You were likely taught at a young age how to maintain your physical health. You were told to exercise, eat clean, and steer clear of junk food. Mental health and self-care, however, received less attention.
Fortunately, discussing mental health in today’s world is less stigmatized than in years past, with many prioritizing it as highly as they do their physical health. For example, in a 2015 survey by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 90 percent of Americans indicated they valued mental health and physical health equally.
As with physical health, tending to mental health is an ongoing process and can be improved with simple daily practices. Here are 10 suggestions to get started.
1. Eat Breakfast
Eating a healthy breakfast consisting of protein and healthy fat (e.g., avocados, nuts) can benefit both your waistline and your mood. A 2017 study found that participants who reported that they always ate breakfast exhibited fewer depressive symptoms than those who reported that they sometimes or seldom consumed breakfast. Opt for low-sugar, mood-boosting options such as an egg and half an avocado, or oatmeal with berries and walnuts. If you’re short on time in the mornings, a banana with peanut butter and chia seeds is a quick and healthy breakfast option.
2. Practice Mindful Breathing
Anyone who has ever practiced yoga or mindful breathing can attest to how much better it can leave you feeling, both physically and mentally. Yoga is a great practice for connecting the breath to movement (think mind-body connection), but even just a few minutes of simply breathing mindfully can benefit your mental health.
Mindful breathing consists of bringing your attention to your breath. Set aside a few minutes daily to observe your breath, either lying down or sitting, with eyes open or shut. If you find your mind constantly wandering (which is entirely normal), try counting your breaths (i.e., breathe in for four seconds, hold for three seconds, breathe out for five seconds). With practice, you’ll find it easier to bring your attention from your wandering thoughts back to your breath. Remember, practice is key!
3. Move for 10 Minutes
Set aside at least 10 minutes every day to get your body in motion. It can be as simple as walking, gentle stretching, going up and down stairs, or playing with your pet. If you choose, you can eventually work up to 20–30 minutes of activity, perhaps trying something more strenuous like swimming or a workout class. But if you can only stick to 10 minutes of gentle movements, your mind will still thank you for it. Bonus benefits if you can move around outside and soak up a little vitamin D—another mood booster!
4. Add More Fruits and Veggies to Your Diet
Diet plays a big role in how you feel. Foods that are processed or high in refined sugar can trigger mood swings and fuel anxiety. Fruits and vegetables, in particular, contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can boost your mood. A 2016 study found that increasing fruit and vegetable consumption predicted greater happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being.
Moreover, a study examined the link between fruits and vegetables and mental health, including cognitive impairment and the development of anxiety and depression, of Mexican Americans. Researchers found that participants who consumed five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day were less likely to have anxiety and cognitive impairment. (No association, however, was found between intake and depression). Some raw foods that may benefit mental health include the following:
- Citrus fruits
- Fresh berries
- Dark, leafy greens such as spinach
5. Think of One Thing You’re Grateful for
Research shows that practicing gratitude can make you happier. You can practice gratitude in a number of ways, such as writing a thank-you note, starting a gratitude journal, or volunteering.
If you want to incorporate gratitude into your daily routine, a great place to start is to think of one thing you’re grateful for each day. It can be as simple as the cup of coffee you make in the morning. Practice this around the same time each day so it can become a habit. You also may want to jot it down so that you can see everything you have to be grateful for.
While there are many advantages to technological developments, your mental health can benefit from spending less time scrolling and searching. Devices such as phones and tablets can be incredibly stimulating. Disconnecting from your screens, even for just a few minutes a day, provide you with a much-needed mental break.
Allow yourself a designated amount of time each day to disconnect from all forms of technology. This includes checking work emails, social media, and texting—anything involving a screen. Perhaps you wait until you’re at the office to turn on your phone, or you could disconnect during lunch. Also, be mindful of extended periods of time when you find yourself aimlessly scrolling. Those might be the best moments to disconnect.
7. Read Before Bed
Does your bedtime routine consist of scrolling through social media on your phone or falling asleep to Netflix? These stimulating activities can interfere with your sleep quality, in addition to keeping you awake longer. For better quality sleep, swap out the electronics for a good book. This doesn’t have to feel like a punishment! Make it an enjoyable experience. Light a candle, play soft music, or make a cup of tea to enjoy while reading.
Tip: Keep electronics in a separate room at bedtime so that you aren’t tempted to use them.
8. Wake Up at the Same Time Every Day
Your body and mind respond well to routines. By waking up around the same time each day and allowing plenty of time to get ready, practice self-care, and eat breakfast, you set yourself up for a great day. You’ve had mornings where you overslept, rushed to get ready, and then felt lingering anxiety the rest of the day. Avoid those mornings by making time to tend to your mental health, starting when your alarm wakes you up every morning.
9. Allow Yourself to Enter Vacation Mode
Think back to the last vacation you took. What was it that made you feel so relaxed? Was it the break from work? Disconnecting from social media? The time spent with loved ones? The early morning walks to get coffee?
Incorporate a few minutes of whatever relaxes you on vacation into your daily routine. Maybe you spend more time chatting with friends and family. Or you treat yourself to coffee at your favorite coffee shop. While it may not be realistic to completely disconnect from work matters like you can on vacation, you can allow yourself little breaks throughout the day. The point is to incorporate more calm into your day, just as you do when you’re on a beach vacation.
10. Reach Out
Maintaining good mental health is crucial to your overall sense of well-being. Reaching out to friends and family when you’re feeling low can provide you with a much-needed reminder that you’re supported and cared for. Your social network also serves as a barrier against the harmful effects of stress.
If you find that you’re still struggling, and lifestyle changes aren’t making much of a difference, you may benefit from speaking with a professional. People often mistakenly think they need to wait until their mental health is really suffering before seeking help, but the truth is, a mental health counselor can help you restore your balance and well-being before you hit crisis mode, in the same way a personal trainer can help you tune up and prevent major health issues. The extra encouragement and support can make a big difference in how you’re feeling.
Remember to start small. You can always build on these suggestions. Improving your mental health means doing more of what feels good so practice techniques that you find both nurturing and enjoyable.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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