Everyone wants to improve their mental health. Whether you are coping with a mental disorder such as depression or are just trying to lead a fuller life, it feels good to take care of yourself. There are so many different ways that you can practice self-care and improve your mental health.
Our society constantly tells us that the way to feel good is to buy this, do that, and take this pill. Unfortunately, this consumerist view of happiness rarely lasts very long. There is no one magical product that is going improve your mental health and make you feel all better. Rather, it is about changing your life to include more practices that take care of your mental health.
If you are looking for a mental health boost, try meditating. A meta analysis conducted in 2014 looked at a bunch of psychology studies related to meditation and mental health. The researchers found that people who participated in some kind of mindfulness program were less anxious, less depressed, and experienced less physical pain than those who didn’t. Additionally, they found some evidence that meditation reduced stress and improved overall quality of life.
So, you might be wondering how to actually start meditating. There are tons of great websites, apps, and youtube videos that offer guided meditations. We recommend starting with 1-5 minutes of meditation a day and see if you can get into the habit of it. Even short meditations like this can produce mental health benefits.
Going on a walk, even a short one, can make you feel better. According to psychologist Sally Augustin, walking can improve cognitive performance and working memory. Additionally, spending even five minutes outside can improve self-esteem and mood. If you are looking for a boost in your mental health taking a quick walk around the block might do the trick.
It can be helpful to create a daily practice of taking a walk. You might start with just a five minute walk around the block. We recommend picking a time each day to go for your walk. You might choose to do so in the morning, at lunch, or when you are home from work. Whenever you do, try to make it a routine so you get in the habit of boosting your mental health.
According a study published by the National Institute of Health aerobic exercise can also improve mental health. This study found that exercise like dancing, cycling, jogging, or swimming improved mood. It was also shown to reduce anxiety and depression. This type of exercise can also improve self-esteem and reduce social isolation. The point is, take some time to work out.
If your life is particularly sedentary it can be daunting to think about adding in an exercise routine. If this is the case, it might be helpful to find a Meetup group for people who are interested in jogging or hiking so you have people to try this with. It can also help to just try to do some jumping jacks once a day. Whatever you decide, start in a way that feels easy and manageable.
Positive affirmations became popular in the 1920’s when the french psychologist Emile Coue proposed the technique. Since then, they have become a staple of pop psychology. The research is in, and it says they work! There is evidence that repeating positive affirmations can reduce the negative effects of chronic stress and can improve mood and problem solving.
Creating a daily practice of using affirmations is very simple. You might decide to repeat something kind to yourself for one minute every day like, “I am enough”. It can also be helpful to put positive affirmations as reminders in your phone. When you see one pop up on your screen, repeat it to yourself a few times.
5. Recognizing Joy
Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson in his book Hardwiring Happiness talks about how you can use the practice of recognizing joy to improve your mental health. He proposes that taking just 20-30 seconds and really experiencing the body sensations associated with joy can change the brain and make you happier.
The practice he proposes involves three steps. The first is to recognize something pleasant or joyful that is already happening. This might be a smile on your face, the gentle feeling of your breath, or a feeling relaxation. Start by just recognizing this experience. The second step is to notice how it feels in the body. The third step is to enrich the experience. Allow the good feeling so intensify and spread through your body even more. You can make a practice of doing this a few times a day.
6. Mindful Eating
There is a growing body of research to suggest that mindful eating is good for your mental health. An article published by Harvard Health says that this practice can help people with binge eating disorder, can reduce depression, and reduce feelings of physical hunger. If you your mental health needs help, you might want to try this practice of eating mindfully.
You can try setting your timer for 20 min. Eat each meal this slowly and put the fork down between bites. You might also want to try noticing the taste, texture, smell, and temperature of the food as you eat it. Really allow yourself to become aware of this process of eating. To improve your mental health ditch the TV and eat with all of your senses engaged.
The breath is one of the most powerful tools we have for relaxation. Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system which lowers your heart rate. This in turn leads to a feeling of relaxation and reduced anxiety. If you are struggling with restlessness and worry you might want to try deep breathing.
In order to do this practice you are going to want to make your inhale longer than your exhale. This is that calms the body down. You might try breathing in for five counts and breathing out for six counts. Try to make your exhale slow and steady. You don’t need to take a ton of time to do this. Just notice when you are feeling anxious and take a moment to slow your breathing down.
Matthew Sockolov is an empowered Buddhist meditation teacher, and offers one on one mindfulness coaching to individuals who wish to deepen their meditation practice.