This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link and then make a purchase, I may get a small commission from that sale, at no extra cost to you.
Mental health matters.
Physical health is important, and we all know that we need to eat a well-balanced meal and exercise frequently in order to stay in optimal physical shape to avoid certain diseases such as heart disease and diabetes... but what about mental health?
What's a healthy body any good for if your mental health is poor?
Mental well-being matters just as much and should require the same amount of attention we give to our physical bodies.
The same way we exercise and eat right to keep our bodies healthy, there are certain 'exercises' you can implement today to start improving your mental health as well.
Complete optimal health stems from a holistic approach to a healthy mind, body, and spirit. If you've been feeling stressed out, sad, anxious, and/or just overall unhappy and unsatisfied... try implementing a few of the things on this list right now.
Here are my top 10 ways to improve mental health well-being right now.
#1 - Create a morning routine.
Don't be intimidated by the idea of creating a morning routine. A morning routine can be as simple as a five-minute break you give yourself every morning before starting your day out. It can be as simple as sitting on your couch while you slowly sip your morning cup of coffee, or eat your breakfast in complete silence... instead of eating breakfast in the car (I'm guilty of this!) or chugging your cup of joe while you rush out of the door. We all have five minutes. And if you don't - you can wake up earlier. Seriously, slowing down will make a world of a difference in your mornings and how you kick start your day.
Of course, if you have more time, you can get very creative with your morning routines and make them as long as thirty-minutes if you'd like. You can do things like journaling, meditating, a quick morning yoga stretch (youtube has a ton of 5 to 10-minute morning yoga flows for free), read a few pages of your favorite book, listen to affirmations or to an inspiring podcast.
For me, mornings were always a big trigger to my anxiety and depression. If I wasn't anxiously rushing out the door with a scrambled mind, I was wandering around aimlessly not really knowing what task of the day to tackle first. Once I decided to take my mornings a bit slower, (by waking up earlier and making time for a routine), things got better.
Whatever you decide to do - remember this morning routine is intended to be a 'break' for you before you start your day. Try not to think about what tasks you have to get done in the day ahead, or what worries you went to sleep with the night before... all of this can wait, until after your morning break. Life can wait five, ten, fifteen minutes - it can!
#2 - Move your body.
This should go without saying but exercise has been proven time and time again to improve mental health and well-being. Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins make you happy (I believe it was Legally Blonde that made this quote infamously popular lol). But it's very true! I know based on personal experience that on days where I'm "lazy" and don't move my body and just sit on the couch binge-watching Netflix, I feel much more crummy than on days where I get up and do some sort of physical activity.
Get creative with your movement. You don't have to sign up to a gym if that's not your cup of tea. You can do yoga, pilates, kickboxing, running, walking, swimming, jump roping, Piyo at home (these workouts are so fun), or if you're blessed to live somewhere with lots of nature, put on your hiking boots and hit the trails. And the beauty of today's day and age is that we have access to hundreds of workouts at home right at our finger-tips through youtube, for free!
Not only does moving improve your mental health because of all the hormones that are released but the fact that you are most likely getting out of your house, interacting with others, breathing in some fresh air if you're working out outside, or simply being productive vs laying down all day, will help you feel better about life!
#3 - Get enough sleep.
I remember being in college and boasting about how little sleep my friends and I used to get. We'd make it a competition of sort to see who got less sleep - "I only got five hours last night...", "oh yea? Well, I pulled an all-nighter". This is somewhat how our conversations would go. Even today, lack of sleep is still regarded by many as a badge of honor of some sort. It must mean you are a hard worker and have much more important things going on than getting some ZzzzZz's - pft, who has time for sleep. Right? Wrong.
The older I have gotten the more I have learned that sleep is essential to our health, both physically and mentally - it is not a commodity. And it does not make you lazy if you get 8 to 10 hours of sleep while the next person only gets five. Sleep needs to become a priority in our lives. This means setting a bedtime schedule and sticking to it, it means silencing our phones and turning off our tv's (yes, even if that documentary is oh sooo entertaining - you can finish it tomorrow!).
