5 Actions You Can Take Every Day To Improve Your Mental Health
I am going to be honest. Mental wellness takes work. And it’s even more work for those with mental illness. Mental wellness is an ongoing, proactive process. It’s not a linear process and there’s no final destination. Each person’s process is unique to them, their personal recipe that occasionally needs to be adjusted.
Athletes, of any type, will tell you that in order to continue to grow in their sport, their routines must be modified, often with the help of professional coaches and trainers, nutritionists and doctors. Perhaps they must increase their weights as they get stronger, or increase their protein intake to feed their muscles, or integrate more stretching for a more effective recovery. They don’t get one workout routine that works forever. Eventually they stagnate, change their goals, or become injured and they must change their recipe.
Helping patients identify the ingredients and measurements of their mental-wellness recipe is one of the most important components of therapy. Some common ingredients include psychotherapy, changing toxic thoughts, learning to set healthy boundaries, and prioritizing self-care. These are all examples of more complicated ingredients. There are some simple ingredients, however, that are beneficial to all and that you can do every, single day to improve your mental health.
1. Go outside and get some fresh air. I will take it a step further and suggest that you go outdoors without your device. Drink your morning cup of tea outside. Keep your phone in your pocket when you walk your dog. Use all 5 senses to ground yourself. What do you see? Are the leaves changing colors? Is your favorite plant blooming? What do you hear? Birds chirping? The rumbling of thunder in the distance? What do you feel physically? Is there are strong wind against your back? Is the warm sun beating on your shoulders? What do you smell? Fresh cut grass? The sweet smell of the neighbor’s flowering gardenia plant? And what do you taste? The minty taste of the gum that you’re chewing? The residual taste of that latte you were drinking? Go outside and be outside. Be aware of your surroundings. When you are observing your surroundings, it’s hard to also be ruminating over your thoughts.
2. Move your body. Relax! I didn’t say the e-word (exercise). That being said, I am a HUGE advocate of exercise for mental health and will discuss that in another blog. But movement is the opposite of being sedentary. Too often, when we are not in a good and healthy mental state, we are sedentary. It is easy for “one morning in bed” to turn into a weekend of staying in your pajamas and binge watching your favorite reality TV-series. While this can be absolutely fine (and, in some cases, a form of self-care), too much sedentariness, can be detrimental to mental health. Movement doesn’t have to be running a 5K or deadlifting a new PR. Movement can be a leisurely stroll on your lunch break, a walk to the mailbox, stretching, or meditative movement such as tai chi or yoga. Movement is linked to the production of serotonin and endorphins, the neurochemicals that help us feel good, and it’s also linked to the release of the stress hormone, cortisol.
3. Connect with another human being. One reason that the pandemic has been so detrimental to mental health is because many people were more isolated that ever. While some people are more introverted than others, we all need connection with other human beings. Connecting with others has a number of mental health benefits including a creating a sense of belonging, decreasing loneliness, reducing stress, and improving self-worth. Connection does not have to happen face-to-face. With the technology that is available to most, a telephone call or video chat can boost mood pretty quickly.
4. Be kind to someone. This is easier than it sounds. It can be a stranger, a friend, or someone in between. Express sincere appreciation to the person who checks you out at the grocery store. Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken with in some time and tell them that you’re thinking of them and wish them well. Pay someone a sincere compliment on social media. Thank your delivery driver with a cold bottle of water and a snack. Ask someone who appears to be struggling how you can help them. Donate to a cause that matters to you. It feels good to be kind to others.
5. Be kind to yourself. Sadly, for many, this may be the hardest of the five actions. Be kind to yourself in thought and in action. Speak kindly to yourself. Correct that inner-critic when it gets too loud. Compliment yourself for a job well done (even if that was getting out of bed on time). Behave kindly towards yourself. Feeling tired after that long day of work? Give yourself permission to go to bed early and leave the basket of laundry for another day. Past-due for that medical appointment? Take care of yourself by scheduling it today. Kindness matters and that is especially true for kindness towards yourself.
An indicator of mental wellness is having access to a “pantry-full of emotionally healthy ingredients.” After making a habit of integrating the five aforementioned actions, keep adding to your pantry.
If you’re interested in adding psychotherapy to your pantry, contact Dr. Pedroche for more information about availability and fit.
Author: Dr. Beverly Pedroche