Life can be hard. At one point or another, everyone battles with being sad, lonely, tired, or just feeling foggy. People these days are working more than ever, debt levels are out of control, civil tensions are running rampant through the world, and the pandemic relegated most of us to isolation for the majority of 2020. Now more than ever, taking the necessary steps to nurture your mental health is of the utmost importance.
According to a study by Mental Health America (MHA), 2020 was the 7th year in a row in which mental health issues worsened in the United States. This country has only recently realized the importance of investing in mental healthcare for its citizens, and still lacks the necessary infrastructure required to deal with mental health issues in our communities. While more needs to be done on the part of the government to increase the availability of mental healthcare, there are also some things that we can do for ourselves to try and improve our mental states on a daily basis.
Simply put, caring for your own mental health comes down to doing things that make you happy, finding activities that will help you feel engaged and fulfilled. Obviously, this is a lot easier said than done. However, if you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression, or you simply want to feel more mentally present or attuned, here are some painless habits that you can implement into your daily life that have been proven to help improve your mental health.
1. Read Books
Of course, everyone wants to just sit down and watch the latest Netflix special sometimes, especially after a long day at work. However, studies have shown that reading is a whole lot better for your brain and can seriously improve your mental health. Apparently, reading as little as 6 minutes per day can help you sleep, reduce anxiety, and increase your awareness.
When you read, your heart rate and blood pressure are actually lower. Meanwhile, new neural connections are being formed in your brain, meaning that reading not only nurtures your emotional self but also improves the health of your heart and your brain as well.
If you’re wondering what to read, the answer is that you should read whatever appeals to you. No one said you had to read a chemistry textbook or Paradise Lost. Pick up that Harry Potter book that you’ve read a thousand times already. Go curl up in a blanket with one of the Magic Tree House books if you like. Just give yourself some time to read every day and you’ll start feeling the benefits immediately.
Getting to the gym can be a daunting task. If you’re one of those people who can motivate themself to go to the gym every day, good for you! Keep it up! But, if you have trouble making it down to your local Planet Fitness, there’s an easier way to nurture your body that can have serious benefits on your mental health. Every time you stretch, your brain releases endorphins, the chemical responsible for that happy feeling you might get when you see a puppy or bite into a piece of chocolate cake. So, if you’re ever feeling down, stretching is a great way to get yourself out of that funk.
Stretching also increases the blood circulation in your body, reduces anxiety, and can markedly improve the quality of your sleep. Not to mention, if you are one of those people who goes to the gym every day, stretching will improve your workout gains as well.
You don’t have to get into any intense power yoga to start stretching. You can start by simply lifting your arms and reaching for the sky, and then bending over and trying to touch your toes. Try lying on your back and pulling your knees toward your chest. Hanging from things is also a great way to stretch out your arms and back. Whatever kind of stretch you decide to do, it’s sure to make you feel better immediately.
3. Drink More Water
A lot of people don’t give any consideration to how much water they’re taking in every day; however, the amount of water you’re drinking can have serious impacts on your physical and mental health. One study in 2018 showed that people who don’t drink enough water have a higher risk of anxiety and depression. However, another study showed that increasing your daily water intake almost always makes people feel happier.
Not drinking enough water can cause people to feel fatigued, confused, anxious, and depressed. Your brain, just like the rest of your body, needs water to function. So, give your brain what it needs and start drinking more water! You’ll instantly feel more energetic, less anxious, and your entire body will function a whole lot better.
If you have trouble remembering to drink water, get yourself a large water bottle or maybe buy one of those gallon jugs from the supermarket. Give yourself mental cues when to drink water, such as getting up to go to the bathroom, or even set alarms to remind yourself to drink water. This is such an easy thing to do, and it can have huge positive effects on your mental health very quickly.
4. Keep a Journal
Maybe you kept a diary when you were a kid and wrote down all your fears and anxieties in it. Well, the same concept can apply after you’ve reached adulthood. Writing out your thoughts can help you feel less lonely, can help you sort out complex situations and emotions, and is a great way to keep your mind focused on a single task. Just by writing about one of your sources of anxiety, you may begin to figure out how to cope with that anxiety.
Journaling has been proven to reduce stress and help people cope with depression and anxiety. By writing out your thoughts, you naturally begin to organize them, and oftentimes you naturally start finding ways to solve your problems rather than simply letting them stress you out further.
All you need to start journaling is a notebook, a pencil, and a quiet place where you can be alone with yourself. Then, just start writing down everything that comes to mind. Who knows? You might even find out that you have a great talent for writing!
5. Listen to Music
Music is entertaining, but it also has a wide range of psychological benefits. Music can relax your mind and reduce anxiety and stress, it can energize your body and make you more productive, and it can even help improve your memory retention.
If you’ve ever felt more upbeat while listening to a fast-paced summer anthem, that right there is the power of music. Find the right types of music for your different moods, and let them work their magic on your mental state. Classical music is great to listen to while you’re studying. Reggae music is great when you just want to feel lighthearted and happy. There’s even music that is scientifically proven to help you fall asleep!
Want to kick up the mental health benefits another notch? Start dancing while you’re listening to music! Dancing will increase your blood flow and cause your brain to release endorphins that will make you feel happier instantly. Another great way to reap the benefits of music is to take some time in your week to seek out a live music performance. Seeing live music is a great way to get out in the world and have new experiences, and that’s also a great way to improve your mental health.