We all struggle with our mental health from time to time. Despite how common these experiences may be, many of us still frequently neglect our mental health and fall into harmful patterns of behavior.
Mental health is every bit as important as physical health, and it doesn't take much to implement helpful strategies to aid your well-being. There are a number of small tasks you can do every day to boost your mood and keep yourself in good mental health.
In honor of World Health Day, here is a list of some top mental health habits that have been recommended by healthcare professionals.
1. Consult A Doctor: Get A Professional Opinion
Despite how common mental health issues are in our society, the subject of mental illness still carries a huge stigma. As a result, many people are reluctant to seek help in their time of need.
It's estimated that 75% of Americans and Europeans afflicted with mental illness don't seek treatment. It's so important to break this stigma and to consult a general practitioner when you feel something is wrong.
Symptoms to look out for are the loss of appetite, sleeplessness, persistent low mood (for two weeks or more), and/or suicidal ideation. Make a habit of treating your mental health the same way you treat your physical health; if you feel unwell, go to a doctor.
2. Eat A Balanced Diet: Key to Physical and Mental Health
While it is obvious to many that eating a healthy diet can benefit your physical health, it also has an enormous effect on your mental health too. Recent studies by the Linyi People's Hospital in China have shown a link between depression and consumption of high-sugar, heavily processed foods.
For better mental health, researchers recommend increasing your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, omega fatty acids, and whole grains. Being more mindful of what you put into your body can result in a huge improvement in your mood.
3. Exercise Regularly: Workout to Beat the Blues
Much like a good diet, exercise is something that is usually associated with a healthy body as opposed to a healthy mind. However, according to Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard, exercise can also be highly effective in combatting depression.
Performing high-intensity cardio exercise for even just 30 minutes a day can release powerful endorphins that boost mood. Long-term low-intensity exercise has also been linked to the production of neurotrophic proteins, which improve brain function and alleviate depression.
4. Practice Meditation: Take a Moment to Clear Your Mind
There are a number of meditation techniques which can help alleviate the symptoms of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. This fact is according to Dr. Michael McGee, Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry at McLean Hospital, Harvard.
Practicing mindfulness is recommended by doctors for sufferers of anxiety disorders. Meditation allows those dealing with mental health issues to focus on the present, without letting their worries for the future impede their mood.
Take some time every day to clear your mind and focus on your breathing to relieve the effects of stress and anxiety.
5. Sleep Well: Essential for a Healthy Brain
While many consider sleeplessness to be a symptom of mental illness, recent research suggests that it may be a cause of poor mental health. Sleep, particularly deep sleep, is crucial for maintaining a healthy mind, according to leading sleep scientists like Berkley's Professor Matthew P. Walker.
Doctors recommend practicing good "sleep hygiene" - only use your bedroom for sleeping, cut out the use of electronic devices before bedtime, and keep the atmosphere cool and dark. If you still have trouble sleeping, consider cutting out caffeine or increasing your physical activity during the day.
6. Go Offline: Take a Break from Social Media
Social media may seem like a convenient, easy way to keep in touch with people, but it can also have a negative effect on your mental health. Recent studies show a link between frequent social media use and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Make a greater effort to socialize in person, rather than online, for the best results on your mental health.
7. Write It Down: Keep a Journal of Your Thoughts
You probably kept a journal or diary during your teenage years, but it's a habit that's worth picking up again as an adult. Writing down how you are feeling has been proven to benefit your mental health, and help you keep track of your moods.
Doctors Paul Ballas and Marianne Fraser recommend journaling to combat anxiety and depression, as it allows you to take account of your worries and fears and helps you to identify possible triggers and patterns of behavior. Try to get into the habit of writing once a day, even if its just a bullet point list.
8. Talk About It: Open Up to People You Care About
It is important not to suppress how you are feeling when dealing with a mental health issue. The build-up of suppressed feelings can often lead to depression, according to research carried out by Carrie A. Langner, Elissa Epel, Karen Matthews, Judith T. Moskowitz, and Nancy Adler.
Speak to your friends or family about your struggles. Not only does this help to destigmatize mental illness, but opening up can offer you a different perspective on your situation.
You might even be surprised to find how many people you know relate to how you are feeling. You should never feel like you need to struggle alone.
9. Stay Hydrated: Simple But Effective
You might be surprised to learn that hydration can have a huge effect on your mental health. Your brain is made of 75% water, and so the loss of hydration can have some serious effects on your mood, concentration, and cognitive function.
This was previously noted in studies conducted by the University of Connecticut. Recommended fluid intake for adults varies from 2.7 liters for women to 3.7 liters for men.
Keep in mind that these figures include fluids other than water, and the fluids contained in the food you eat. To stay well-hydrated, start your day with a glass of water and drink 2-3 glasses of water with each meal.
10. Laugh More: Truly the Best Medicine
There's truth to the old saying "Laughter is the best medicine". Laughing regularly can help you ease out the effects of depression and anxiety, so says Dr. Robert T. Muller.
So put on your favorite funny movie, or take a trip out to a comedy club. You could end up feeling better and making close friendships in the process.
11. Go Outside: There's A World to Explore
It is easy to get into a routine of moving between your home and the office, but getting outside and experiencing nature is crucial for good mental health. Dr. Douglas LaBier advocates spending time in the great outdoors to improve your mood.
Your being close to nature will help you with practicing mindfulness, which is effective in alleviating stress and anxiety. Research notes that areas with significant biodiversity, and/or a body of water, can be especially beneficial to your mental health.
So whether you stroll through your local park or go hiking in the woods, it is important to get outdoors and spend some time in nature.
12. Stand Up Straight: Good Posture Is Surprisingly Important
Most of us were warned against slouching by our parents growing up, but there are proven benefits to standing up straight when it comes to mental health. New research from the University of Auckland suggests that good posture can relieve stress and boost self-esteem.
Sitting and standing upright can make you perceive your energy as being higher, and make it more difficult to engage in negative thoughts and self-criticism. It is a small habit that can go a long way towards improving your mental health.
13. Get A Pet: The Incredible Benefits of Pet Ownership
Who doesn't love snuggling with a furry animal? As it turns out, petting and cuddling your cat or dog can help combat the effects of depression and ease stress.
Studies have proven that physical contact with pets releases hormones like dopamine, which foster strong bonds and boost mood. Sufferers of mental illnesses also cite caring for a pet as a source of renewed self-esteem, as it gives them a purpose and sense of worthiness.
Dr. Marc Bekoff attests to the positive influence of companion animals on mental health.
14. Go Dancing: Move to Boost Your Mood
Like regular exercise, dancing can help improve your mental health drastically. Professor Peter Lovatt is a proponent of dance therapy as a method of treating depression.
Research has shown that dancing can improve your mood, and that the effects can be long-lasting. Though research is still on-going to fully understand the links between dance and improved mental health, more and more professionals are suggesting dance as a method of combatting depression.
So hit the floor and dance like no one's watching!
15. Stop Multitasking: Don't Put Pressure On Yourself
Multitasking has been linked to increased levels of stress and anxiety, which can lead to low mood, according to doctors Cynthia Kubu and Andre Machado. Instead of multitasking, prioritize your tasks and get to them one at a time.
You will find that you can focus better on each individual task, and your mood will improve too.