Many of us are setting new goals at this time of year to take better care of ourselves. I want to catch the wave of this annual enthusiasm and encourage readers to set a goal to take better care of your mental health. While people often think about eating healthier, starting a fitness routine, or quitting an unhealthy habit, they rarely think of a plan to improve their outlook or feel more joy in life.
People often work on the other goals expecting that their achievement will result in greater happiness. Research shows that the happiness gained is short lived and we are soon setting new goals in the hope of gaining greater happiness.
I recommend working directly on creating better mental wellness through simple steps anyone can start to apply today. One of the great things about this is the habits that are good for the mind are also good for the body.
Strategy 1: Social Support-
Human beings are among the most social species. We have always lived in communities dating back to primitive hunter-gatherer tribes. One of our most severe forms of punishment is solitary confinement. The benefits of social support have been found to include:
- Improving the ability to cope with stressful situations.
- Alleviating the effects of emotional distress.
- Promoting lifelong good mental health.
- Enhancing self- esteem.
- Lowering cardiovascular risk
- Promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors
- Encouraging adherence to a treatment plan
Some approaches to building social connection include volunteering, joining a gym or fitness group, taking a class, and connecting through social media. Investing the time in building positive social connections is one of the most powerful options to promoting mental and physical health.
Strategy 2: Eat Well-
People who eat a healthy diet characterized by plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans, fish, and olive oil are up to 35% less likely to develop depression than those who eat more processed, fried, and sugary foods. Dietary supplements such as Omega-3 fatty acids, B group vitamins, and Vitamin D have been found to have a positive impact on mood.
Strategy 3: Stay Active-
Improving your physical health has been found to improve your mental and emotional well-being. Physical activity causes the release of chemicals that boost mood and energy level. Regular exercise can also relieve stress, improve memory, and help you sleep better.
Physical activity in an outdoor setting provides additional benefits to our mood and well-being through exposure to full spectrum natural light. This can be especially helpful during the shorter days of winter.
Strategy 4: Think Positively-
Rumination is a habit of dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings that can spiral out of control leading some people to develop depression. A better approach is to identify solutions and take constructive action to improve your circumstances. If nothing can be done at the time to improve the situation, finding an enjoyable diversion such as talking to a friend, can be a better choice. In facing situations we really can’t change, practicing acceptance is a better alternative than dwelling on the negatives and resisting reality.
Strategy 5: Make Sleep a Priority-
It is important to maintain a regular sleep schedule and protect that time for sleep that might get pushed aside when our lives become too hectic. Skipping even a few hours here and there can take a toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness, and ability to handle stress. Over the long term, chronic sleep loss can wreak havoc on your health and outlook.
Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. The brain also needs time to settle down before being ready for sleep. Creating a calm, quiet evening routine is essential. Shutting down the electronic screens for an hour or two, as well as putting aside work, postponing arguments, avoiding thinking about problems, or brainstorming will help quiet the mind for a quality night’s sleep.
Strategy 6: Manage Stress-
Stress takes a heavy toll on mental and emotional health, so it’s important to keep it under control. While not all stressors can be avoided, stress management strategies can help you bring things back into balance. Effective techniques include good time management, talking with supportive friends, making leisure time a priority, taking time for contemplation and appreciation, savoring sensory pleasures and developing a consistent relaxation practice.
As the song says, “We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!” I hope these ideas will help you make those wishes come true in this new year.
By: Philip Rainer, LCSWR, Chief Clinical Officer