In today’s high-stress and fast-paced environment, both physical and mental health are often overlooked. According to experts, roughly one in five American adults experience mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, with one in twenty-five having a significant mental illness, including major depression or bipolar disorder. Even young children can develop mental health issues, with most chronic psychological conditions showing symptoms before adolescence. Despite the fact a significant number of individuals experience these issues, it remains a difficult topic to discuss. With the likelihood that you or someone you know might be experiencing or at risk for developing depression, anxiety, or a related condition, it is essential to care for your mental health just as you would your physical health. The following ideas can help you develop healthy psychological habits.
Make Quality Sleep A Priority
According to research, sleep deprivation can negatively impact mental health. Additionally, individuals with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions can also experience poor sleep. The research is clear: there is a significant and powerful mutual relationship between sleep and mental health. Learning to make quality sleep a priority can have an important impact on one’s psychological state. The first step in getting a good night’s rest is to practice sleep hygiene: maintaining a regular sleep and wake schedule; keeping the bedroom free of phones, computers, televisions, and other distractions; using the bedroom for sleep only; and keeping the bedroom dark. Individuals who struggle with racing thoughts at night might consider learning deep breathing exercises, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, gentle yoga, or other relaxation techniques. Reducing the use of screens and technology before bed can also help the brain relax and wind down. Finally, using a weighted blanket has been found to reduce anxiety and restlessness in individuals with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health conditions.
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Carve Out Time To Recharge
Many Americans face chronic stress from work, school, family life, or life in general. The National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI) states stress can affect the entire body, causing headaches, gastrointestinal issues, muscle pains, insomnia, and decreased mental health. Taking time to relax and recharge can help counteract the effects of stress, even if it’s just five minutes a day away from responsibilities. Pursuing a favorite hobby, taking a hike in the woods, exercising, relaxing in a warm bath, journaling, or scheduling a monthly lunch date with friends can help you recharge and de-stress. If life doesn’t allow for taking extended periods of self-care, even taking five minutes a day to sip some coffee or tea and write down one thing you are grateful for each day can focus your mind on the positive. Just like you schedule work meetings and doctor’s appointments, scheduling time for self-care should be an essential part of your routine. Making the effort to carve out time to recharge and focus on yourself is the best gift you can give yourself!
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Seek Professional Help When Needed
Sometimes one of the best things individuals can do to improve their mental health is to seek professional help. For some individuals, this might be a short-term need, for example following the death of a loved one or during a significant life change, and for others, developing a long-term relationship with a mental health professional is an essential part of the treatment plan. Mental health professionals, such as counselors and psychologists can help with developing goals, building self-confidence, changing thought patterns, and solving problems. In some cases, a psychiatrist might be needed if medication is warranted. Remember, there is absolutely no shame in choosing to seek professional help when needed. After all, if you were feeling physically ill, you wouldn’t hesitate to see a doctor. Seeking professional assistance for a mental health issue is no different. It isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, taking the steps necessary to improve your mental health is a sign of strength and commitment.
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'We are our own worst critics' is a feeling most individuals can relate to, especially during times of anxiety, depression, and stress. While everyone makes mistakes, for many, it can be difficult to forgive ourselves for those mistakes and move forward. We might feel guilty for missing our child’s important school or sports event due to a work commitment, or we might remember our role in a fight with a friend or family member. Some individuals might even have guilt related to their jobs, such as a doctor who was not able to save a patient or a veteran involved in combat. Whatever the reason for our self-criticism and guilt, holding onto those feelings can send us into a downward spiral that is difficult to overcome.
Choosing to practice self-forgiveness is an important step in healing and working towards a healthy mental state. While forgiveness doesn’t stop the pain or the consequences of what happened, it can help lead to a sense of peace and the mending of relationships. When practicing self-forgiveness, it’s important to first examine one’s role in the transgression and acknowledge it. Then, through developing empathy for ourselves, we can begin to look at how we can make things right, such as trying to undo harm, choosing to do kind and generous acts, and practicing self-care. It is important to move beyond ruminating over words said or actions committed and acknowledging to ourselves that it’s ok to make mistakes. While it sounds cliché, the most important part is finding opportunities to learn and grow, even through mistakes.
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One of the most beneficial things individuals can do to improve their mental health is to stay active and engage in frequent exercise. Exercise, like psychiatric medication, can increase the brain’s levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which can lead to reduced stress levels, happier moods, increased cognitive function, and higher self-esteem. Exercise can enhance the effects of psychiatric medications as well. It is important to find a form of exercise that is enjoyable. You should look forward to exercising, rather than seeing it as yet another chore to squeeze in. Exercise doesn’t need to involve hours of running on a treadmill—hiking, dancing, team sports, running, martial arts, gardening, swimming, or joining a fitness class are all good options. Meditative exercises, such as tai chi or yoga, can help with relaxation and are also good for individuals with physical limitations that make more vigorous exercise difficult.