Maggie Klyce, LICSW, PIP, CEDS
10 Tips For Improving Mental Health and Well-Being
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to focus on ways to improve overall mental health and well-being. When it comes to our mental health there are things we can’t change, such as our genetic vulnerability, and some that may be hard to change, such as current life circumstances. However, we can take steps to reduce the intensity and impact of mental health issues. Here are 10 things we can do:
1. Daily Positive Event Schedule: When struggling with issues related to depression or anxiety, it can be challenging to identify things that are enjoyable. Try to schedule something daily that at one time you found to be enjoyable. This does not have to be elaborate but could be something simple like taking a bubble bath or watching a funny tv show. Try to commit at least 20 minutes a day to scheduling a positive event.
2. Gratitude: When we get caught up in anxiety and depression it can cause an experience of tunnel vision where we focus on things that are going wrong or could go wrong. When we focus on gratitude, it works to help widen the lens through which we are seeing things. Try to identify at least 3 things a day for which you are grateful.
3. Connection: Social connection is a major contributor to reducing our vulnerability to anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. In fact, social connection is so powerful that it can even lengthen our lives and improve our immune system. The pandemic has posed challenges with connection but work on trying to initiate a game night via zoom or get together with friends outdoors.
4. Get Outside: This is the perfect time of year to enjoy being outdoors. There is an added benefit of the boost to our mental health. There was a study which showed that when participants walked outside in nature (versus in an urban setting) there was decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is associated with rumination, which is when we get stuck in a playback of negative thoughts. Being outdoors also calms the fight or flight response which is important when we are talking about anxiety and PTSD.
5. Movement: If you are working on recovery from an eating disorder, be sure to check with your team first to make sure you are at a place where this is appropriate for you. Work on engaging in a form of movement that feels good to your body and is enjoyable, not something you feel you “should” be doing. Movement can be a natural mood booster and improve sleep and memory.
6. Find a Routine: Whether it be heaviness of depression making it difficult to get out of bed, the constant loop of anxious thoughts leading to procrastination, or the fear rooted in trauma preventing you from accomplishing daily tasks, routines are often one of the first pieces to go when it comes to mental health issues. Identifying and re-establishing a routine is an important way we can reduce the impact of mental health issues. We may need to reassess what a realistic routine looks like given our current level of struggle and continue to tweak it as needed. Begin by establishing a regular bedtime and waketime and add on as is appropriate from there.
7. Volunteer: Volunteering and helping others can have a similar effect as practicing gratitude. It helps us move from the tunnel vision of our problems to viewing a larger picture. It is a double win as it is beneficial to those we are supporting and can boost our mood as well as our sense of purpose.
8. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness does not have to simply be sitting there and meditating on our breath. We can bring mindfulness to everyday tasks such as when practicing the skill of one-mindfully. This skill involves being fully present with what we are doing at that moment (it could be driving, doing the dishes, taking a shower, etc.) Simply notice when your mind begins to wander and bring it back to the task at hand once you recognize it. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to result in changes in the brain reflecting decreased stress and increased ability to regulate our emotions.
9. Identify and Connect to Values: Taking stock of what our values are can help us explore various avenues of action we can take to closer connect to a life of purpose. When we are taking committed actions towards living by our values, we can strengthen a sense of purpose and accomplishment which are both powerful in reducing our vulnerabilities to mental health symptoms.
10. Take Care of Physical Health: The mind-body connection is very real. If we are neglecting our physical health, we are placing ourselves at risk for greater issues with our mental health. Make sure you keep regular checkups with your doctor, take medications as prescribed, get adequate nutrition, get enough sleep, and keep up with basic hygiene.
Let us know which ones work best for you in improving mental health and well-being!