21 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health

Many people do a lot to look after their physical health. 

But they often overlook their mental health, which is just as important and is closely tied to your physical health.

One in five people suffers from mental illness, so now is the time to start making efforts to focus on your emotional wellbeing.

Scroll down to learn how you can improve your mental health and wellbeing.

21 Ways To Improve Your Mental Health

1) Learn to identify and change your negative thoughts

It’s easy to get into the habit of thinking negative thoughts, which can impact your emotional health once it becomes an unconscious habit. 

Try to be more aware and be on the lookout for negative thoughts. Once you find yourself thinking a negative thought, try to turn it around and put a positive outlook on it. 

For instance, if you’re annoyed that someone is driving slow ahead of you and are cursing them in your head, think about reasons they might be going slow, such as being a new driver, or someone who has driving anxiety.

2) Practice mindfulness

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” 

Practicing mindfulness can help you be more present in the current moment instead of worrying about the future or fixating on things in the past.

Some people like to practice mindfulness meditations, but you can also practice mindfulness in the middle of your busy day. 

Start by being aware of the sights, smells, and sounds around you, or paying attention to the taste and texture of your meal instead of rushing through it in a distracted manner.

3) Use mental health services

Mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder are increasing in prevalence in recent decades. It’s estimated that around one in five adults has a mental health disorder. The COVID-19 pandemic has also taken a toll on people’s emotional health for many reasons.

While there was more of a stigma around mental illness in the past, it is dissolving. Celebrities, athletes, and other famous people have come out to destigmatize mental health disorders, along with a shift in promoting mental health as much as physical health. 

Finding a mental health professional that you trust can be a huge help to your mental wellbeing.

4) Get regular exercise

Physical activity is a great stress reducer and is beneficial for both your physical health and emotional wellbeing. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which are hormones that help improve your mood.  

Regular exercise is proven to help reduce the symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression while improving your mood and energy levels.

Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy and that you look forward to. Walking, running, bike riding, gardening, paddle boarding, or any activity that gets your heart rate up and works your muscles can be beneficial for your mental health.

5) Practice deep breathing

In times of stress, we tend to take short, shallow breaths instead of deep breaths. Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is a technique that is often used to combat symptoms of anxiety and deal with stress, and increase mindfulness.

To practice deep breathing, try to puff your stomach out as you slowly take a deep breath in. Hold the breath for a few seconds before you slowly let it out. Repeat this several times in a row, and do it as often as you need to manage your anxiety or stress.

6) Reach out to loved ones for support

If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or just need some support, connecting with a loved one is a good coping strategy. 

No matter how introverted you might be, we all need human connection for our mental and emotional wellbeing.

7) Eat a healthy diet

Diet and nutrition play a large role in brain health, which impacts your emotional health. Eating a healthy diet full of brain health-promoting foods like fruits, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats like salmon and avocados are all associated with improved brain health.

8) Learn to cope with stress in a healthy way

It might be tempting to distract yourself from stress with things like alcohol or other substances. While it might make you feel better in the moment, it won’t help you overcome stress, anxiety, or symptoms of other mental health conditions in the long term. 

Substance abuse can lead to worsening mental health, as well as problems with your physical health.

9) Consider cutting back on caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant, which can worsen symptoms of anxiety in some people. While moderate amounts of caffeine are fine (and might even be beneficial for your overall health), excessive caffeine intake likely will do more harm than good and cause negative symptoms like a racing heartbeat.

10) Set SMART goals

If you have a lot of things you want to work on, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. To help build your self-confidence and boost motivation, try setting SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based. 

For example, instead of saying “I’m going to eat more vegetables”, a SMART goal would be “I’m going to include vegetables with dinner three times a week.”

11) Get enough sleep on a regular basis

A good night’s sleep is not only good for your physical health, but it plays a vital role in your mental health as well. 

Sleep problems tend to impact people with mental health disorders, and they may play a role in the development of these conditions as well.

12) Laughter is the best medicine

Laughing can help fight stress and improve mood by boosting endorphins in the brain. It can even benefit your immune system

Find a comedian that you enjoy, watch a funny show, or watch funny videos on the internet to get your dose of laughter and boost your mood.

13) Have a productivity planner

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your to-do list and it’s causing you anxiety, keeping a planner can help organize your thoughts and ideas.  

Planning out your tasks in an organized way can help boost your feeling of productivity and motivate you to keep getting things done.

14) Think of the things you’re grateful for

It can be tempting to compare yourself to others or think of the things you want but don’t have. Focusing on gratitude and appreciating the things you have can help improve your overall wellbeing and benefit your mental health. 

Some people even like to keep a gratitude journal and reflect on things they’re grateful for on a daily basis.

15) Take a step back from social media and overall screen time

While social media certainly has its benefits, it can also make you compare yourself to everyone else’s best portrayals of themselves. 

People who have more screen time (6+ hours per day) are more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health disorders.

16) Go off the grid from time to time

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious about your to-do list, it might be time to spend time outside and distance yourself from cell and internet service. 

Even one day without looking at emails or scrolling through social media can be beneficial, and the fresh air is good for your mind and body.

17) Spend some time with animals

Spending time with animals can be therapeutic and calming, which is why they’re used in many types of therapy. 

If you don’t have a pet but enjoy animals, consider volunteering at an animal shelter or pet sitting to get some companionship.

18) Balance a budget

Money and financial issues are common sources of stress. Keeping a budget and making financial goals can help you feel more in control and reduce the anxiety associated with your budget.

19) Pay it forward for others

Doing things for others can make you feel good. Small acts of kindness like paying for a stranger’s coffee, dropping off cookies at a neighbor’s doorstep, or donating things to a charity are all great ways to put others ahead of yourself.

20) Get some sun

Your body needs sunlight to help make vitamin D, otherwise known as “the sunshine vitamin”. 

Vitamin D plays an integral role in physical and mental health. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to fatigue and is associated with mental health disorders.

If you live in an area that doesn’t get much sunshine or spend a lot of time indoors, you might consider taking a vitamin D supplement to meet the recommended amount of 600-800 IU per day. You can safely take up to 4,000 IU daily as well.

21) Tap into your creative side

Even if you don’t consider yourself an artistic or creative person, it can be beneficial to tap into that part of your brain. 

Learning how to make a craft, coloring, or doodling can help shift your focus away from things that might be causing stress or anxiety.

Conclusion

Mental health disorders are on the rise. One in five people suffers from some sort of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, and more. 

Taking care of your emotional health is just as important as taking care of your body. But it can be easy to overlook and put on the back burner.

Now you know 21 ways of how to improve mental health, focus some time on improving your emotional wellbeing.

Setting the intention and making an effort to nurture your mental health can help boost your overall mood, handle stress better, and reduce symptoms of mental disorders like anxiety and depression. 

An added bonus is that your physical health will likely also improve when you focus on your mental health. So it’s a win-win!

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Sources

  1. Sharma A, Madaan V, Petty FD. Exercise for mental health. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/
  2. Yim J. Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. Tohoku J Exp Med. 2016. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27439375/
  3. Madhav KC, Sherchand SP, Sherchan S. Association between screen time and depression among US adults. Prev Med Rep. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5574844/
  4. Lerner PP, Sharony L, Miodownik C. Association between mental disorders, cognitive disturbances and vitamin D serum level: Current state. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2018. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29460820/
Alternative Text

Diana Gariglio-Clelland (RD)

Diana Gariglio-Clelland obtained her B.S. in Nutrition from the University of Idaho and is a Registered Dietitian with experience in the hospital, community and primary care health settings.

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