10 Realistic Ways To Improve Mental Health

Mental health refers to your overall psychological well-being. It includes the way you feel about yourself, the quality of your relationships, and your ability to manage your feelings and deal with difficulties. It affects how we think, feels, and act as we cope with life.

It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood and aging.

Anyone can experience mental or emotional health problems — and over a lifetime, many of us will. These tips can help you elevate your mood, become more resilient and enjoy life more.

1. Start your day on a positive note

When you perceive your life negatively, you can start to see yourself and your life through a negative lens, which can affect your mental health. Luckily, viewing your life positively can help protect and improve your mental health.

Some positive words you can begin to say to yourself daily include:

  • I am proud of myself
  • My hard work pays off
  • I can do this
  • I am loved
  • I am strong
  • We all make mistakes
  • I can make a difference in the world

Expressing gratitude can also help improve your mental health. Set aside time each day to think about the positive aspects of your life. Write them down so you can refer back to them as needed. Having a positive outlook can help you enjoy life even when faced with challenging and uncomfortable situations.

2. Do something you enjoy every day

Life events can happen quickly and unexpectedly, but intentionally making time for activities you enjoy can help improve your mental health. Doing hobbies that you enjoy can help strengthen your brain and improve your mood. Research actually shows that people who routinely spend time doing hobbies they enjoy are less likely to suffer from stress, bad moods, and depression. Whether you choose to go for a walk, paint, ride a bike, watch comedy, cook, journal, listen to music, read, or play a team sport, doing something you enjoy daily can help enhance your emotional well-being.

3. Get plenty of sunlight

Spending time in the sun causes the brain to release endorphins, hormones that boost pleasure and reduce pain. But endorphins don’t just make you happy. They can also reduce emotional stress and promote an overall sense of well-being.

Sunlight is also a great source of vitamin D. In addition to releasing brain chemicals that can improve your mood, vitamin D can help prevent depression. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), schizophrenia, and anxiety. So take some time out of your routine and spend some time in the sun. Most experts believe 30 minutes to 2 hours a day of sunlight can drastically improve your mental health and overall well-being.

4. Connect with others

Social distancing will remain important throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but social distancing doesn’t have to mean being socially isolated. From phone calls to video chat and other digital tools, there are plenty of ways to stay connected with friends and loved ones during the pandemic.

And this matters, since, like many mammals, humans are social creatures. Both the quality and quantity of our social relationships impact our mental health, so it’s important to stay social.

Socializing can mean opening up to someone about a problem or issue, but it can also mean just being kind to others more in general. Placing your trust in others, as well as receiving trust from others, can improve your emotional well-being and build self-worth. Being kind to people, regardless of whether you know them or not, boosts happiness and can build self-esteem.

Plus, socializing with another person can be a great way to learn new things, reminisce about happy times in the past or even just laugh — as well as serve as a second set of eyes to help find the silver lining in a stressful or frustrating situation.

5. Set goals for yourself

There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment. Whether it’s losing 10 pounds, saving up money for a down payment or getting that promotion you’ve been gunning for — achieving a goal can help boost your self-esteem and self-worth.

One thing to keep in mid while setting goals, though, is to make sure they’re realistic. Your goals should be challenging, but should also play toward your strengths. In addition, make sure you can devote the time and effort needed to achieve the goals you’re setting. If there’s something you’d like to do, but are unsure how realistic it might be, consider trying it as a hobby first.

6. Stay present

It can be easy to fixate on questions like: What if? Why me? and What’s next?

But these questions can distract your mind from enjoying life and completing the tasks at hand. In fact, research shows that “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

Rather than thinking about what isn’t even actually happening right now, focus on what is happening. Your coffee is hot. This new playlist sounds fun. Your dog looks extra fluffy today. This banana tastes perfectly ripened.

Whether it’s a sound, smell, taste or sight, focusing on physical sensations you’re experiencing can help quiet your busy mind and ground you in the present moment.

7. Make time for exercise

We all know that exercising regularly is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight, and you may also know that it benefits your heart. But exercise also benefits your brain — supporting cognitive function, improving mood and reducing stress and anxiety.

Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, which relieve stress. It also stimulates the release of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine — which help regulate your mood. For instance, the serotonin boost you get from exercise can help improve your sense of well-being. In addition, exercise helps balance adrenaline levels in your body, which can reduce stress.

This means that regular exercise, even if it’s just 20 minutes a day, can help you cope with stress and improve your overall mental health. It’s also a great way to feel a sense of accomplishment, as well as a healthy way to take control of your life during a time of uncertainty.

8. Eat healthily

Your brain is one of the busiest organs in your body — and it needs the right kind of fuel to keep it functioning at its very best.

Eating well-balanced meals full of foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can help improve your mood and promote cognitive function. A healthy diet includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Take note that processed foods, which can be high in refined sugars and saturated fats, are not on this list.

If you need something more concrete than a list and you’re looking for a healthy diet to help keep you on track, consider the Mediterranean diet.

9. Take sleep seriously

Most nights, it’s probably pretty easy to choose that TV episode that’s currently being queued up for you over getting some shut-eye. But that voice in the back of your mind saying, “It’s time for bed,” is almost always right.

Lack of sleep, as well as low-quality sleep, can have a big impact on how you feel the next day. It can make you more irritable, as well as reduce your ability to concentrate on the tasks at hand.

This means it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough sleep every single night. It’s also important to make sure you’re setting yourself up for sleep success — by doing things like avoiding staring at your devices before bed.

10. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help

Admitting that you’re struggling is hard, but there’s no shame in it.

If you feel like stress, sadness or negative feelings are starting to pile up, try confiding in a friend or family member. Talking to someone about your concerns can help you process your feelings more fully, and may help reduce some of the burdens you’re feeling. It may also strengthen the bond between yourself and another person especially if he or she is experiencing the same struggles. All of these things can help improve your mood.

If you’re concerned about your mental health, you should seek help from a medical health or mental health professional. A good place to start is your primary care doctor.