Wanting to improve one’s mental health is not a goal ascribed to those who struggle with mental health issues. Everyone can benefit from taking care of their mental well-being because, in truth, it is a vital component of overall wellness.
Mental health is not just your emotional state. It includes your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Your mental health affects how you think, feel, and act and, consequently, how you handle stress, interact with others, and make choices. For this reason, mental health is important at every age.
Depending on where you are on your journey, taking care of your mental health can look differently. For some, it can be taking time out of the day to go for a stroll or practice a form of self-care, while for others, it can be seeking professional support and treatment.
Below are some first steps to help you improve your mental health.
- Focus on one thing at a time.
We are always busy, even when we are not. Though technological advancements have allowed for some extraordinary leaps in human understanding and learning, it has become a ubiquitous force in our lives. Regardless of the medium, we are bombarded with information and things to do. The boundary between work and life is blurred past recognition, and we are all forced to juggle multiple tasks. But, our brains cannot operate that way. In fact, you are less productive when you multitask. The reason is that you spend more time switching from one task to the other. Switching between tasks increases the time it takes you to finish one by 25%.
Aside from the productivity damages that multitasking creates, it also damages your mental health. Eventually, you will feel burned out and overwhelmed since you have depleted your reservoir of energy. Next time you have to deal with a barrage of tasks, prioritize and set a specific and realistic time for completing it. Doing this will improve your energy, make you feel less stressed, and improve how you deal with your work.
Self-care is a popular term, but many of us are not sure what it is. In general terms, it is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s health. But, I would like to say that it is a multifaceted and varied process where you consciously choose to engage in techniques and strategies that will improve your well-being by building resilience against stressors in your life. Self-care is prioritizing you– your well-being and your needs. I would like to point out that self-care is not an egotistical practice. You can be kind to others when you practice self-care. In fact, gratitude and kindness may be part of your routine.
The best way I can explain self-care is through an analogy my mom once told me. You have five segments of something (fruit or otherwise), and self-care is what weaves all these segments together to make you whole. Focusing on just one or two will drain you and make you feel a bit incomplete. So, before you begin your self-care practice, take some time to assess which areas of your life need a bit more attention and self-care. As circumstances change, so will your self-care routine.
- Be your personal hype-man/woman.
It is easy to be cynical in the face of adversity. For some, we have become accustomed to beating ourselves up or passively undermining our efforts that we find it hard to boost our self-esteem. If you find yourself in this group, I challenge you to be your own cheerleader.
Before I explain, I would like to clarify that being your personal cheerleader is not a vehicle to encourage toxic positivity. It is a way to boost your self-esteem and self-worth. To be your own cheerleader, you need to accept yourself– your messy emotions too. Allow yourself to feel discouraged, angry, or sad. Once you finish, pull yourself up. I know it sounds confusing, but the point is not to wallow in disappointment. Doing so will only create negative thought patterns. Being your own cheerleader helps you practice compassion and build a sense of self-confidence and resilience. In a world filled with cynicism, be a faithful optimist.
- Express gratitude.
In past articles, I have mentioned the many benefits of practicing gratitude on your mental health. Additionally, many studies laud the effect of practicing gratitude. Gratitude makes you feel happier and experience more positive emotions as it shifts your focus on the good–tangible or intangible. For some, it makes them feel as if they are a part of something greater than themselves. To develop a practice of expressing gratitude, you need to make space to be grateful for experiences or things of the past, present, and future.
However, when practicing gratitude, resist the urge to compare. Drawing comparisons between your situation can lead you to enforce toxic positivity.
There are many ways to practice gratitude. A great way to start is by finding small moments that bring you joy. These moments do not need to be grandiose. They can be as simple as doing laundry, talking to a friend you have not spoken to in a long time, or eating a good meal.
- Show compassion for others.
Gratitude and compassion go hand in hand. Once you have cultivated a practice of being grateful, extend that outwards. It will help you feel better about yourself and towards others. Compassion opens up the world in a way that allows you to see it at it’s best.
I do caution you against this, do not use compassion as an excuse to forget about yourself. You have to be compassion to show compassion. I know that phrase sounds like I got it from a bumper sticker–I did not, but what I mean is, that you first must practice compassion towards yourself to truly be compassionate towards others.
You already know that exercise has numerous benefits. I do not need to convince you. There are a plethora of articles explaining how working out improves your mental health. Sometimes the abundance of information is overwhelming, so I will not bombard you with information.
Although all of those articles are right, they fail to acknowledge how difficult it is for someone who is depressed to work out. I get. I’ve been there too. On this journey, you will have days where you will not want to get out of bed. It may be because you are tired or because you simply do not have it in you. It’s fine. Exercise is not a cure for depression or any other mental health issues you might be dealing with. Prioritize how you are feeling first, and if the mood strikes, go on a walk. For some people, exercise helps substantially, but for others, it does not. Do not exercise expecting to cure a mental health issue. Do it because it is something you want to do for yourself. If you decide to work out, take baby steps at first, and be realistic. Working out should serve as a complimentary add-on to whatever mental health treatment you are doing.
- Allow yourself some rest.
Rest is important. Not just for your mental health, but your general well-being. It helps you recharge and see things with greater clarity.
But, it is not limited to giving your body a rest. It also involves giving your mind a rest too.
When going through tumultuous situations, it is difficult to find rest– both mental and physical. In some ways, feeling at peace amid an emotional storm can be seen as a divine trait. But, it can be achieved, even for a moment. The easiest way to find rest is by meditating. Meditation, though it has origins in religion, can be applied in its loosest definition. Contemplate with objectivity your thoughts and feelings.
- Prioritize sleep.
Most of us overlook the significance of sleep. While sleeping, your body undergoes a recovery process that involves each core bodily system –cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and neural. There are chemical changes that occur while you are in REM sleep. Restorative sleep is vital for your overall well being.
There are many things you can do to better your sleep quality, such as eliminating electronics before bed or sticking to a sleep schedule. However, if you are having trouble sleeping, please consult a professional for help.
Deciding to improve your mental health is an important step. It is the willingness to accept and walk through change. It is a metamorphic process that never quite finishes. Along the way, you have to be kind to yourself, lend yourself to change, and never be afraid to ask for help.
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