9 Tips For Improving Mental Health: New Year, New Goals
Author: Hannah Zwemer | Published:
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Improve Your Mental Health With These 9 Suggestions
Just like that, another year’s “Holiday Season” chapter closes. Trees are undecorated, menorah’s stowed, lights de-strung, and many find themselves caught between feelings of letdown as life returns to its everyday monotony and excitement by the space and fresh perspective a new year brings. The start of this new year, 2022, holds countless opportunities, experiences, and provides us the perfect excuse to contemplate what it is we’re looking to manifest in the coming months like a healthier mental state and overall wellness. As we continue to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, though life is slowly becoming more sustainable, it is increasingly important to maintain a special awareness for mental health and wellness, both for ourselves and others.
In a poll taken by the American Psychiatric Association, it’s been reported that nearly 67 million adults in the US (26%, more than 1 in 4) plan to improve their mental health in the new year. With intentional practices such as meditation (53%), seeking a therapist (37%), taking a break from social media (35%), and journaling (32%), Americans are wanting to prioritize and promote a healthier state of being for their most important functionality: the mind. Considering 1 in 5 Americans lives with mental illness, a resolution to purposefully boost and maintain mental health (rather than self-medicating or turning to substances) is a great way to start the year.
Looking to improve your mental health this year? Check out the following suggestions.
Eat A Healthy, Nutritious Diet
Many studies have shown that a balanced diet with lots of colors and varying food groups and textures helps to regulate the chemicals in the brain that are responsible for our cognitive functioning as well as the way we feel. For example, many scientists believe that 95% of serotonin (a chemical that stabilizes mood) is produced by bacteria found in the gut. To promote optimal brain function, dietitians suggest eating lots of vegetables and fruits in addition to foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (nutrients that the body does not produce automatically) as they have been found to interact with other chemicals that alter and affect mood.
As much as it can feel like the very last thing you want to do, getting your blood pumping and sweating out some toxins can boost your mood significantly. It could be as simple as going for a walk outside or dancing in your living room. Maybe you’re looking for something a bit more rigorous like running or an activity with proven scientific influence on overall health, like yoga. When our bodies partake in varying forms of exercise, we produce those “feel good” chemicals like dopamine, which combat stress and anxiety and improves our mood and outlook significantly. The hardest part is simply starting.
Determine Your Self-Care Needs
How many times have we heard, “you can’t pour from an empty cup?” More recently an emphasis has been made on the importance of discovering and establishing a self-care routine wherein individuals set aside time to not only check in with themselves, but to partake in healthy, healing activities that calm the mind and ease the senses. For some it might be a coloring book or curling up with a novel, for others it might mean gathering friends for a board game night or having a candlelit bath. Maybe it is as simple (and painfully complicated) as setting boundaries with certain relationships in your life. Whatever it is, by making time to put yourself and your needs first, the mind can reach a state of equilibrium where daily functioning becomes easier and maybe more enjoyable. One simple (and free!) thing to try is to start every day with a mental examination and question(s): “how am I feeling today? Have I been kind to my mind and body?”
The act (or practice) of purposeful presence, while challenging and possibly overwhelming at first, has been shown to calm and quiet the mind. The idea is to release any and all judgement and simply be. There are many online courses and phone apps that can teach you how to begin a mindfulness practice so that you might take respite in the minute intricacies of the everyday. The ability to be intentionally present leads to a better understanding of your emotions, a stronger awareness and management of difficult thoughts and feelings, and improved attention span, concentration and decision-making, among other benefits.
Volunteer Or Find Service Work
Often, it feels too easy to succumb to the darkness inside our own minds, nearly blind to the world around us. Researchers have found that taking the time to help another (be they elderly, children, animals, etc.) has profound impacts on our mental health. Because humans are social creatures, volunteering not only makes us feel “warm and fuzzy,” but also provides that interpersonal connection with other people. As the social structure of today’s world is in a constant state of influx due to the pandemic, more people have been turning to the internet to discover remote or otherwise safe ways to participate and engage within their communities. Try a quick search of “safe or remote volunteer options near me.”
Limit (Or Intentionally Moderate) Social Media
As nice as it is to have instant gratification, communication, and connection with only a few taps of a finger, social media can also poorly impact one’s mental health. Not only do these icons entice phone owners to spend more time looking down instead of out into the present world, they also can cause feelings of comparison and resentment toward those we see online. So frequently does it seem that everyone else’s lives are better and more put together than our own that we tend to forget that social media depicts a highlight reel. Nobody’s days are filled with 100% sun and smiles, no matter what their profile shows. While there are increasingly more users posting raw, honest, and relatable content, it is still good to decide your personal limits with non-work phone time.
There is significant research that shows a positive relationship between the act of writing and manually processing one’s thoughts and improved mental conditions such as mood and overall wellbeing. The greatest part? There really is no right or wrong way to journal; simply being with yourself and your thoughts, ideas, fears, worries, and joys and recording them can significantly improve your relationship with yourself. By clearing your mind of the clutter and placing it somewhere outside of your own head, you may be able to see and understand your thought processes and patterns more effectively.
Find A Therapist/Doctor To Speak With
Therapy can work wonders for many a mind malady. As stigma continues to decrease surrounding the legitimacy of mental health (especially amidst the crisis of COVID-19), many are seeking the assistance of a trained professional. Many therapists are offering online services for those not comfortable attending in person and there are numerous sites such as ZocDoc and Psychology Today that aid in finding providers best suited to your needs regarding insurance coverage, availability, and preferred location.
Limit Alcohol Intake
Considering the fact that alcohol interacts so heavily with the brain and the more you drink, the more intoxicated you feel, limiting the amount of booze you’re consuming could significantly benefit your mental health and overall wellbeing. Intoxication might feel good on occasion, but there are numerous risks, especially when drinking as a coping mechanism or “self-medicating.” Substances of any kind only calm or quiet the mind temporarily. Like a band-aid over a gushing wound, it might feel like it’s helping when in reality, it hinders the overall progress of healing. Be smart and honest with your alcohol intake and try to be intentional with your decisions—your mental health (and the rest of your body!) will thank you.
There Are Resources To Help You
This list is, of course, not exclusive, nor is it unanimously beneficial, especially for those struggling with addiction and substance abuse. If you or someone you love is having a hard time, know you are not alone and that there is help and support available. Reach out to a treatment provider today to learn about treatment options for alcohol or drug addiction.
Author: Hannah Zwemer | Last Edited: January 12, 2022