“The experience I have had is that once you start talking about [your mental health struggles], you realize that actually you’re part of quite a big club.” — Prince Harry
I love talking about mental health and I find it quite helpful and needful to talk about mental health with my clients, colleagues, friends and family alike. The underlying fact is that every single one of us can benefit from focusing more on our mental health. But how do we do it?
Let’s start with the basics here, so we are on all the same page. What is mental health? According to a government website, dedicated mental health, mental health is our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Our mental health affects how we think, feel, and act and even determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. The kicker? Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood into adolescence, and all the way through adulthood. Focusing on our mental health is especially important as adults because, at that point, no one can do it for us. We are in complete control of getting the time/care/attention/help we need to improve our mental health. I want to share some ideas to get us started:
- SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP. Proper sleep affects all aspects of our life–our overall mood, our ability to make decisions, our productivity…even our weight is influenced by how much we sleep. Last year, a STUDY was published showing that sleeping less than six hours per night for just one week resulted in changes in 700 genes in the human body. Although researchers do not understand the full ramifications of these changes, it is clear that there is an impact on our immune system, stress response, and an increase in inflammation. So if/when our mental health seems to take a backseat to the demands of the day, let’s sleep on it. Literally!
- Eat well. Our bodies have a biological need for certain calories ingested in order to function. We need a well-rounded diet full of nutrient-rich foods to fuel and sustain our bodies. We may get headaches from not eating enough substantial, nutritious foods, or from not drinking enough water. When we give our body the food it needs, it positively impacts our mental health, how we feel about ourselves, others, and the world around us. Eat good food. We are what we eat, right?!?
- Exercise. Shocker, right?! I know I refer to the benefits of being active in many of my blog posts, but there is a reason for that! A research done by Indiana University in USA, concluded that exercise often serves to maintain mental health in individuals who are already healthy as well as having therapeutic benefits for those who are suffering with depression or anxiety. Experts say that a mere 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week is enough to give our mental health a boost. Regardless of whether we do 10 minutes here or there, or 30 minutes all at once, simple activities like jogging, walking, cycling or swimming will do wonders for our mood when done consistently!
- Get outside. Studies are repeatedly showing that being outside has positive psychological and physiological benefits. Ecotherapy (also known as green therapy, nature therapy, and earth-centered therapy) is contact with nature and is a powerful new kind of therapy. Being in nature has been found to be just as effective against depression as traditional psychotherapy or medication! And the amazing thing about ecotherapy is that it is free and accessible to anyone at any time! Sunlight, fresh air, and natural beauty are good for our mental health. Get outside and try it!
- Self-care. When we take the time to do something for ourselves, it helps increase our self-awareness, which makes us feel like we matter and are worthy of love. Self-care boosts our self-esteem and gives us literal energy to carry on. Self-care is very fluid–for some it might be running, hunting, or painting. For others it may be seeing a therapist, baking, or organizing. Self-care is essential to our mental health!
- Unplug. We have all been there–we spend too much time scrolling and wind up feeling bad about ourselves…our body, our relationships, our life, our home, our family, our job, etc etc. Bottom line: Once tech starts having a negative impact on our mood, we know it is time to take a break. This may mean stepping away from social media, limiting our time on the internet, not immediately picking up our phones first thing when we wake up, etc. Let’s try to unplug from technology a little bit and have healthier limits there. Then we can see how it truly improves our overall mental health.
- Find your zen. For many people, this means journaling. Writing daily in a journal is a great way to vent. It helps to get clarity about any doubtful thoughts clouding our mind, thus helping improve our mood. Another great option is meditation. Start small, like finding a place where you feel peace. It could be in your backyard, a nearby park, your bedroom, or simply a place you imagine going. Then, focus on breathing in and out, as you notice the sights, sounds, smells and other pleasant sensations in your peaceful place. This simple exercise connects the body, brain, and spirit, and prepares us for a successful day. Apps like HeadSpace or Calm may also be helpful.
- Talk about it. This may seem like a strange suggestion to boost mental health, but let’s think about it. How many times have we felt overwhelmed, frustrated, tired, behind on life…and we don’t tell anyone? We act like we have everything together and that things are peachy. Imagine if we talked with a trusted individual about the small signs that our mental health were to be struggling. If we talked about that more regularly, there would be much less stigma surrounding mental illness. The more conversations we have about our mental health, the more we will invite others to do the same, and thus we will be able to buoy each other up when we are down!
This list is not new or novel. The key to all of these recommendations is to do them regularly. Repeatedly. Try to give the body the sleep/food/exercise, etc it needs regularly. Then we can step back and consider how significantly these simple suggestions have improved our mental health over time. The hustle of everyday life will surely bring stressful moments and worries. The trick is to establish healthy habits and routines that will counter the stress, thus helping maintain our mental health throughout life. We all deserve to be healthy!
Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.
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