6 Tips for Maintaining Good Mental Health
Being mentally healthy doesn’t just mean that you don’t have a mental illness or disorder – it means your emotional and social well-being are well-balanced. Mental health impacts almost every part of our lives, from how we think and feel to how we interact with others and deal with stress. Whether you’re wanting to accomplish more in your career, take better care of your friendships, or just get the most out of your life, following the below tips can help you reach your goals.
1. Take care of your physical health.
Your physical health is closely tied to your mental health, and poor mental health can manifest in your day-to-day actions – for instance, you could face sleeplessness or oversleeping, or you could feel like overeating or lose your appetite. Taking care of your mental health can help with how you feel physically, and vice versa.
Regular exercise can boost your mood and self-esteem while lowering feelings of stress and depression. Activity can also improve your concentration, sleep, and general well-being. The activity doesn’t have to especially long or difficult to be worth it; even 30 minutes a day can make an impact on your physical and mental health, and short amounts add up over time.
Getting the proper amount of sleep is also important for your overall mood. Not enough sleep can lead to irritation and a short temper in the short term; chronic sleep issues increase your risk of depression. If you have a hard time getting a good night's sleep regularly, try sticking to a sleep schedule and limit the amount of blue light (emitted from screens and other electronic devices) you use prior to going to sleep.
Another essential part of your physical health is taking care of what you put in your body. A well-balanced diet means that your brain and the rest of your body can function as it should. Good nutrition could also improve your mood while helping lower your risk of some mental illnesses. The American Academy of Family Physicians references the “food-mood connection” and has been tracking the potential for the presence of certain nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, B vitamins, and more positively impacting a person’s emotional health.
A healthy diet doesn’t stop at food – consuming alcohol at or under the recommended weekly limit plays a large role in your health. Physically, too much alcohol can impair your abilities and do permanent damage to your body. Emotionally, alcohol can temporarily lift a mood while tampering feelings of anxiety or loneliness. But when the alcohol wears off, a person can feel lower than they felt before drinking, and it will take more alcohol to achieve the same effects the next time.
2. Focus on the positive
Focusing on your positive emotions doesn’t mean that you don’t have negative ones; instead, it means you should try to not let the bad overtake the good. Negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and sadness are often the appropriate reaction, and they help us leave balanced lives. Feeling these emotions also helps the good be even better. But focusing on those negative emotions can make it hard to even see the good in your life. If things happened in the past, leave those feelings in the past – if things haven’t happened yet, try not to worry about it yet.
When you have negative thoughts, try to identify where those thoughts are coming from. Are they rational? Are they helpful? Are they real? If it’s just stress or fear talking, try to challenge them with positive thoughts instead. Holding on to positive emotions and thoughts can help you fight off the bad ones.
If you’re struggling with overwhelming negativity, try practicing gratitude. Think about good things in your life, big or small, and take time to really enjoy those aspects of your life. Making a list of the good things in your life can help you realize there’s more going right for you than you think. Cutting out negative information, even temporarily, can also help your outlook on life. The news and social media can be filled with bad news (or even good news that makes you feel bad in comparison), so it’s important to know when you need to take a break. It’s not selfish to turn it off to take care of yourself.
3. Don’t forget “Me Time”
Nothing beats stress and bad feelings like doing something you love. Generally activities you love are the same ones that you’re good at, and succeeding at something can give you a quick boost to your mood and self-esteem. It can also remind you that not everything is going wrong.
Me-time can also include relaxing activities. This could be yoga or meditation, a needed nap, reading a good book, or journaling about your feelings. It doesn’t matter what the activity is if it helps you calm your mind and your body. There are numerous programs and apps out there that can help guide you through relaxation techniques if you want to try something new. Find something that works for you, and schedule time into your routine to do that activity.
4. Prioritize you.
There are so many tips and tricks for living a healthy life and achieving a healthy emotional outlook, but they may not all be right for you. Set goals at work and in life that make sense for your abilities, and make sure you prioritize what needs to get done while also learning how to say “no” if you’re taking on too much for your mental health. At the end of the day, look at what you have accomplished, not just the tasks that are left for the next day.
Prioritizing yourself also means accepting yourself as you are (even if you’re working to better yourself). You can’t be anyone else, so focusing on what is great about you instead of wishing you were someone else is much healthier and much more productive. Self-acceptance can boost your confidence and self-esteem, and they can help you establish and maintain new connections with people.
5. Don’t do it alone.
When it comes to your feelings, there’s a reason they say to “not bottle it up.” Talking about your emotions can help you process what you’re feeling and deal with any negativity so you can move on. Opening up to others can prompt them to open up in return, and this connection can support you both – and make you both feel good by being there for each other.
Whether it’s the people you are opening up to about your feelings, those that enjoy similar activities as you, or people who are just nice to be around, make sure to stay in touch. People are social creatures, though varying in amount. We need connections to one another, and a strong support system can help us celebrate positive things and cope with negative ones. Those connections take maintenance though – if you don’t put in the effort to stay in touch, the close feelings can fray, and the support might not be there when you need it.
When the talking and the connections aren’t working on their own, don’t be afraid to ask for more help. Nobody’s perfect, and things often happen outside of our control. That’s when it’s time to ask those in your social network for support, and it may also be the time to look for professional help.
6. Learn to cope with stress
No matter how many steps we take and how well we follow through with our goals, things go wrong. When that happens, it’s easy to get buried in negativity or hyper-focused on what went wrong. That’s why knowing how to cope with stress is an essential part of taking care of your mental health.
To prepare for the inevitable hardship, Mental Health America suggests building a “coping toolbox.” Your toolbox doesn’t have to complex or even a real box – it could be a list of calming techniques that work for you. Some of the tips on this list, like exercising or meditating, could be on that list. Of course, the toolbox could be tangible: a stress ball, mementos from a great time, pictures of your loved ones, a favorite movie. Whether it’s filled with real objects or is a simple list, your toolbox should be filled with things that help you. Keep this list or box handy so that you can refer to it easily if it’s needed; if you’re stressed out or feeling hopeless, it’s helpful to have a resource that doesn’t require thinking or effort.