7 Ways to Improve Mental Health
Mental health is one of the many things that’s still stigmatized in this country. Yet, it’s something that more than half of the U.S. population deals with consistently. Anxiety and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental health concerns in the country, especially among women. Understanding the importance of addressing mental health is half of the battle; the other half is finding ways to help improve and maintain it.
We do many things in our day-to-day lives that impact our mentality, both good and bad. They influence how we think, how we perceive, how we behave, and how we react to the challenges that arise. Learning to manage those responses and reinforce positive thoughts and actions is the cornerstone of maintaining mental health.
So what are some simple things you can do to help improve and maintain your mental health?
Your physical health influences your mental health more than you may realize. The connection between both is very substantial. The reason for this is that the mind and body work together using a series of hormones. They adjust and balance these hormones according to what information gets sent to the brain.
One way your brain can gain information to help balance stress hormone levels is through exercise. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. Endorphins are naturally occurring chemicals that get released in the brain. They act almost like the body’s built-in pain killers. When endorphin levels are high, levels of cortisol (a primary stress hormone) decrease. Exercising regularly can help reduce stress levels that contribute to anxiety and other related mental health concerns.
In a world where things move almost as fast as the speed of light, it can be hard to slow down and take time for ourselves or just take some time to do nothing. Taking breaks is fundamental to helping our bodies and minds recharge after an especially productive, hectic, or stressful day. Remember, taking a break doesn’t mean you’re engaging in selfish behavior. It just means you’re taking the time you need to help renew your energy and motivation.
So what can you do to take a break, unwind, and allow yourself to recharge? Watch one of your favorite movies. It’s comforting and reliable. Participate in a hobby you love, whether it’s painting or sewing; doing something you love can be relaxing and energizing. Taking time for yourself is an excellent way to help destress and recharge.
Talk or Write Things Through
Sometimes it’s important to let ourselves go through the motions of what we’re dealing with. Whatever problems, challenges, stresses, or frustrations you are going through now, it’s important to work through them. Of course, people work through their issues in different ways.
Some people need to talk things out. Talking things out can help people visualize what they need to do to solve a problem. Talking things through helps them process and understand what they need to do. It’s perfectly reasonable to talk things out loud to help things sink in.
Another way people deal with problem-solving is to write it out. Writing out feelings, thoughts, steps, and so on can help people work through their own stresses too. In fact, many people find that writing helps them better organize their thoughts and remember the steps they need to take in order to solve a problem. Whatever your process, working through your thoughts can help you in times of stress or discomfort.
Set Small Goals
Have you ever felt terrific after a particularly productive day? There’s a reason for that. When you finish a task, your brain releases mood-stabilizing hormones. Why does this happen?
When we are rewarded with something desirable to us, our brain releases these hormones. This makes us more motivated to repeat this kind of behavior in the future. Engaging in these behaviors can help maintain productive habits that lead to the big picture objectives. The best way to do this is by setting small goals or tasks.
What’s a simple task you can complete today? It could be taking out the trash. It could be cleaning out the fridge. It could be brushing the dog. By setting a small task and following through with it, you are encouraging productivity. So set a small daily goal and achieve it.
Feed Your Body Right
Do you know the saying, “You are what you eat?” Well, there is some truth to that statement. You can feed your body nutrients that help better balance neurochemicals. Foods rich in amino acids like tryptophan or theanine can help improve serotonin production in the brain and even help add to feelings of sleepiness if you need to get a good night’s sleep.
The point is, your diet can have just as much of an impact on your mental health as it has on your physical health. A diet high in refined sugars, refined carbs, and trans fats can make you feel sluggish or more irritable. It can also make it more difficult for you to achieve quality sleep, which can add to fatigue and mood swings.
Instead of eating a diet high in refined sugars, trans fats, and processed foods, try adjusting your diet to encompass more balanced options. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, poultry, lean red meats, moderate amounts of dairy, nuts, and seeds are all excellent dietary options to provide you a wide variety of nutrients to help feed your body and your mind.
Focus on The Positives
Feeling overwhelmed is one of the most common anxiety triggers. It’s easy to focus on the “what-ifs” and the negatives when we’re under stress, but in the end, that can lead to more bad than good. When you find yourself thinking and expressing negative thoughts about yourself or your circumstances, remember to think about what positive aspects you can appreciate at that moment.
If you’re worried about finances and start to see money troubles as a poor reflection of your ability to earn an income, change your focus to something positive. Even when your wallet is feeling tight, focus on what you’re grateful for. Are you thankful for being able to pay one of your bills? Are you grateful for having money to buy groceries? Are you grateful for having money to buy birthday presents for your kids, spouse, and friends? These are positive associations that can help you stay calm even during difficult times.
Remember to Breathe
Did you know that increased oxygen to the brain can help release serotonin and endorphins? Well, it can! There’s a reason deep breathing helps temporarily relax you. When you take deep breaths, your heart rate lowers, oxygen levels in your blood increase, and your bloodstream circulates that oxygen throughout your brain more effectively. This causes the brain to release mood-stabilizing hormones like endorphins and serotonin.
When you feel overwhelmed by stress, close your eyes and take in a few deep breaths. Breathe in for a few seconds, hold, and then breathe out for a few seconds. You can repeat this however many times you’d like until you feel calmer. It can help you feel relaxed and refocused.
Your Mental Health Is Important
Mental health and physical health go hand in hand. These are just a few ways you can help support mental health. If you feel your mental health is suffering and you think you need additional help, there are many therapeutic platforms that can help you better understand your mental health needs. Take care of your mind so that you can take care of your body.