Improving your mental health is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall quality of life. Mental health challenges can have an effect on your career, your parenting, your marriage, your spiritual life, your physical health, your finances, your social life and friendships, and more.
Having good mental health isn’t just about avoiding a mental health diagnosis. For one, only about 41% of the people in the US who have a mental health condition actually receive mental health services. That’s a lot of untreated diagnosable health issues. But secondly, you can struggle with your mental health and not technically qualify for a mental health diagnosis.
There are numerous people who may not have enough symptoms or their symptoms aren’t prolonged enough to qualify for an official diagnosis such as depression or anxiety disorder. However, we all have days where we feel overly anxious, down in the dumps, or downright moody.
The truth is that just because you don’t have a diagnosable mental health disorder doesn’t mean you have no room for improvement in your mental health. Just like there are always things you can do to improve your physical health to make your body healthier, there are many things you can do to improve your mental health. Today we will look at some things you can implement into your daily life that will help you improve your mental health, whether you have a diagnosed mental health condition or you just want to live at optimal health.
1. Practice Gratitude
I cannot stress enough, how important this one thing can be for improving your mental health. When you intentionally observe the good things in your life it shifts your focus off of all the difficult things. Get in the habit of keeping a gratitude journal to jot down three or more things you are thankful for each and every day. This is one of the most researched methods for improving your well-being, mental health, and happiness. Be thankful!
- I keep my gratitude list in my Bullet Journal so it goes with me everywhere. Read more about my Bullet Journal here.
2. Love Yourself – Keep the voices in your head positive
I’m not talking about the voices in the head of people with schizophrenia. I’m talking about your own words to your own self. Have you ever listened to the way you talk to yourself? Usually, we don’t say these things out loud, so it can be easy to let our thoughts toss around in our minds and tell ourselves we aren’t listening, don’t believe it, or it doesn’t affect us. But you do “hear” those thoughts, you do believe them, and they do have an effect.
If the voice in your head is constantly critical and negative of everything you do, the way you look, the things you say, and how you present yourself to the world, you will be holding yourself back from experiencing a full and happy life.
If you hate yourself you can’t love others. If you are constantly critical of yourself you will never accomplish your best work. If everything you say to yourself is negative you will experience a negative life.
Clean up that voice in your head. Make it the most positive and uplifting, encouraging, and supportive voice you hear.
- This post can help you understand how your thoughts and the way you speak to yourself has an effect on every area of your life.
- A growth mindset is also crucial at helping you see the positive side of failures and challenges. Read more about that in this post and this book.
3. Develop and Stick with Routines
Routines help to make life a little more predictable. When everything around you feels chaotic, difficult, and stressful, your routines help to keep you prepared, to have an anchor to hold onto and give you a sense of peace in the midst of the crazy going on around you. Routines can also help to ensure that you are getting adequate sleep, eating proper meals, exercising regularly, and keeping up with household tasks.
- Need help creating routines? Try Crystal Paine’s Make Over Your Morning or Make Over Your Evening to determine your priorities and create routines that work for your life. I’ve taken both and they are incredibly helpful.
4. Take Time to Journal
Thinking about your problems, issues, and concerns can be great, but often just thinking about things can make our problems seem worse or bigger than they are. Your thoughts swirl around your brain so fast you can’t really focus or you get stuck on a loop, thinking the same things over and over, never figuring out how to get out of the loop or how to solve your problem.
When you get your thoughts and emotions out of your head and onto some paper you can begin to calm the swirl, escape the loop, and truly see what your thoughts are, what your actual circumstances are, how those things are affecting your emotions, and it will help you begin to sort out what you can actually do about all of it.
- New to journaling? I recently created several posts on journaling that will help you get started. Why you should start a journal and how to start a journal.
5. Be Generous, Helpful, and Kind.
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Sometimes when we are going through a hard time we tend to curl up into ourselves. We focus on ourselves and our own problems and struggles. This is often really important. You can’t heal if you aren’t paying attention to what is going on. I am not suggesting that we ignore our issues and try to stuff them down by looking outward.
However, as part of the healing journey from our own problems, we can begin to help others to heal themselves. The person that is usually most affected by kindness, giving, and generosity is the giver. It feels incredible to help another person.
By being helpful and kind, it can begin to break the cycles of negativity in your life. Often, if we are struggling with our own issues and mental health we tend to lash out at others, speak more negatively and critically, frown, and act rudely. However, by intentionally deciding to be kind and generous to others we can not only improve their day but also our own.
6. Take Care of Your Physical Health
Your mind, body, and spirit are all connected and interdependent. When you are not feeling your best in one area it will have an effect on the other areas. I’m sure you’ve seen times when someone is diagnosed with a physical problem, either an injury or illness and suddenly they begin to exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. One of the causes of cancer, heart disease, and numerous other physical conditions is stress. Everything is connected.
By improving your physical health you can make a positive impact on your mental health. This means eat nutritious foods, get adequate sleep, move your body on a regular basis, and do your best to avoid toxic chemicals.
