cognition and brain function. You can read all about the positive impact fitness can have on mental health in this post.
4. Take a look at your diet
The physical benefits of a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit, healthy fats and natural sources of protein have been explained time and time again; however, I would argue there’s not enough focus on the impact diet has on mental health, and brain function. If you want to improve your mental health, give your diet a serious look. Are you indulging in too much fast food or processed meals? If so, maybe it’s time to give your diet an overhaul and start making nutrition a priority. At the end of the day, you will feel better, might lose some extra pounds, and most importantly, will improve the health of your mind.
5. Get Outside
Did you know that there is a natural antidepressant waiting just outside your front door? I’ve been saying it for years (and science is finally catching up with some recent findings): exposure to nature is a must if you want to improve your mental health. Spending just 20-30 minutes a day outside has been proven to relieve anxiety, stress, ADHD and depression. Nature also has incredible healing effects and restorative properties, increasing your energy and improving focus. Nature can also help with the grief-process because it causes better coping, improved self-awareness and elevated mood.
What started as a buzzword has become a movement. Why? Mainly because it works. Taking care of yourself improves your mental health. Making your wellness a priority drastically improves your life. Does self-care mean bubble baths and chocolate? Not necessarily. Self-care means giving yourself what you need. Maybe you want that extra glass of wine; however, it’ll give you a headache in the morning (so that’s not what you need). Self-care isn’t about indulging in your every want. It’s about considering what your mind and your body need to achieve wellness and seeking that out in your own life. It’s about including things and activities in your life that will make you feel good, valued and will increase self-love and personal acceptance. It’s about remembering that your wellness matters and that your happiness is important.
I’ve been practicing yoga for about 5 years. When I started, I didn’t understand the impact it could have on mental health. Yoga stresses breathing. It’s one of the core principles of the practice. This act of focusing on your breath helps to settle the mind. It reminds you that at the very least, you can be thankful that you can breathe, something that some of us take for granted. Another core principle is self-love. Yoga doesn’t ask you to be anything other than what you are. And eventually over time, and more yoga, you'll be amazed by what your body can do. Yoga reminds everyone to appreciate how amazing our bodies and minds are. This appreciation cultivates self-acceptance and peace. If these aren’t reason enough, many of the poses in yoga have been scientifically proven to calm the nervous system, which reduces anxiety and improves mood.
8. Practice Gratitude
Often we can get bogged down by negative thinking and can become fixated on the bad things in our life. So many of us forget the wonderful blessings in our lives. Even something as simple as a cup of coffee can be a daily blessing and something to be thankful for, never mind the much bigger blessings, such as our friends and family. If you don’t already, I encourage you to keep a gratitude journal. Every night, before you go to sleep, write down three things you are thankful for. This can be as simple as saying thanks for the clothes on your back and the roof over your head. This small habit of daily gratitude will create positive lines of thought in your mind, which can lead to overall improved mental health.
There is nothing quite as life-changing and impactful as traveling to a new place with an entirely different culture and way of life. Seeing how people live in other countries might shine a new light on your own life, which could change your perspective on your experiences. Things that caused you incredible pain and grief could all-of-a-sudden not seem so significant. Travel may also remind you that the world is an enormous place and there’s a lot of beauty and joy waiting for you. On your adventure, you might also meet new friends who could impact your life in an amazing way!
10. Connect with others who’ve lived a similar experience
Why do alcoholics join AA? Why do new moms join mom groups? Why did I start an Instagram page focused on divorce at a young age? When you go through a significant experience, one of the most impactful things you can do is to connect with others who’ve also lived that experience. They’ll understand, better than anyone, what you’ve been through and will arguably, be able to empathize best. The support you receive from these people will help you feel not so alone in your experience. This will do at least two things. First, your feelings will be validated. Second, if you’ve been living in a head-space of loneliness and isolation, you’ll be forced to connect with others. And connection really is the name of the game.
Taking care of your mind is the most important thing you can do to improve your wellness.
Give yourself this gift.