Mental health is essential for everyone. Having fought depression myself before and even took some medication I can assure you there is a tendency to only see mental health as a lack of symptoms of mental illness.
In truth, people who take care of their mental health consistently are not only more protected from mental illness but cultivate a more positive quality of life.
What is the most helpful way of coping with the off days of mental well-being? Everyone has different needs, and you'll likely have to play around with other tactics to find what works best for you. However, protecting your mental health can be categorized into a few different domains.
For better or worse, our minds and bodies are intricately linked. When you’re feeling mentally unwell, you feel it in your body through aches and pains, fatigue, and lethargy. And when we’re physically off, your mental health drops off too.
So, to fully take care of your mind, you should take care of your body too.
Moving your body is an incredible stress reliever. Beyond reducing muscle tension, exercise releases chemicals that help reduce anxiety, negative mood and increase cognitive function. You don't have to turn into a runner or deadlift like a professional overnight. Even small things like physical chores, taking a brisk walk, or dancing around the house 3 days a week for 30 minutes is enough to reap all the benefits.
Watch what you eat.
As much as a sugary snack feels good in the moment, over time, it's not helping your mental well-being. Unhealthy foods can harm mood, disrupt the sleep cycle, give you low energy, and impact your immune system.
What constitutes a healthy diet is slightly different for everyone, but some general foods to avoid are trans fats, alcohol, refined carbs, or anything fried. Whole foods are the better bet overall. It's just as important to eat consistently since regular meals can balance mood and energy.
Remember when you were little, and you had a strictly enforced bedtime routine? Turns out they're essential. Nighttime routines can have a positive effect on mental health because it promotes relaxation and activates your parasympathetic nervous system – the one that reduces your heart rate and helps relax your muscles.
While it's tempting to stay up later and sleep in on weekends, it's better to keep a consistent sleep and wake cycle, so your body learns the cycle's rhythm. Adults need more rest than we think – 8 hours – but it's often unrealistic, making the quality of sleep we do get even more critical.
The blue light on our screens also disrupts our natural cycle because it tricks your brain into wakeful mode and suppresses melatonin production – the sleep hormone. Instead of going for your phone or your computer before bed, try taking a warm shower, reading a book, or listening to music. These are less likely to wreak havoc on your sleep.
Emotional health is often conflated with mental health, but it is a subcategory of mental wellness. It’s critical to your overall well-being to be able to identify and regulate emotions. When our emotions go haywire, that’s when our mental health can suffer.
We build our resiliency to stress and gain self-esteem when we understand our emotional states and practice them through specific activities.
Meditation is a practice that tries to bring you into the present moment and focus on your inner state. This isn't something that naturally happens in our daily life. The day is full of thinking, doing, and planning for the next thing, so carving out time in your day for meditation makes a difference.
A meditation practice urges you to lean into the difficult things we’d usually avoid. It teaches the value of self-compassion because emotions, even negative ones like fear or anger, will come up, and meditation teaches you how to acknowledge those things instead of dismissing them.
Meditating is so simple it's complicated. First, find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Then start to breathe through your nose, and notice what you're feeling or experiencing in your mind and body and turn to it. It's okay to keep it short – a few minutes at first – and it may be helpful to listen to some wordless music or guided meditation recording. Meditation is a practice, not a destination. It's a skill you'll never master, but it can teach you valuable things about yourself.
Leaders are readers, but also writers. Journaling offers a unique opportunity to set aside time to focus on our thoughts. To some, this is terrifying, but it can be a very beneficial tool in helping manage anxiety, stress, and negative moods. It can also be a place where you can write the wins and engage in self-talk that's not clouded with maladaptive thinking patterns you would experience through depression or anxiety.
If you're worried about your journal being a site of rumination, where looking back on your entries brings up old stresses, keep two different journals: one for processing negative emotions and another for positive self-talk.
By just throwing all your thoughts and feelings on the page, you can start to notice patterns over time - things that are chronically causing worry or distress - and it gives you the insight to zero in on them, and problem solve. Generating clarity is one of the best effects of journaling. Having all your thoughts written out in front of you allows you to organize them productively. The more routinely you do it, the more beneficial it is. When journaling to enhance mental health, take the time to focus on your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
When we're feeling low, and our mental health is suffering, the thought of socializing can feel exhausting. People are social beings, and we need each other to thrive, and we need emotional support and connection to others to be well.
- Check-in with friends and family.
Reaching out to friends can be challenging. You feel like you're burdening or bothering them, but chances are, the people who love you want to support you. People aren’t mind-readers and are sometimes too absorbed in their own lives to reach out first, but when you put your struggles on their radar, they’ll know you need the support.
Socializing with loved ones can be either an opportunity to confide in them or a welcome distraction. Connecting with others doesn't have to be an event. You can run errands together, join a class, chat with your neighbors, or the barista making your coffee.
Even if you don’t feel like you have anyone to reach out to, call on an acquaintance. It can feel uncomfortable, but leaning on other people strengthens connections, and they'll likely learn that they can rely on you in return.
Sense of Purpose
- Meaning and purpose.
Meaning and purpose drive us. It helps keep our brain healthy by creating new neural pathways and can create motivation to pursue mental and physical health. Having a plan or project that connects to something bigger helps us feel needed, drives us to do more, and boosts our well-being. The sense of belonging and being recognized for being a part of something beyond the individual is validating.
Whether you are doing it for an end goal, accomplishing something, or looking to enjoy the journey, having something to focus on whose only purpose is to make us feel good, like a hobby, is restorative.
Getting help from a professional tends to be a last resort, but it can work alongside some lifestyle adjustments for overall mental well-being. Therapy gets immediately associated with a diagnosed mental disorder, but counselors can offer tools for the bumps that we go through in life. Treatment is not only about getting help when things are bad, but it's also about gaining skills to live an optimal life.
Our understanding of therapy generally focuses on the things that need to be fixed and getting people back to "normal." Still, it's just as much about improving positive traits like resiliency, gratitude, and self-compassion. Alongside the lifestyle factors, therapy can help you live your best life. Professionals have the insight to help target individualized needs.
Mental health and well-being are something that needs constant work to improve. It's high maintenance, but once you instill habits into your life, it gets easier over time. You'll start to notice what kind of things benefit you the most, and you may begin to see improvements in your work, home, and relationships, along with changes in your mental wellness.
Finally, remember you are not alone and if you need help you are entitled to ask for it. Talk to someone today if you fear you might be depressed.