Some argue that mental health is just as important as physical health; fair enough, but one could make a strong case that the former supersedes the latter. Without proper mental faculties, no level of physical prowess will overcome this weakness.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Khalil Gibran
Our state of mental health is dynamic in the sense that it affects everything every experience. For example, when our mental health is good, our job performance, relationships, and overall quality of life are good as well. When it’s suffering, we cannot effectively navigate our daily life.
As important is mental health is, it’s quite easy to take for granted. In an externally-focused world, it is easy to succumb to social pressures that place physical attributes (e.g., appearance, body weight) over the mental. Furthermore, those that do seek consolation for any mental health problems fear being stigmatized, perceived as “weak,” or otherwise being negatively judged.
The truth is that mental health problems are not a character weakness – they are a chemical imbalance in the brain. Plain and simple. Nothing less and nothing more.
We do, whether we realize it or not, have a responsibility to maintain our mental health. This responsibility should be second-to-none.
Which brings us to the topic of this article: ways to maintain and improve your mental health.
Habits That Improve Mental Health
1. Value yourself.
It’s natural to be our “own worst enemy” at times; harshly criticizing any (real or perceivable) mistake, and continually punishing ourselves psychologically.
Despite this default mechanism, make every attempt to practice some self-compassion (there are many ways of doing this, meditation among them.) Allocate time for the things that you enjoy, such as your favorite hobbies.
Put simply: do things that make you feel good about being you!
2. Care for your body.
The connection between physical and mental health is well-established. As such, it is important to take care of your body. Here are some things you can do:
- Do not smoke
- Drink a lot of water
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise
- Sleep at least 7 to 9 hours per night
- Eat a well-balanced diet; avoiding high-fat and sweet foods and drinks
3. Watch your social circle.
Not everyone is blessed to have solid family ties, which (unsurprisingly) helps with mental development. However, it’s our responsibility to allow the “right kinds” of people into our life. This means supporting family members and/or friends; as well as searching for social events that can bring good people into your life.
4. Give what you can.
You don’t need to give away half your paycheck to reap the mental health benefits of generosity. Volunteer your time and energy to help someone else; find a worthy cause you can fully support and stick with it.
5. Understand and practice stress-management.
Here’s an uncomfortable truth: some of us are atrocious at managing stress. These types of people face significant disadvantages in terms of both physical and mental well-being.
Several structured stress-management systems exist, and many of them are quite effective. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program is one worth mentioning. There are also plenty of simple stress-reduction techniques that can help, such as moment-to-moment mindfulness.
6. Silence your mind.
Our minds possess exceptional powers. Unfortunately, our minds can also be a liability. We can develop habits such as overthinking that threaten our mental states. As such, it’s important to practice techniques to counteract our “monkey mind.” Among them: mindfulness, prayer, deep breathing, relaxation techniques.
7. Look at your job
Job-related mental health problems are attributed their inherent stressful requirements. Certain professions, according to health.com, are associated with higher levels of depression (e.g. nurses, teachers, salespeople).
Should you suspect that your job is taking a dramatic toll on your mental health, it may be time to consider your options. Not many jobs are fun, but they shouldn’t be stressful as to threaten your mental stability.
8. Get rid of alcohol and other drugs
Sure, booze and pills can offer some temporary stress relief. However, when this behavior becomes habitual, it manifests into some other severe problems.
The challenge lies in making people “see the light” when it comes to alcohol and drug use. More specifically, that the long-term consequences of their use are NOT worth it.
9. Shake things up
Monotony is an inductor of stress. When we do the same thing, day in and day out, accumulated stress can pose a (sometimes severe) threat to our mental health. Find a way to mix in something enjoyable, or find ways to “switch up” your approach to work, hobbies, and other routine activities.
10. Get some help
In the U.S., many employers offer something called an employee assistance program, or EAP. EAP is designed to help employees “with personal problems and/or work-related problems that may impact their job performance, health, mental and emotional well-being.” Other advanced countries offer something similar.
Regardless if it’s a board-certified psychiatrist or someone you look up to, find an outlet. Remember: getting help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength and courage.