Today’s article ‘8 habits to improve mental health’ is all about how, with simple tips, can we create a routine that will promote good mental wellbeing. They are simple and easy steps that I gather from my own experience and readings, that helped me going out from my dark place and still now helps me keep it up. We often try to look after our bodies and tend to forget to take care of our mind and emotions. We ignore the importance of mental health and how it can impact our physical health.
How is mental health seen in our society?
“Being fit to work”, “Are you ill today?”, “Have you slept enough?”. They are expressions directed to our physical health. We are rarely asked: “How are you feeling today?”, “How are you emotionally?”, “Are you happy?”. Sometimes we might be aware that we’re not fit to work due to emotional/psychological reasons. But we almost always suppress that and we may even feel ashamed to admit it.
When we’re not feeling good mentally and emotionally, it will impact negatively several spheres of our life. As a result, the feeling might become amplified with a snowball effect.
We, as a society, tend to accept better that one can be emotionally imbalanced when suffering from physical illness. After all, it is normal that someone is grumpy or stressed when having a toothache. But are we that understanding when someone is physically imbalanced as a consequence of an emotional issue, such as depression or anxiety? We are far more dismissive with the second option, especially in a work context.
The mental health taboo
It is incredibly important to consider our emotions and mental health as a part of the process of minimum self-care and self-love. If we’re not ok, we won’t be able to do things to our full potential, and we won’t be as good as we could be. Mental health is essential for our wellbeing.
We should talk more about it, support each other on this and create a web where it becomes increasingly comfortable to admit that we’re struggling, that we could do with some help…
That it is ok not to be ok!
Unlike in the UK where mental health’s topic is more openly spoken and there’s more structural support (including at work), I come from a place where this is still a taboo. People, especially men, are still in denial when admitting mental health struggles. It might be a consequence of a still incredibly strong patriarchal society that also dictates that men can’t cry or show their feelings. Likewise, there are many other places that share the same lack of support.
8 habits to improve mental health
I believe that simplicity is often the right way to go. Stop seeking for a great change overnight, or looking for that antidote that will cure you like a miracle. Try instead to construct the foundations, and build it up from there a solid and strong structure. Instead of only seeking for a solution we should try to prevent a problem. These habits might sound silly, too simple, pointless, useless. They won’t change you overnight and it might take even months for you to see the difference (that’s how it happened to me). But see it this way: if you cut yourself and don’t treat it straight away, your wound will infect and become nasty. If you decide to, then, disinfect it for a couple of days only, it won’t make any difference. However, if you do that every day, from the very first moment, the cut will be gone before you know it.
I should do a disclaimer that I’m not a specialist and I have no background in psychology or psychiatry. This ‘8 habits to improve mental health’ is a compilation of knowledge from a lot of readings, self-experience and experiences from very dear people who have been through similar struggles.
#1 To sleep well
The first and incredibly important step is to sleep well and to have enough rest: never underestimate the power of a rested mind and body! Ever since I stopped having frequent insomnia, my mood, my energy, my clarity of thoughts improved, and the depressive spiral decreased. You don’t need to suffer from insomnia to feel the consequences of poor sleep hygiene. Things like using the phone or computer just before sleeping or right when you wake up, the room temperature, the time you wake up and go to sleep and a lot of other factors can affect massively your sleep quality. Be aware of how you sleep and try to create and maintain a good sleep hygiene routine.
#2 Listen to your body and to your mind
Listen to your body, to your mind. Don’t push yourself into places you don’t want to be in, and avoid such stress. Don’t overcharge yourself: know your limits and embrace them. If you’re tired stop and have a rest, if you don’t like a certain environment don’t force yourself by sticking around, etc. Work on your confidence to recognize your limits and act on it.
#3 Surround yourself with the people you love
Surround yourself with the people you love and that make you feel good. Being surrounded by those we love can change our life. They can distract you, support you, make you laugh, guide you, keep company, listen to you, etc. Nevertheless, you don’t need to sacrifice the time you might need for yourself. “Me times” can be very important and constructive, and personally I often need them to be balanced. But it’s important not to be isolated, and have amazing people around you.
#4 Eat well
Eating well & healthy whole foods will help your body and your mind, give you balance, energy, and life quality. Especially eating enough of it: not too much not too little. Wholefoods provide us with the necessary nutrients for our body and mind, to allow us to function well and to thrive. Food has also a lot to do with our emotions, memories and senses. They often can provide us with comfort, transport us to good memories or good feelings. Keeping a healthy relationship with food and, simultaneously feeding our body with the best nutrients, can only do us good.
Meditation and also yoga can be incredibly beneficial to our mental health and body. As much as a cliche as it may sound, they are incredible anti-stress treatments. They help you to be calm, eased, relaxed, and provide you with joy and happiness. You’ll feel more grounded, more synchronized with your body, with yourself. They often include breathing exercises which are known to enormously benefit our health. Although meditation doesn’t happen like is traditionally thought (going straight to a trance state), it will help you to just stop. To organise your ideas, feelings, and to have a moment where your mind isn’t working on 150 mph.
#6 Move your body
Moving our body can benefit you not only physically but mostly emotionally. I don’t mean necessarily a hard workout. A small walk will do the job. You’ll feel energised and your attention will zone out from your daily concerns, not to mention that your health and life quality will improve.
Physical activity promotes the production and release of endorphin which is a hormone and a chemical substance that have a strong analgesic action and stimulates the feeling of well-being, comfort, better mood, joy. This is another reason why physical movement is highly recommended especially when you are with poor mental health (depression, sadness, anxiety, etc.)
#7 Complain less
A very simple thing we can do daily is to complain less! If you do introspection about how many times you complain per day, you would probably be surprised. I taught myself into being alert so I could try to avoid the almost subconscious tendency of complaining. The truth is that in a short period of time doing this exercise, I could already notice how much that was affecting my mood, and consequently my days. We might even have all the reasons in the world to complain but it doesn’t do us any good, hence why we should remove/change this habit.
#8 Morning affirmations
Final and one of the most important of the 8 habits to improve mental health: write your morning affirmations! Starting the day on the right note makes all the difference. Why not dedicate the morning to create a new healthy habit? A moment where you refer to yourself kindly, where you put positive messages into your life, into the universe? When you visualize a happy future? Create a space where there’s only room for positivity. It will be the moment when you make a positive introspection about the good things in your life. When you make your wishes for the future and when you design happy goals for yourself along with the strategies of how to get there. I will writte up an article only dedicated to morning affirmations, explaining how I do them and providing more detailed information about their benefits.
Our life should be full of joy, love, and respect, even with all the ups and downs which make it more exciting and allow us to grow. We should have the strength to overcome the adversities, to see the bright side of everything. And that is not there regardless. Mental health is a topic that we’ve explored before in ‘To Real Life’. I would highly recommend you to read the inspiring articles ‘How to deal with my personal shadows‘ from dear Lisa, and ‘The pursuit of Happiness‘ from dear Prospero. We have to work out our mental health, maintain it, just like we work out our muscles. Keeping our strength and mental health is a constant exercise.
I hope today’s ‘8 habits to improve mental health’ help you to overcome some struggles and to make an actual positive change in your life. You don’t need to be going through a rough moment in order to apply these tips. It works like a mental health hygiene routine that helps to change and switch some harmful rooted patterns. Anyone can benefit from them. Enjoy it and be happy 🙂