What are the top ways to improve your mental health?
According to a report from the American Psychology Association (APA) titled Stress in America, by the end of 2019 Americans were feeling stressed about the presidential election, health care, and mass shootings. And the roller-coaster events of 2020 only added to this level of stress for many people. Their existing anxieties were compounded by a global pandemic, lockdown orders, increasing unemployment, the possibility of eviction, and ongoing contentious politics.
Of course, anxiety is not new to the human condition. But increasing exposure to social media has had a major psychological impact on our overall stress levels which has only gotten worse during the past year. You may have discovered this whilst trying to keep up meaningful relationships with your friends and acquaintances. Or perhaps you’re having difficulty working through all your responsibilities while in seclusion.
One of the best techniques to improve your mental health is to establish a routine that includes positive, life-affirming, or relaxing activities. In this article, we’ll talk about five of the top ways to improve your mental health that can be integrated into your daily routine. Give each one a try to find the one that is most effective at reducing your stress level.
1. DEEP BREATHING
Feeling stress is part of life. But excessive stress is the prime contributor to mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety. A high level of stress can also affect your physical well-being by contributing to tense muscles, aches and pains, low energy, and even a suppressed immune system which can result in you experiencing more frequent illness.
So establishing healthy ways of responding to your stress can be beneficial to your physical and mental health. One of the easiest ways to do this is by practicing deep breathing. You have to breathe, so why not spend a little time focusing on how you breathe, consciously taking slow, deliberate breaths. Breathe in through your nose, fill your lungs, holding the air there for a few moments, and then slowly exhale.
This sort of breathing exercise does a few things. First, it increases the flow of oxygen to your brain. This stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system and promotes a feeling of serenity. Adopting this practice as part of a regular routine can help slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. It can make you feel more connected to your body and can reduce your anxiety during high-stress moments.
Taking up a reading habit with the goal of reducing your anxiety has the fancy name of “bibliotherapy.” The idea might sound a bit goofy to you at first, but reading has been shown to help decrease depressive symptoms in people struggling with mental health difficulties. Enjoying a good book can bring a sense of relaxation which helps to lower blood pressure and heart rate.
Fiction, in particular, seems to bring the most mental health benefits. Following the story arc of a likable character can enhance the reader’s empathy and can even forge a path to better interpersonal skills. If you discover you’re starting to shut down because of overwhelming stress and you’re looking for a brief escape, a good book may just be your ticket to relief.
3. SOCIAL INTERACTION
Oftentimes, the first reaction to feeling stress is to isolate yourself. But interacting with friends, family members, or peers can go a long way to pulling a person out of a depressive tailspin. People who foster satisfying relationships with a community tend to live happier and healthier lives. A social lifestyle can also help you live longer, be more trusting, and be more empathetic.
Contrast that with individuals who have few or even no positive relationships. People suffering from poor social connections are more susceptible to suffering depression and anxiety, and lower self-esteem.
Humans are social creatures. We crave community and connection with others. And this past year, with lockdown orders issued across the globe, our need for social interaction was sorely tested. But even though it’s harder to get together in-person with your peers, virtual get-togethers are a way to bridge the social gap and help to maintain your positive mental health.
Physical exercise has long been known to have numerous benefits to a person’s health. But it has a great benefit to mental health, too.
No matter what activity you decide to take up, whether it be cycling, running, or walking, physical activity can reduce stress, depression, and overall anxiety. Exercise can also help you sleep more soundly, improve your mood, make you feel more mentally alert, and increase your energy level. Of course, it can also help increase your cardiovascular health and keep your cholesterol levels in check.
It can be hard to start an exercise routine. You may need to find ways to motivate yourself to get out the door. But once you get started, you’ll probably find it improves your mood significantly. This makes it easier to keep the routine going.
Your first thought when reading this was probably, “Gardening? Really?” But tending a garden can help calm an anxious mind. Gardening allows you to process your thoughts in the background as you keep your hands occupied. In general, gardening doesn’t need a high level of concentration, and that frees up your brain to work through anxieties and worries in the background.
People who spend time gardening often feel calm and relaxed. Gardening has also been shown to increase attention span and can even reduce symptoms of those suffering from ADHD. The gardener will gain benefits from being outdoors, breathing in fresh air, and enjoying a little physical exercise as well.
Taking time to work on your mental health can help ease your stress level, especially in trying times. It’s never been easy to juggle all the tasks and responsibilities you’re faced with on a daily basis, and doing so is even more challenging in a post-pandemic world.
But now, when you start feeling stressed or anxious about your job, your finances, or your future, you can try out one (or all) of these five different ways to improve your mental health.