Never before has mental health been as front and centre as it is in 2018, however, for many who haven’t previously considered focusing on their mental health and well-being, it can be difficult to know where to start. Thankfully, prioritizing our mental health is something we can all work on, in small ways, every day. Whether it’s lacing up your running shoes to head out for a jog, or calling up a therapist for a consult, these strategies can help to not only maintain but also improve your mental health.
Exercise often comes up when we talk about physical health, but its benefits extend far into the realm of mental health as well. Not only has regular physical activity been shown to improve mood and decrease stress, it can also help to decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns (Anderson, & Brice, 2011; Anderson, & Shivakumar, 2013; Craft & Perna, 2004). So not only does it feel good, it’s good for you!
Don’t forget to breath
For something as simple yet integral to human survival as breathing, it’s also something we often forget to do, or forget to do properly. Deep breathing – belly breathing as it is often referred to – is an easy and effective way to target physiological symptoms of anxiety (Paulus, 2013). By remembering to oxygenate, you can help qualm that fight-or-flight response and get back into rest-and-digest mode.
Seek out social support
Feelings of isolation are never positive for mental health. It’s one thing to elect to spend time alone to recharge your batteries, but another if the lack of social support in your life leaves you feeling secluded and lonely. Social support isn’t about quantity as much as it is about quantity. Having a select few people in your life whom you know you can rely on should the going get tough helps to weather even the worst of times.
Pick up a good book
Nothing helps to distract and disconnect like diving into a great novel. Whether it’s a classic that you’ve reread dozens of times or a new bestselling recommendation, fiction or non-fiction, reading takes your full attention, forcing you to focus on the present moment. When you’re reading, you can’t be dwelling on the things you didn’t get done that day, or worrying about what’s on your to-do list tomorrow.
Start up a positivity jar
As humans, we’re much more inclined to fixate on the negatives, often in spite of the positives that are present in our lives. To help counteract this, you can try making yourself a positivity jar. Anytime you have a positive thought – it can be anything from liking the way you look, to feeling proud of yourself for a specific accomplishment – write it down and put it in the jar. That way when you’re having a down day, you can pull something out of the jar to remind you of the positives that are present.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it
There’s a huge difference between tackling something alone to prove to yourself you can do it, and refusing to accept help on a task that would actually benefit from the assistance of another person. Asking for help isn’t a weakness, but rather an act of self-awareness in acknowledging that life is rarely a one man (or woman) show. Depending on the situation, you may call on a friend or family member, or perhaps a professional who can provide a more objective perspective.
Laugh until it hurts
“Laugher is the best medicine” isn’t just an age-old adage, there’s actually solid scientific evidence to back it up. Not only has it been shown to decrease levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, laughter can also increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, hormones which make us feel good (Yim, 2016). The best part is, laughing is almost hilariously easy to do!
Anderson, R., & Brice, S. (2011). The mood-enhancing benefits of exercise: Memory biases augment the effect. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 79-82.
Anderson, E., & Shivakumar, G. (2013). Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 4, 27. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027
Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(3), 104–111.
Paulus, M. P. (2013). The breathing conundrum – interoceptive sensitivity and anxiety. Depression and Anxiety, 30(4), 315–320. http://doi.org/10.1002/da.22076
Yim, J. (2016). Therapeutic benefits of laughter in mental health: A theoretical review. Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine, 239, 243-249.