One thing that is not stressed often enough is the importance of maintaining a healthy state of mind regardless of a person’s current mental health. Too many people wait until things get “bad” before considering how they might be able to improve their daily routine to get out of a rut, or even address something potentially more worrying.
Just as we should brush our teeth, take the time to shower regularly and change our clothes, there are several ways to employ preventative care against the development of mental health problems. Here are several daily or weekly habits you can employ to stay sane and stay safe.
Take Breaks from the Internet
Frequent browsing and time spent on social media often affects us more than we might realize. Whether it’s FOMO, too much time wasted being inundated with certain kinds of content, or any of the other deleterious effects related to long periods of web browsing, too much time spent in front of the computer (or the TV, or game console) is not healthy for your mind, not because these things cause mental health problems, but because they’re more likely to help you avoid addressing them to begin with.
Be sure to take frequent breaks throughout the day to get up and walk around but take a weekly or monthly break from the internet altogether for a day or two, if your professional life can afford it. Making it a habit to take day in the weekend to ignore your emails, ignore Facebook and Twitter, and stay off your PC or mobile phone can make a difference in your state of mind and can give you more time to focus on other things.
Watch Something Funny
Comedy is healthy, and a good laugh can be genuinely good for your health. Humor is a strange thing, but it undoubtedly serves a purpose, mostly to relieve stress. Regularly laughing can greatly reduce the immense pressure life often has on us.
Maybe consider dedicating one night a week to picking out a movie, show, or piece of media that genuinely makes you laugh. Even better, invite some friends over and enjoy it together, or spend some time playing a board game that’s sure to get you riled up and rolling around laughing, from classics like UNO, Jenga and Monopoly to newer choices like Cards Against Humanity.
Listen to Music That Calms or Excites You
The research on music and its effects on the psyche is thorough and exhaustive, with a surprising result: people respond to music very differently, and the emotional impact music may have on you seems to be hereditary to a degree. In other words, sitting back and relaxing in a bath tub or by a window with a view and a pair of earbuds isn’t something that everyone would find effective as a way to cheer up, calm down, or generally find peace.
If you’re particularly enthusiastic about music, then using it as a way to help deal with bouts of anxiety or feelings of sadness can be surprisingly effective. There are also professionals working on utilizing music therapy to help individuals with mental illnesses not only learn how to use an instrument but utilize the art of making music (or just listening to it and/or singing alone) to deal with depressive symptoms or anxious thoughts and feelings.
Not only does a healthier body often lead to a healthier mind, but regular exercise involves a frequent release of endorphins, generally making you feel happier, more confident, and more comfortable in your own skin.
The trick is to find a form of exercise you enjoy. Instead of arbitrarily signing up for classes at your local gym or buying a membership with no real interest in hitting the treadmills or the weight room, try an alternative like dancing lessons, going swimming, joining a rowing club, learning to ride a sailboat, skiing, martial arts, climbing, and more. Don’t make massive commitments – try to get moving once a week, and increase your plans bit by bit.
Address Diet Issues
What you eat can have a serious effect on your mental health. A good diet not only keeps you healthy, but it can contribute to your gut health and mental state. Unknown food allergies, too little/too much food, and an unhealthy relationship with food (eating disorders or stress eating) are all factors that need to be taken into consideration. Not getting the nutrients you need (from omega-3 to B12) may be making an impact on your emotional health as well.
However, beware falling into the trap of worrying excessively about the food you put on your plate. Keep it simple, with a balanced diet composed of a variety of vegetables, a few staples, and a healthy source of protein (locally-sourced lean meats and fatty fish).
Improve Your Sleep
Sleep is crucial, and it’s clear that many Americans aren’t getting enough of it. Prioritizing sleep can be difficult when we’ve made it a habit to carry our phones on us and maintain productivity late into the day with caffeine supplementation, but if you want to help your mind, you’ll want to improve your sleep. Adopt these tips if you’re having trouble getting a full night’s rest, or trouble falling asleep:
- Stop using any technology about an hour before bed. Read a book, take a bath, or just close your eyes until you drift away.
- Avoid coffee in the afternoon. The half-life for caffeine (at which point less than 50% of it is left in your system) is 5-6 hours, and more for pregnant women/people with liver problems.
- Use a weighted blanket. This can help you fall asleep.
- Speak to a doctor about sleeping aids. These can range from melatonin to Benadryl.
See a Professional
Many mental health issues develop regardless of our set routines or preventative measures, either due to overwhelming stress or something we are born with. These tips can help most people maintain a healthier state of mind, but when facing a possible diagnosis of a disorder, the first thing you should consider is when your earliest possible appointment with a mental health professional should be.
However, alongside medication, therapy, and other mental health treatments, simple tips like regularly exercising, avoiding excessive media exposure, and spending more time laughing can genuinely make an impact on your overall mental health and drastically improve your state of mind. Don’t rely on a single solution – just as you should consider your health in its entirety, consider how several different changes in your life can compound together to produce a powerful effect over time.
Another important tip is to keep track of your progress. Whether through logs, journals, or something more convenient like an app, it’s important to have a record you can follow to see how your feelings and state of mind are changing over the course of your treatment (or ever since you’ve started adopting new behavior). Many mental illnesses make it very difficult to recognize and acknowledge progress, especially over a long period of time. Any evidence you can look back on to see how far you’ve come can greatly improve your mood and your motivation to keep going.