Sometimes we wake up on the wrong side of the bed and other days it feels like everyone and everything is against us. Even then, sometimes we’re stuck mentally and need a little help to get unstuck. Taking care of your mental health is super important especially when it feels like you can’t go anywhere without hearing about catastrophes throughout the world.
Know that everyone deals with sadness at some point throughout their lives. No one is 100% happy all the time. Just like the ocean, we have high tides and low tides and it’s learning how to ride those waves that’ll keep us resilient and able to bounce back.
What Is Mental Health?
When you hear “mental health” do you automatically think “mental illness”? If so, keep reading because that’s not what it is.
Mental illness is a diagnosed condition, like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc. According to the Centers for Disease Control, mental illness is a condition that affects a “person’s thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior.”
Alternatively, the CDC says mental health is our “emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act.”
Someone can experience poor mental health, but not be diagnosed with a mental illness. At the same time, someone with a mental illness can experience “periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.”
For the purposes of this blog, we’re focusing on ways to boost your mental health—whether you’re living through a particularly rough patch in life or you’re just having a bad day. If you ever feel like your moods are consistently down, reach out to a doctor to get professional help.
1. Journaling For Mental Health
Remember writing in your diary as a teenager with your crushes and confessions? It was covered in stickers and gel pens and doodles. It was a safe space where you could tell all your secrets and no one would know (as long as you hid it under the mattress, in the middle, where no one could find it).
There’s actually evidence showing the benefits of (what’s now called) Journaling. It’s the same thing you did back when you were a kid, but maybe with fewer stickers (or not). Writing down your thoughts and feelings lets you see them clearer.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling helps you manage anxiety, cope with depression, and reduce stress. By tracking your thoughts and feelings day-to-day, you can learn to prioritize problems, fears, and concerns better. Journaling also gives you a chance to practice positive self-talk, identify negative thoughts and behaviors, and find out what’s causing your stress or anxiety.
2. Go On A Walk (In Nature)
Grab your walking shoes and get outside to feel less depressed. In a study conducted by Harvard University and published in JAMA Psychiatry, they learned that participants cut the risk of depressive feelings by 25% by walking outside for an hour. Some participants did vigorous activity while others did moderate activity.
Karmel Choi, the study author, said “This increase in physical activity is what you might see on your activity tracker if you replaced 15 minutes of sitting with 15 minutes of running, or one hour of sitting with one hour of moderate activity like brisk walking."
Another study, “The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition,” showed that walking in nature has a “restorative advantage over artificial environments” and that nature “activates our parasympathetic nervous system in ways that reduce stress and autonomic arousal.” Walking in nature has proven to reduce heart rate and other physiological indicators of stress, according to Park.
If that wasn’t enough to convince you to go on a walk ASAP, a separate study proved that just 10 minutes of walking can give you more energy than a cup of coffee in the morning. So, if you’re trying to kick the caffeine habit, but still need a morning pick-me-up, consider taking a walk when you wake up. It’ll boost your energy and likely your mood.
3. Socialize For Your Mental Health
When you’re feeling down, sometimes the last thing you want to do is plan to meet up with friends. The thought of getting dressed, driving to a restaurant or cafe, and having a conversation can sound like a monumental task, but we promise it’ll help change your mood.
As soon as you chat with your friends, your mood will shift. And by the end of the night, you’ll likely feel way better than you did when you were at home, dreading leaving. In fact, meeting up with friends or loved ones is as powerful for our long-term health as sleep, a healthy diet, and not smoking.
Harvard Health also says that having no social life ties to “depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality.” They cite a study that showed “that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.”
So, even if you may not feel like it, push yourself to meet up with someone close.
4. Do Something Fun (Or At Least, Something You Want To Do)
Far too many of us “should” ourselves into doing things we don’t really want to do. Think about how often you tell yourself, “I should do that,” knowing that’s the last thing you want to do.
Maybe you’re reading this list and thinking, “I should start journaling” or “I should meet up with my friend.” And in the back of your head, you’re also thinking, “...but I don’t want to.” That’s totally fair. If that’s the case, do something you want to do.
Consider this self-care, but not the markety kind. Take a minute or two to think about activities you’re already doing that are fun and energizing. Do you enjoy massages, physical therapy, sports, meditation, or yoga? Awesome.
Now take a few minutes to list what you wish you had more time for. Do you like walking outdoors, but haven’t been making enough time for it?
Having a hard time coming up with something you like to do for fun? One way to think about this is to think about what you liked to do for fun when you were younger, and doing that. Did you like to draw? Sing? Write? Maybe you enjoyed going outside and riding your bike.
Make sure to only come up with things you want to, and not something that was someone else’s idea of what you should do.
Invest In Your Mental Health
Make your mental health a priority. You’ll feel better, have more energy and positivity (not the toxic positivity kind), and be a better friend, coworker, and partner.
There are so many long-term and short-term benefits of taking care of your mental health, we don’t have enough space to list them all. Start small and make that a part of your daily life.