Staying mentally fit can be challenging in our stressful, busy lives. Mental health or wellness is defined by the World Health Organization as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” It enables us to enjoy life and relationships, and embodies our physical, mental and social well-being. Like most things, our mental health will fluctuate. Circumstances, stressful life events, grief and loss, as well as positive events and relationships certainly will impact how we feel about ourselves and our world. However, we can also make positive choices and engage in behaviors that strengthen and maintain our mental wellness. Following are a few tips to improve and maintain your mental health.
Scientists continue to research and prove the benefits of exercise for both the body and brain. In addition to reducing stress and anxiety by increasing the body’s ability to manage mental tension, exercise also releases endorphins, creating feelings of happiness and even decreasing feelings of depression. There is evidence that for some people, exercise can be just as effective as an antidepressant in treating depression. Additionally, exercise has been shown to prevent cognitive (brain) decline which tends to happen as we age. Finally, working out often helps people sleep better, feel more productive, and improves positive self-image.
Despite our busy schedules, it is critical for our mental health that we have “down” time. Playtime, hobbies, and rest are critical for all age groups and creates balance to deal with stress and the daily tasks at hand. Taking time to have fun, try new things, read a book, and engage in interesting activities contributes to feeling fulfilled and joyful. Play helps us be the best version of ourselves and creates space for creativity.
Sleep is critical for our bodies to heal and recover. Additionally, it improves our memory and attention, increases our ability to be creative and to perform at our best, helps with weight management, decreases stress, allows us to be more alert, and improves mood while decreasing anxiety and even feelings of depression or being overwhelmed.
Engage in Relationships
Biologically, we are hardwired for connection. Therefore, it is critical that we make time for the important people in our lives and strive for healthy relationships. Much of the way we feel about ourselves and our world is tied to our relationships. Research indicates that strong relationships contribute to living a healthy, happy, and long life. Our significant relationships serve as a platform for sharing our feelings (another important aspect of mental health and wellness), for creating traditions and memories, and for fulfilling our important needs of belonging and feeling loved. Additionally, being involved in community is an important way to feel connected, to give back through volunteer work and doing things for others, and to create a sense of togetherness.
Learning new skills, taking on new things at work, creating fitness goals, or doing things that are out of our comfort zone improves mental fitness while creating a sense of confidence and accomplishment.
Spend Time in Nature
In addition to providing the body with Vitamin D through direct sunlight, research also shows that spending time in nature can boost cognitive function and creativity. Many people also find the great outdoors a space where they feel rejuvenated, more connected to themselves, and to others.
Make Time for Spirituality
Spirituality means different things to everyone, but a study published in the Journal of Religion and Health found spirituality linked with greater mental health. Specifically, they found that increased spirituality increased a sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe. Other studies show that people who consider themselves spiritual or religious report feeling happier than those that don’t.
Mindfulness, defined by a study in Perspectives on Psychological Science, is “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.” Mindfulness meditation is shown to have many benefits including lowering stress, protecting the brain, providing insight, improving performance, emotion regulation, and may even lower depression among other things. For more information, click here.
Life can be difficult and even devastating at times. We all need help at various points in our lives. Dealing with stressors and sharing our experience and feelings with loved ones is an important part of mental health. And, while friends and family members can be a great resource, you also might benefit from the unbiased, professional view of a mental health professional. Should you find yourself in a situation where you or your family member needs support or help, call Austin Family Counseling at 512-298-3381.