Improving your mental health doesn’t always require a hefty financial investment or medication. The smallest changes can lead to big improvements in your mental health. If you find yourself struggling under the pressures placed on you by society, your profession, or even your family life, try taking on a few of the following suggestions.
These suggestions are designed for long term shifts in perspective. They are not a magic pill, and you probably won’t wake up tomorrow, jumping out of bed and high-kicking your happiness into the world. Instead, they foster subtle yet powerful shifts in mental state. With patience and practice, you might be surprised by what these approaches to mental health can offer.
1. Improve Your Diet
Your doctor was right. A healthy diet means a healthy mind. Taking care of your mental health can start with what you choose to load on to your plate. Eating a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and whole foods provides your brain with the right kinds of fuel.
There is a powerful connection between your stomach and your mental health. Did you know your stomach contains millions of neurons, which are the same type of cell you have in your brain? Your stomach also produces the majority of the serotonin within your body. A healthy gastrointestinal tract feeds into a healthy mind in a very intimate way. Researchers are still working out the details on this, but early studies indicate that dietary intervention may prevent depression.
2. Treat Yo’ self
In the tradition of Tom and Donna, beloved characters on the television series Parks and Recreation is “Treat Yo’ Self Day.” For many of us, working full time, looking after our family, and trying to get by in today’s hectic society – we ignore giving our minds and bodies what they need.
Why not schedule one night a week to focus on you? Spend an evening treating yourself and concentrating on what you want. Take time out from the hustle and bustle of your workweek, and sink deep into a steam bath. Why not order take-out, and eat your dinner in a sunny park? Maybe treating yourself means shutting the door and turning on that football game you’ve been waiting for all month? Whatever fills your cup, take the time out to fill it.
3. Surround Yourself with Positivity
You are an adult, and you get to choose who you spend your time with. Spending time with positive people who bring you up, and not drag you down can improve your general state of being.
If you have friends who gossip and send negative energy into the world, do you think this can impact your mental well being? Or what about flaky friends who constantly ditch your well-laid plans? You have control over who you spend your quality time with. Choose the friends who support you and don’t bring you down.
4. Help Others to Help Yourself
Vice Magazine has called volunteering “The Best Kept Secret for Mental Health,” and there is evidence to back this up. Giving your time and support to others in their time of need has several benefits for your own mental and physical health. As the Guardian reported, volunteer work helps reduce blood pressure, reduces the risk of depression, and reduces stress levels. Giving back feels good; it is something we often forget in our busy schedules and stressful professional lives.
As the Vice contributor noted about her mental health post-volunteering, “I feel calmer, more relaxed, and my mind is clear, often for the first time in weeks. It has quickly become one of the most reliable ways for me to de-stress—I’ve found it more effective than meditation, medication, or exercise.”
5. Practice Mindfulness
As per the folks at Mindful.com, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Although popular today, it is not just a new mental health fad, it’s backed by science. Keeping yourself mindful of how you feel, when you feel is a method of grounding and calming. If you tend to spiral into depression or anxiety, mindfulness is a way to stay in the moment and step back from the overwhelming emotional turmoil going on inside you.
There are many mobile apps, self-help books, and mindfulness gurus to help you build your own mindfulness practice. While they vary in approach, they all guide you to see the emotions at the moment, to be present with them, without getting flooded by them.
6. A Daily Gratitude Journal
When you can only see the negative, it can help to force yourself to list the positives. A gratitude journal is one way to look on the brighter side of life, even in dark times. By now, there are hundreds of options online, from free templates to designer journals. You don’t technically need anything fancy, just a piece of paper.
Every evening, before bed, list a few positive points about your day. Did you have a productive day at work or see a close friend? Did you have an exceptional cup of coffee in the morning, or read a feel-good story in the news? Anything that you feel grateful for deserves a place in your journal. It’s a way to reframe your life, in a positive light.
7. Forest Bathing
Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing in English, is a Japanese approach to preventive healthcare. It is a simple yet effective way to calm everyday stresses and improve mood, just by immersing yourself into the forest.
According to Shinrin-yoku.org, spending quiet time by yourself in the trees has a number of proven effects on your health and wellbeing. These include stress reduction, improved focus, better energy levels, deeper sleep, and more. Spending quiet reflection time in a natural environment costs nothing, and requires zero commitment.
8. Physical Activity
For anyone in the midst of a particularly anxious or depressed period, getting active can seem like an impossible challenge. But it’s important to start moving your body, to support a healthy mind.
As the research has shown, time and time again, “increased aerobic exercise or strength training has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms significantly.” Furthermore, “Anxiety symptoms and panic disorder also improve with regular exercise, and beneficial effects appear to equal meditation or relaxation.” there is a reason why all mental health experts and healthcare professionals will recommend a little physical activity to improve mental health.
No need to start with a 90-minute cardio routine at the gym, start with small achievable options. Try and 10-minute at-home workout, even if that means a Yin Yoga session on Youtube. Yoga with Adrienne is an excellent introduction to easy at-home yoga.
9. Talk Therapy
A 2013 article by the New York Times, speaks to the wealth of evidence supporting talk therapy approaches to treating mental health. They reported that “Over the last 30 years, treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and family-based treatment have been shown effective for ailments ranging from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders.”
Finding a professional to speak to, even for mild mental health problems, can prevent a spiral into more severe problems. A certified online therapist is the mental health guide you need to help navigate the complicated emotional work of getting better.
10. Learn a New Skill
Learning can help improve your mental health in more ways than one. A 2007 study looking at lifelong learning and mental health found, “Participation in lifelong learning had effects upon a range of health outcomes; wellbeing, protection, and recovery from mental health difficulties, and the capacity to cope with potentially stress‐inducing circumstances including the onset and progression of chronic illness and disability.”
Look for local classes at community centers, or artist studios. What about finally learning to swim, or tackling a new language? These days, you don’t need to make space in your monthly budget for extracurricular activities, there are many available resources online like Creative Live and Duolingo
Mental health is a vast topic. There is no single cure-all for issues of mental health, even for a diagnosed one. Depression, anxiety, and compulsive disorders may all have different triggers and different approaches to treatment. With that said, there are several common threads to getting better. These include fueling your physical self with good food and exercise.
It also means taking time out of your hectic life to feed your soul, through volunteer work, a relaxing steam bath, or a mental health day. If you find yourself falling into a period of poor mental health, adopt one or more of these suggestions into your daily routine. They are more critical to long term recovery then you might imagine.