7. Surround Yourself With Positive People
Just like the voices in your head have a major effect on your mental well-being, so do the people in your life. If you are surrounded by negative, critical, drama filled people it can make it very difficult for you to live a positive and meaningful life.
There is a saying that you become like the five people you hang out with the most. Look at your closest friends, coworkers, and family members. Are their lives a reflection of the type of life you are aiming for? Do their priorities and beliefs align with yours? Do the words they say uplift you or leave you feeling down and defeated?
8. Open Up to Someone
Every single person has gone through a difficult time. If you are not currently going through a hard season you likely just got through a difficult journey or you’re about to go through one. I know that sounds negative, but it is often the reality. This doesn’t mean we need to despair, it just helps us recognize the importance of having the support we need when the inevitable happens.
If you have a trusted friend or family member that you can talk to that is great. Open up and be truthful, vulnerable, and speak openly and honestly about what you’re going through, how you feel, how it’s affecting you, and ways you might even need help.
However, oftentimes a friend or family member isn’t enough. Some people don’t have someone they can talk to, either because of the nature of the situation or they simply don’t have that kind of relationship with someone. Never, ever, ever bury your thoughts, emotions, and problems because you don’t have someone to talk to. Find someone.
There are numerous counselors and therapists available that can provide you with the help, support, and guidance you need. If you break your leg you would go to the doctor to get the help you need. Your mental health works exactly the same way.
9. Set Realistic Goals and Plans
Sometimes we can feel down or stressed because we are overwhelmed or purposeless in our lives. It can be really helpful to have some life goals and plans to help us live a life of purpose and meaning. By setting goals for ourselves, we orient ourselves to look toward a positive future instead of dwelling on the negativity in our past.
When we develop plans that will guide us in reaching our goals we are able to manage the overwhelm and focus on the work in front of us.
- Ever wonder, What Do I Want to Do With My Life? this post can help.
- This post shares how to create a plan to crush the goals you create.
10. Avoid Alcohol, Drugs, and Anything Else You Use to Numb or Avoid
Don’t skip over this one just because you don’t drink and you’ve never used drugs. The truth is that nearly everyone has something they use as a coping mechanism or buffer. When life gets hard and stressful what do you turn to in order to cope?
For many, this is food, but it could also be TV, sex, exercise, social media, video games, work, sleep, avoidance, shopping, and more. Think through the things you do when life gets hard and try to determine what you are using to help you numb, avoid, or escape the difficult circumstances and emotions.
Just because you don’t drink or do drugs doesn’t mean your negative coping mechanisms aren’t having an effect on your life. All of these things can be dangerous to your health and well-being. Instead of numbing and avoiding, we actually have to experience our emotions, work through our struggles, and confront life’s challenges head-on.
- Don’t try to”white-knuckle” it to overcome your buffers and negative coping mechanisms. Changing your behavior starts with your mind. This post explains this further.
11. Take a Digital Detox
Our phones and other devices can be an incredibly helpful tool these days. We can do amazing good, we can accomplish things we never could before, and they help us stay connected to people we would have otherwise lost touch with. However, our digital devices can also steal our joy, distract us from our own lives, flood us with negativity, and more.
Take an hour, a day, a week, or even a month away from your phone, your social media, or your devices in general. Spend more of your time looking up and out at the world around you. Go outside more. Play with your kids. Read a real book. Talk to a friend face to face. Write in a journal. Pen a letter that you actually put in a physical mailbox.
- Or this one is also great: Present Over Perfect: Leaving behind frantic for a simpler, more soulful way of living
12. Find Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress
Stress is inevitable. Many of us find ways to escape this stress through the unhealthy and negative buffers I talked about in number ten. But escaping, avoiding, or numbing our pain will never solve our problems. Burying our stress and negative emotions just leaves them pressurized and ready to explode at the most unexpected and inconvenient times.
Instead, we have to actually confront our fears, experience our emotions, and sit with the difficult times. We must use our mind to sort fact from fiction, recognize the truth from our exaggerations, and discover solutions to our difficult problems.
There are times when your stress and emotions will need an outlet. Oftentimes there is an extra energy involved in these types of emotions. For example, when you’re angry your nervous system is highly engaged and you might want to fight someone. Instead, you can go for a run. This will release the extra energy and it gives your brain a chance to think through the situation more rationally.
Channel the nerves, frustrations, and energy into productive things. When you’re feeling anxious, you might discover that baking helps to calm you down. If you’re feeling overwhelmed you might find that coloring helps you bring peace to the chaos in your mind to help you formulate a plan.
The key with each of these things is not to bury the negative or avoid it. In order to cope with our stress and problems in a healthy way, we have to experience and allow our emotions. We have to face and confront our circumstances and the role we’ve played in them. By relieving the excess pressure and energy of the emotions and chaos we feel, we can clear our minds and calm our nerves to allow us the chance to make the necessary changes to address our circumstances.
Today’s Action Step
Even if you are feeling incredibly happy and wonderful today, there are always things you can do to improve your mental health and avoid issues down the road.
Decide today which habit from the list above that you want to implement in your life to begin to improve your mental health. Begin making small steps toward improving your life and health. Little changes can add up to tremendous results.