Mental health is one of those things that people think they only need to worry about if they have a serious, diagnosable mental illness. This is a myth I have been fighting against for the last ten years of my life as an advocate for mental health and suicide prevention awareness. It’s the wildest thing to me. How can we be so unaware of the importance of mental health and so very aware of the importance of our physical health? Isn’t our brain part of our physical body? Thankfully, more and more people are now questioning, “How do I improve my mental health?”
That makes me happy and I’ll stay on my mission to educate people. Not on anything scientific, just the basic fact that we need to pay attention to the way we’re feeling mentally. Not just mentally, but also emotionally. Because my family and I have experienced a lot of loss by suicide — my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and most recently my mother — this is something that I take very seriously. I stay very aware of my mental and emotional state and tend to myself very carefully. The following are things that I do personally, on a regular basis, to take care of my mental health.
Side note: These things are simple and I know that if you struggle with a serious mental illness these kinds of things don’t always help and you sometimes can’t bring yourself to try them at all. I’m not dismissing serious mental illness as something you can “positive thinking” your way out of. Still, I hope that these things will help elevate other’s mental and emotional health the way they do mine.
8 Things I do That Improve My Mental Health
For me, this has little to do with fitness and much more to do with release. We all experience so much on a daily basis. It tends to build up tension and frustration that can make you feel exhausted. Believe it or not, exercising when you feel like that is so energizing. Not to mention the chemical response your body has to exercise. It actually releases happy chemicals, or endorphins, when you exercise.
I listed this first because I believe it’s the hardest thing to do when you’re feeling down and drained of mental, emotional, and physical energy. Yet I believe it is one of the more effective things you can do for mental health. This one is a must-do to improve my mental health, no matter how hard it is.
2. Spend Time in Nature
For me this typically specifically means hiking. Still, if I can’t hike, a good walk down the street with my dogs can take the edge off. There’s something about being outside. The fresh air, the sites and sounds. I believe just being in nature is connecting with God. What could be better for your mental and emotional health than that? When I’m really feeling down I take a long, difficult hike. It’s really the combination of exercise and God’s creation that renews my mind. There’s really nothing like it for me.
3. Help Others
It’s a mystery of life, one of God’s installations into our souls, something that’s a part of what completes us — there is nothing more uplifting when you’re feeling low than picking someone else up. I believe that we focus so much on our problems that we create a poor mental state sometimes. Jesus modeled for us what it meant to be a servant and what a great honor it is to serve others before ourselves. I believe it fills our souls like nothing else when we offer help to another, so it’s sure to give your mental health a boost as well.
4. Keep a Gratitude Journal
First thing in the morning, before the world has a chance to start rushing into your brain, take a few minutes to be grateful. My gratitude journal is a prayer journal, but yours can be whatever you want it to be. Gratitude is a key ingredient to contentment and discontentment often leads to mental and emotional distress. Lead with gratitude each day and you’ll find a more positive outlook moving forward.
5. Find a Way to Laugh
One day a few years ago I realized that the older I got the less I laughed. What a bummer. I mean, do you know what just smiling does for you? It’s actually proven that smiling (even if you make yourself do it) improves your mood. So imagine what laughing does.
Since that realization and because I’m always very away of my mood, sometimes I tell myself, “Self, you need to laugh.” I get on YouTube and I search for funny videos. Simple as that (I told you these things were simple). I will get lost in the black hole of YouTube videos and laugh until I cry. It feels amazing.
6. Disconnect from Social Media
I’m currently taking my longest break ever from social media. Today makes 29 days (but by the time you read this my break will probably be over). In the past I’ve only done one or two days at a time. But really, any break you can manage will make you feel better. Not only are we taking in way too much useless information that’s using up all of our valuable brain space (seriously), we’re also constantly in comparison with others. I don’t care who you are, you’re not immune. If you don’t want to disconnect completely, I encourage you to delete the apps off of your phone and only use social media on your computer for a while. That will help you cut down that mindless scrolling we tend to do every time we pick up our phones.
7. Get Some Sun
There’s nothing like some vitamin D for your mood. The lack of sunshine can actually cause clinical depression. It’s a fact. There’s even a disorder named after it, Seasonal Affective Disorder. I’m a firm believer in the benefits of sunshine. Go get some!
8. Quiet Time With God
Personally, nothing is better for my mental and emotional health like sitting quietly with God and reading His word. No, I’m not telling you that you can pray away your serious mental illnesses. Do I believe God can heal anyone and anything? Yes. Do I believe He always does? No. That’s another blog post for another time. But I do believe that God is the ultimate provider. When I sit with Him and I stop talking about everything I need, when I just read and take in what He wants to speak into my life, my perspective changes. I can keep going and I can do it with contentment and peace. Is it always just that easy? No. But the more time I spend with Him the better, so that’s what I do.
This is my number one, go-to when I want to improve my mental health but it’s so much bigger than everything. It’s the answer to it all. When we keep our focus on our sovereign God, we stay in awe of Him and our gratitude cultivates happiness.