Time and time again in research studies, lack of sleep has been linked to depression, anxiety, and overall poor mental health status.
Here's a fun one - This study called "Don't Worry, Be Happy: Just go to bed earlier" had researchers find a link between late evenings and shorter sleep periods with an increase in worry and negative thought patterns.
I don't know about you, but that's enough to convince me to hit the sack a little earlier each night.
#4 - Mind what you eat.
The mind-gut connection is real. What you feed your gut matters and will affect your mental health. You can choose fresh whole foods that make you feel healthy and vibrant, or you can choose processed junk foods that weigh you down and make you feel less-than-optimal.
Studies, like this one, have found a link between junk food and depression. The study found that individuals who consumed foods high in added sugar and processed carbs (aka the standard American diet) were more prone to depressive disorders than those who ate less or none of these types of foods.
It also showed that certain aspects of diet such as fiber, whole fruits, and vegetables had some protective effects against depression. So remember = balance. If you're going to eat junk food - make sure to balance it out with healthy whole foods too! But better yet, cut it all out. 😛
Need more proof about the mind-gut connection? In another study, researchers found a possible connection between fermented foods (probiotics) and decreased social anxiety symptoms among young adults. How cool is that?
#5 - Spend time outside, preferably near nature if possible.
Take a nature pill. Studies have shown that spending as little as 20 minutes outside somewhere that makes you feel connected to nature (the beach, a park, near a lake, the mountains ect) is enough to drastically reduce your cortisol levels - your body's main stress hormone.
Elevated levels of cortisol in your body not only leads to physical symptoms such as high blood pressure and heart rate, but also mental symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, and negative changes in mood.
Unfortunately, we are not all blessed to live near beautiful mountains, rivers, and forests... so does that mean we can't benefit from this? Nope. The study found that the "type" of nature did not have an effect on how much cortisol was reduced - the only thing that matters is that the individual "feels" connected to nature.
So find a park, or a garden, or a lake near your city and start taking nature pills right now. I live in South Florida in an overly populated city where "nature" is almost non-existent but even I have found a perfect little park that is surrounded by tall trees that allows me to get-a-way if only for an hour or two from the hustle and bustle of the city.
I definitely leave much more refreshed and at ease when I get out of that park than when I go in.
#6 - Get your daily dose of Vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin!
Piggybacking on number 5, spending time outdoors has another great added bonus to it because sunlight is the best source for Vitamin D! This is why it is usually referred to as the sunshine vitamin - because the sunshine helps our bodies make vitamin D when we're exposed to UV rays.
Of course, you can also get vitamin D through the foods you eat and/or through supplementation but I will tell you based on personal experience - even when I was actively eating vitamin D high foods and supplementing - my levels were still really low. At one point, they were even critically low. It wasn't until I started being proactive about spending time outside and getting sun that my levels finally started going up.
It is believed that as many as 50% of Americans are vitamin D deficient and that's very likely due to our indoor lifestyle. We work inside 40 hours a week if not more, and then spend the weekends cooped up inside binge-watching tv. Our ancestors were always outside, getting sun, soaking up that vitamin D.
But why does Vitamin D matter when it comes to mental health, anyway?
Multiple studies have shown that it matters a lot actually. For one, vitamin D has proven to be responsible for increasing concentrations of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is responsible for a multitude of things, and one of those is our mood. More serotonin = uplifting mood.
Other studies have found a link between low vitamin D levels and an increased risk for mental illness including anxiety, depression, increased suicide attempts, and seasonal affective disorder.
A few studies for your reading pleasure:
- Low Vitamin D may play a role in suicide attempts
- Researchers link Vitamin D deficiency to seasonal affective disorder
- Importance of a balanced diet for mental health
My husband and I try to find any excuse to spend time in our backyard and soak up some rays. We'll take our ordinary chores and do them outside, for example, if I have a load of laundry to fold... I fold them outside. If we're going to do yoga or a workout, we'll do it outside. Reading a book? Talking on the phone? Do it outside and get some sunshine while you're at it!
