I have some questions for you. How important is health to you? What do you do to take care of your health?
Take a sec to think of all the things you do to protect your health. What comes to mind? Diet, exercise, sleep, routine medical and dental care, vitamins, fitness trackers?
How many of your health behaviors are focused on taking care of your body?
What do you do to take care of your mental health? Does that get the same level of consideration?
Here are 9 tips to help you protect and promote your mental health.
Tips for supporting your mental health and wellbeing
Fortunately, a lot of the basics that are good for our bodies are also good for our minds, but let’s hit two big ones: sleep and exercise.
1. Get enough, consistent sleep.
Sleep is one of the most under-rated tools you have for protecting your mental health. Poor sleep is associated with so many negative outcomes that it really deserves its own post. Suffice it to say that it’s really, really hard to have positive mental health and psychological wellbeing without it.
Similarly, exercise is as good for our mental health as it is for our bodies. Exercise has antidepressant and antianxiety effects on par with medications (at least for some people). Again, it’s hard to have really positive mental health if you’re not getting in movement.
Beyond those basics, here are a few other lifestyle practices to adopt to maximize your mental health and wellbeing.
3. Develop a mindfulness practice.
There are few other things that pack as powerful of a punch as mindfulness when it comes to mental health. If you’re into meditation, great, do that. If you’re not, don’t worry. It’s not your only option. If you keep in mind that mindfulness really just means paying full attention to the here and now, there are a TON of ways to practice mindfulness without meditating. Two of my favorites are brushing your teeth with the wrong hand and doing a routine activity (like washing the dishes, folding laundry, or walking) at half-speed. Both of these techniques help you get off autopilot and get into the present. It’ll feel different, trust me. Just try it out.
4. Intentionally look for the bright side.
Our brains our wired to focus on the negative, so that’s what they do unless we intentionally point them in a different direction. That’s what a gratitude practice is, pointing your brain toward the good stuff in life, and it’s a powerful strategy. The good stuff is there. We just sometimes have to look really hard. There’s no right way to do a gratitude practice. As long as you are intentionally trying feel grateful or appreciative or savoring something positive, you’re good. You can write down what went well, take a photo of the best moment of the day, or take turns sharing your daily “bright spots” with someone else.
5. Foster healthy relationships and connections.
Healthy relationships are one of the biggest contributors to psychological wellbeing. Spend time connecting in a real way with people who care about you and who you care about. And don’t neglect one of the most important relationships there is: the one you have with yourself. Make sure you’re treating yourself with kindness and compassion, just like you do with everyone else.
6. Play to your strengths.
Doing things that allow you to use your strengths helps you thrive. Similarly, embodying your values does as well. For example, if curiosity is a strength of yours, use it to learn about a new topic, a process, or a person. If you value courage, do something that challenges you.
7. Separate yourself from your mind.
This might sound a little silly if this a new concept to you, but it’s tremendously helpful. Recognizing that you and your mind are two separate entities can be really empowering. This lets you start to realize that those negative, unhelpful thoughts you’re having aren’t reflections of reality. They are not capital T Truths or commands that must be followed. They’re just your mind telling you stuff and seeing what sticks. I find saying things like, “My mind is telling me that I’m not good enough” feels VERY different than “I am not good enough.” Our Ascend program includes a lot of information and exercises along these lines, or check out Dr. Russ Harris’s book The Happiness Trap.
8. Do things that energize you.
What energizes you might be different than what energizes me, but start to pay attention. Do you feel more vital and present when you’re learning something new? Taking care of someone? Being creative? Crushing a goal? Pinpoint a few things that consistently make you feel energized, like you’re growing or expanding, and build those into your days as often as you can.
9. Get help sooner rather than later.
We all have doctors or nurses who care for us. I wish everyone viewed therapists and coaches the same way. Getting help when you’re struggling with mental health is critical, and doing so sooner rather than later is ideal because it may keep symptoms from getting worse, and you’ll suffer less. To find a therapist or provider, check with your primary care doctor or your insurance company, or you can search here, here, or here for therapists in your area.