Whether if it’s anxiety, mood disorders like depression, or schizophrenia, almost 1 in 5 Americans experiences mental health problems every year. As a consequence, this can affect everything from relationships to physical well-being to daily activities.
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed, it’s still important for all of us to actively work in improving our mental health. And, here are 8 of the best ways to do so.
1. Talk about your feelings.
Via the Mental Health Foundation:
“Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy.
Talking can be a way to cope with a problem you’ve been carrying around in your head for a while. Just being listened to can help you feel supported and less alone. And it works both ways. If you open up, it might encourage others to do the same.
t’s not always easy to describe how you’re feeling. If you can’t think of one word, use lots. What does it feel like inside your head? What does it make you feel like doing?
You don't need to sit your loved ones down for a big conversation about your well-being. Many people feel more comfortable when these conversations develop naturally - maybe when you're doing something together.
If it feels awkward at first, give it time. Make talking about your feelings something that you do.”
2. Write down something that you’re grateful for.
“Gratitude has been clearly linked with improved well-being and mental health, as well as happiness, writes Patricia Harteneck, Ph.D., MBA. “The best-researched method to increase feelings of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal or write a daily gratitude list.”
“Generally contemplating gratitude is also effective, but you need to get regular practice to experience long-term benefit,” adds Harteneck. “Find something to be grateful for, let it fill your heart, and bask in that feeling.”
If you would like to start a gratitude journal, Jason Marsh suggests in the Greater Good Magazine that you:
Don’t go through the motions, but instead “make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful.”
Focus on quality, not quantity. It’s better to write down one detailed example instead of a lengthy list of superficial items.
Focus more on the people that you’re grateful for as opposed to things.
Record the things that were unexpected.
Don’t overdo it. It’s more beneficial to write in a gratitude journal once or twice a week.
3. Take a mental health day when you need it.
“You know when you need one, and you know you'll be more productive (and just generally easier to be around) if you take one,” Casey Gueren writes in SELF. “So why do we all feel so selfish when we do it?”
“Try to think of it as preventive medicine—by taking a day to relax and recharge now, you're giving your body (and immune system) some time to catch up, which could help prevent an actual sick day in your future,” she says.
4. Take care of your physical health.
Research has proven time and time again that physical and mental health are strongly interlinked. In fact, mental illness can reduce life expectancy by 10 to 20 years for a variety of reasons. According to researchers, this is due to the fact that depression can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and are dependent on nicotine.
However, taking care of your physical health can counter this since it’s been found that taking care of your body can improve your mental health. Start by eating nutritious meals, exercising, and prioritizing your sleep. Also, don’t forget to drink plenty of water and avoid unhealthy habits like smoking and alcohol.
5. Do something positive.
This varies from person to person. But, a couple of suggestions would be:
To spend time with friends, family, or support groups who are positive and supportive.
Volunteer in your community -- also distance yourself from negative people.
Interact with animals, such as cats and dogs -- this has been found to lower cortisol levels.
Start a new hobby that interests or challenges you.
6. Set realistic expectations.
As stated by the University Health Service at the University of Michigan:
“Decide what you want to achieve academically, professionally and personally, and write down the steps you need to realize your goals. Aim high, but be realistic and don't over-schedule. You'll enjoy a tremendous sense of accomplishment and self-worth as you progress toward your goal.”
7. Check-in with yourself.
“You could be anxious, depressed or overly stressed and not even realize it,” writes Jamie Friedlander in Success Magazine. “Try to be attuned to your body and mind, and notice the symptoms that something might be awry.”
If you want to check in on your mental health, here are the following questions you should ask yourself:
Am I still as interested in everything I used to be interested in?
Do I feel more irritated, angry or on edge than normal?
Am I drinking alcohol more than I used to?
Has the quality or quantity of my sleep diminished?
Has my appetite changed? What about my weight?
Do I have less energy than I used to?
Have my loved ones commented on any changes in my mood or behavior?
8. Ask for help.
If you realize that you aren’t feeling well mentally, then please do not hesitate in reaching out for professional help. There’s nothing to be ashamed of speaking to a therapist or asking for a referral from someone you trust, like a friend or your primary care physician. But, if it’s an emergency please contact 911 or local emergency services immediately.