How to Improve Your Mental Health
Maintaining good mental health is important at every stage of life. The quality of your mental health has a direct effect on the quality of your relationships, your self-esteem, your ability to make good choices, and every other aspect of your well-being.
Knowing the role mental health plays in everyone’s quality of life, it’s no wonder more people are looking for tips and activities to improve mental health.
Though stigmas around mental illness and treatment still create a barrier, awareness of the importance of caring for mental health is growing in the United States. Many workplaces now provide resources for employees and their families in need of mental health services, and telehealth providers have made it easier for people everywhere to access care.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Poor Mental Health
One of the most helpful tips to improve mental health is to familiarize yourself with the warning signs of a mental health disorder. Symptoms vary, and not everyone experiences the same symptoms, even if they are diagnosed with the same disorder.
Some of the most common warning signs to be aware of include:
Substance or alcohol abuse
Irritability, mood swings, anger
Isolating from friends and family
Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
Unusual risk-taking, including risky sexual behavior
Trouble concentrating or completing everyday tasks
Lack of interest in hobbies and activities once enjoyed
Everyone experiences some of these symptoms at some point in their lives. Occasionally feeling depressed or irritable doesn’t mean your mental health is suffering. However, if you or someone you care about is exhibiting a pattern of ongoing symptoms, you should call a mental health professional for advice.
5 Strategies to Improve Mental Health
Mental health isn’t separate from physical health. Poor mental health can have a negative impact on your overall wellness and lead to problems like high blood pressure and chronic pain.
Mental health can also affect your social health, making it more difficult to build satisfying relationships or simply enjoy your favorite hobbies and activities.
In addition to seeking professional help when needed, consider these strategies for improving mental health.
1. Nail Your Nutrition
You already know that eating habits contribute positively or negatively to your physical health, but did you know that they also affect your mental health? Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the simplest ways to improve your mental health.
Studies published by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) confirm that a diet rich in olive oil, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, fish, and low-fat dairy reduces the risk of depression and anxiety.
Another NLM study found that a majority of people living with mental health disorders are missing important micronutrients like B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids in their diets.
Certain foods trigger the production of neurotransmitters (the brain’s chemical messengers), including serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters play a major role in balancing mood and helping you stay energized.
To make the most of your meals, avoid processed and fast foods. Try incorporating more of the following ingredients into your daily diet:
Meats without preservatives or nitrates
Cold-pressed oils like olive and nut oils
Researchers have found a link between psychological stress and brain inflammation. A diet filled with unprocessed foods could reduce brain inflammation and promote good mental health.
2. Get Your Exercise
Taking a walk is one of the most enjoyable activities to improve mental health. Engaging in any type of regular exercise program can help alleviate the symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD, and PTSD.
Exercise has a positive ripple effect on your health. Its benefits include:
Better emotional resilience
Improved memory and focus
Any type of movement is beneficial, but one study suggests that practicing mindfulness while you work out increases the benefits. Whether you’re running on the treadmill or doing chair yoga, paying attention to your movements instead of zoning out can interrupt the unconscious flow of negative self-talk.
A half-hour of exercise is ideal, but if you don’t have the time or fitness to engage in 30 continuous minutes, that’s all right. Start with 5 or 10 minutes of comfortable movement and slowly increase your time as you build stamina.
3. Stay Positive
Staying positive is easier said than done, especially if you’re already struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety. Keep in mind that having a positive attitude doesn’t mean that you don’t feel or acknowledge negative feelings. In fact, feeling all of your emotions is an important step in becoming more positive.
To increase the positive vibes in your life, try these tips to improve mental health:
Practice positive self-talk and affirmations
Take a break from the news and social media
Spend time with friends who have a positive outlook on life
Keep a gratitude journal, and make a note of things you’re grateful for every day
Watch a comedy show, read funny books, or mingle with friends who like to laugh
In addition, helping others is one of the best ways to increase positivity. Volunteer for an organization you support or find ways to help friends and neighbors as often as you can.
4. Ask for Help
Asking for help is difficult for many people, but it is also one of the most practical ways to improve mental health. Asking for help includes getting treatment from a mental health professional, but it is not limited to that.
Getting the help you need may mean asking a friend to babysit while you do the grocery shopping. It may mean asking to leave work early so you can attend a support group meeting. Sometimes, asking for help is as simple as asking a friend or loved one to go for a walk with you.
Whatever your needs are, take the steps to make sure they are met. You will not only benefit from this method of self-care, but you’ll also set a good example for others who are trying to live a healthier life and find their own ways to improve mental health.
5. Make Your Mental Health a Priority
Mental health is just as important as physical health, yet many people ignore their mental health needs. If you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health disorder, or if you’re struggling to find emotional balance in your life, take those warning signs as seriously as you would take the warning signs of a physical illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that suicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S. Furthermore, it’s estimated that approximately 12.2 million U.S. adults seriously considered suicide in 2020. Ignoring depression and other symptoms of poor mental health can lead to a crisis that needlessly cuts your life short.
Do You Need to Improve Your Mental Health?
If you feel a need to improve your mental health, you’re not alone. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that approximately 17.3 million people in the U.S. have experienced at least one depressive episode in their lifetime.
Developing usable strategies to improve mental health is a way to protect everything that’s important to you, including your family, career, physical health, and goals for the future.