As a society, we don’t do an outstanding job of taking care of our mental health.
Just look at anxiety disorders – they are among the most common mental health issues. More than 40 million American adults suffer from one, but only about 37% of those adults receive treatment. The numbers for depression aren’t much better, with about 17.3 million adults experiencing a major depressive episode a year.
There are many reasons why our mental health may suffer: personal or professional setbacks, financial stress, or social issues outside our control. Indeed, one of the reasons that mental health issues have become endemic is because it can feel like there’s nothing we can do to fight them.
However, there are things that we can do to encourage our mental wellbeing. Though it can feel daunting, the first step towards better mental health is to act.
- Being Honest With Ourselves About Our Mental Health
Over the last few years, the visibility of these issues has increased, and they have become a part of the public dialogue in a way they never have before.
Because more people are opening up about their issues, more people are taking steps to improve their health. However, many Americans still don’t seek out treatment even though they’re struggling.
Social factors play a significant role in this, as many Americans erroneously believe that seeking help is a sign of weakness.
Others have become accustomed to it, and don’t realize how much they are struggling.
Depression and anxiety aren’t like the flu where you’re well one day and ill the next. They develop gradually, allowing many people to ignore them until they become a serious issue.
Being honest and open about how we’re feeling is essential to detecting depression and other mental health problems early on. The sooner we recognize a problem, the sooner we can work on improving.
- Maintaining Healthy Relationships
Humans are social animals, and it is essential to our wellbeing that we keep a healthy social life. Many of us are not succeeding. Loneliness has become an epidemic, and we are suffering because of it.
Isolation encourages depression and anxiety. Its impact is so severe that some studies suggest that loneliness can shorten our lifespans by as much as 15 years, making it comparable to obesity of smoking.
So in caring for our mental health, we need to make tending to our relationships a priority. Maintaining strong connections makes us feel like part of a community, and that we have people that we can rely on. That feeling helps us to feel safe and secure, and the support of our loved ones helps us meet adversity.
- Taking Care of Our Bodies
We tend to think of our minds as the sort of incorporeal things, disconnected from the rest of our bodies. But the brain is an organ like any other, and it suffers when our health in general suffers.
The effects of regular exercise on our mental health are well documented. In addition to improving our health, regular activity releases endorphins into our system that can immediately work to improve our moods.
- Eating Right
Along the same lines as exercise, a healthy diet will also improve our overall feeling of wellbeing.
Proper nutrition, in general, will help us to feel well, which itself helps to fight anxiety and depression. If you’re feeling ill or like you have low energy all the time, you’ll be more susceptible to negative thinking.
Further, eating a balanced diet containing all the carbs, protein, and healthy fats that you need will help your body produce mood-regulating brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.
- Challenging Yourself
If there’s one thing that encourages a negative mental state, it’s the feeling of stagnation or complacency. Humans are dynamic creatures, and falling into a rut can make our lives feel dull and unfulfilling.
So one thing that can help is providing yourself with a challenge. Setting and meeting a goal makes us feel accomplished. And even if we’re doing okay overall, there are always areas that we can improve on.
Always having something to strive toward helps keep us motivated, which helps stave off negative feelings.
- Having Gratitude
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude for the good things in our lives is linked with greater happiness and better overall mental health.
In the times that we struggle, it can seem like there is no silver lining and no light at the end of the tunnel. Practicing gratitude can help us to remember that things are rarely as dark as they seem.
- Practicing Mindfulness
An easy way to encourage anxiety is to try to focus on too many things simultaneously. If you’re trying to be two places at once – or always fixated on the present rather than the future – it can feel like your not accomplishing anything.
So how to be more mindful? Many people find success with meditation. The simple act of clearing your mind is correlated with lower stress levels and improved mood.
But one thing almost all of us can work on is trying to focus on only one thing at a time. In our fast-paced society, we are frequently encouraged always to be multitasking. However, if we do this regularly, all we’re accomplishing is stretching ourselves too thin.
- Making Sleep a Priority
Science still doesn’t know what the biological purpose of sleep is. But we do know that having less sleep or lower-quality sleep can have withering effects on our mental health.
At least one study found that people living with insomnia were four times more likely to suffer depression. So trying to get longer, deeper sleep is one of the best preventative measures you can take.
- Avoiding Alcohol and Other Drugs
Unfortunately, many people who suffer from poor mental health choose to “self medicate” with alcohol or other drugs.
While these may make us feel better in the short term, they have a harmful effect in the longterm. Minimize or eliminate drug and alcohol use, and instead focus on building healthy habits or seeking professional treatment.
- Being Kind to Yourself
Ultimately, one of the many things that poor mental health will try to convince us of is that we’re not valuable or not worthy of kindness. This encourages us to not care for ourselves, which further aggravates our problems in a vicious cycle.
What being kind to yourself means will vary. It could mean taking a self-care day when you need it, or something as simple as writing positive affirmations for yourself.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health is Part of a Healthy Lifestyle
That we’re now having an open dialogue about mental health is a great thing. By acknowledging that this is an issue that many of us deal with, we can start making proactive moves to help ourselves and each other.
But taking care of our mental states is just part of our overall wellness. We all owe it to ourselves to lay the groundwork for healthy and happy lives across all fronts.
To learn more about better both your physical and mental health, remember to keep up with the latest from BBN.