For those struggling with substance abuse and/or mental health concerns, learning skills and tips to manage your symptoms can be a life changer. However, even if you’re currently not struggling you too could benefit from better mental health. Why? Because what’s the harm in being more present, calm and happy? Although there are thousands of tips and skills out there that can help to improve your mood, decrease anxiety, feel more positive, etc., below is a list of 10 mental health tips that will stick with you. As I always tell my patients … they are free, easy, and extremely beneficial to your overall mental health – so why not give them a try?
1. Be present: We can get so caught up in what we have to do or what we have done that we completely lose track of the present moment. For example, have you ever drove home and not really recalled the details of how you got there? Have you ever looked for your phone thinking it is lost when you are actually holding it in your hand? We’re often caught up in worrisome, past or present thoughts. Thinking of the past can create sadness and thinking of the future can create anxiety, so remaining in the present is going to help you feel more content and appreciative. Some examples of how to remain in the present moment include tracking your breath in and out, focusing only on the task right in front of you, or doing a mindfulness practice such as mindful walking or mindful eating. All of the examples provided anchor you to the present moment because it is focused on things occurring presently, not things that have already occurred or may or may not occur in the future.
2. Schedule self-care: Life can be hectic and it can be very difficult to find time to even sit down. However, this is the exact lifestyle that can lead to constant anxiety and stress. We have to make an effort to set aside time in our day and week for self-care. This can help improve your mood and reset your system to take on the next day. For example, take 10-30 minutes daily to do something for yourself that you enjoy such as reading, listening to music, taking a bath, walking, etc. The important thing is to not keep saying ‘I need to do this or I should do this’, but actually make it happen!
3. Be grateful: This can be especially hard and difficult on stressful days but take time to think of things that you are grateful for. It is actually very difficult to feel negative when you start thinking about all the positive things you have in your life. Try listing a few things you are grateful for each morning to set a positive tone for the day.
4. Eat well and sleep well: We will all have our off days, but trying your best to eat healthily and sleep well is going to prepare you to handle stress better. When we are hungry and tired, our tolerance for stress is low and we can become very easily overwhelmed and irritable. However, if we are well rested and packed with energy, we can tackle the stress in our lives more effectively. I would say the key is to just do your best because when we get too consumed with the right amount of sleep or being overly focused on calories/intake, this will just create more stress.
5. Give yourself a break: Speaking of just doing your best, giving yourself a break is another important tip for better mental health. We are often our own harshest critics, which can just add stress and negativity to our lives. Try to give yourself a break and be kind to yourself. We are not perfect and all we can do is try our best.
6. Talk with people you like: Seems very straightforward, but talk with people you actually like and trust. You may want someone to listen very attentively, but it may not be the best person for that, so you have to choose wisely. If this is a close friend or a family member, this could lead to a better connection with them, which also improves your mental health. There’s a high likelihood there are some laughs with the people you like as well, which is another great thing for your health. Looks like three benefits for one tip!
7. Reframe your thoughts: This may be one of the more important skills a person could learn. It can be easy to fall into a pattern of negative thoughts especially when you are having a difficult day. However, thoughts impact your mood and your mood dictates your behavior, so you need to target your thoughts. Reframing simply means changing your thoughts or seeing them in a more positive perspective. For example, if I were to say “I have so much to do, I don’t know how I’m going to get all of this done, I’m so overwhelmed”, I’m likely going to feel very anxious and act accordingly. If I attempt to reframe these thoughts, I would rather say “although I have a lot to do, I’m going to get as much as I can done and I’m going to work hard today to try to get everything done”. By reframing thoughts, it leads to more positive thinking and subsequently more positive feelings.
8. Take deep breaths: Our body and minds are very interconnected, so if you are breathing shallowly, this will send a message to your brain that you are feeling anxiety and panic and that will send a message back to your body that you are anxious and panicked and then it becomes a snowball effect. Make sure you are taking time to take a few deep breaths during the day to reset your body. Deep breathing can help make you feel calmer and relaxed and more present as well.
9. Find a hobby: The older we get, it seems that it becomes harder to engage in hobbies. There are jobs, families, responsibilities, etc. that do take up a lot of time, so finding activities to engage in just for fun can be tricky. However, it is important to make yourself a priority and try out new activities that may be of interest to you. Having something you are passionate about can become a healthy escape, which is a great way to de-stress.
10. Have fun: If you are noticing a trend here, life tends to get a little busy and stressful and that requires us to learn how to deal with our stress in healthy ways. We can get so consumed with the stress and negativity that it impacts our mood, but it is important to remember to enjoy the little things and have fun when you can. Spend time with healthy friends, watch funny videos, or think of a funny memory, whatever works to make things not so serious.
Most of these tips to help with mental health can be easy to utilize and often do not cost any money. They are fairly simple and just take practice to make them a habit. The overall goal is to think more positively, which in turn is going to make you feel and act more positively.
Author: Natalie Woulf, LPC, CADC – Footprints to Recovery – Utilization Review Specialist