#7 - Make time for family and friends.
Humans are social beings. We need (and crave) physical human interaction. In a world where we are so busy working all the time, and when we aren't working we are sitting at home interacting via screens (ahem social media), we've lost some of that physical socialization that humans are so accustomed to.
It's important to make physical time for family and friends. Studies have shown a link between social media use and increased depression rates among the youth. We are no longer hanging out and having face to face conversations, instead, we are interacting through screens leaving three-word comments and quickly hitting like, and that's definitely not the way our ancestors did it.
Socialization is important. Make sure you are making time to get out of the house, make plans with family and friends, and create memories outside of screens.
#8 - Make time for things that make you happy.
Hobbies are important. Do you have a hobby? Something that you like to do in your spare time? If you don't, I highly encourage you to do a little brainstorming and pick a few activities you've always wanted to try but never have (or maybe once did but you grew up and stopped making time for it).
Hobbies are a great way to keep that inner child alive. And the best part is - you don't have to be any good at it! It's literally just for fun. Do you like painting? Grab a canvas and some paints and get to work. Sewing? Writing poems? Photography? Cooking? There are so many options... and we are so lucky to live in a time where we don't even need to pay for a class if you don't want to.. you can youtube almost anything nowadays and you'll find a tutorial on how to get started!
#9 - Turn off the news!
This is an easy one, but a revolutionary one. The news is alarming on purpose. They want your attention and they want it now. What better way to get your attention than to use scare tactics and lots of drama!
It is very rare that you will find a positive news story on air. I mean, almost 90% of the news is negative (murders, robberies, car crashes). Do we humans really need to know all of this negative news constantly? I don't think so.
Our mind cannot tell the difference between reality and what we are feeling. So when we constantly watch all these scary news stories and feel fear, insecurity, and sadness... our mind tricks our body, physically and emotionally, into thinking that we are currently experiencing all of the negativity that we are watching.
My husband and I stopped watching the news a few years ago. Now that doesn't mean we are oblivious to what is going on in the world - we do tune in to stay up to date on current events and know what's going on in general - but we make it a priority to avoid the day to day 6pm and 11pm breaking-news-type-shows.
We know bad things are happening out there. We know there are murders and crashes and robberies going on out there. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away - but we also don't need a constant reminder of all of the negativity blowing up our cerebral cortex. Instead, we choose to focus on positive news.
#10 - Get off your phone!
Do you know how much time you spend on your phone mindlessly scrolling through social media? I bet it's more time than you think. I'm not here to put social media down because I realize it can have a great beneficial impact if used correctly and it has improved our society in ways no one could have ever imagined... but too much of anything can also be a bad thing.
When you are on your phone for hours on end you are watching other people live their lives instead of living your own. Comparison is the biggest thief of joy. And guess what? Like it or not when you are constantly bombarded by the positivity reel of others, there will be moments of comparison and jealousy - it's natural. But why subject yourself willingly to these emotions? Be proactive about your social media use. Limit your time on these apps. And go live your life outside of the screen.
If you haven't read Digital Minimalism I highly recommend that you do. It is a great read about how our society is literally addicted to technology and how these big companies have implemented strategies to KEEP us addicted. Remember that we are their profits - the more we use these apps and programs - the more money they make. It is literally their job to keep us hooked.
That's all folks.
Ten relatively easy ways you can begin to improve your mental health right now and live a life that is less stressful and more satisfying.
You deserve to feel good and be happy - it is your birthright! But you must prioritize it and start making changes today!
CLICK IMAGE TO SHARE ARTICLE ON PINTEREST
Want to see more wellness content?
- We rank our top six healthy alternatives to white sugar
- How to increase your heart rate variability
- 10 positive affirmations to get you through April
with love + gratitude,
Want More Wholesome Eats and Wellness Content? Make sure to subscribe to get our newsletter directly to your inbox. You can also find us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Make sure you come say hi! <3