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10 Strategies for Improving and Maintaining Mental Health

Thu, 10/05/2023 - 15:25

In an age of constant hustle and bustle, it can feel impossible to set time aside for thinking about mental health. With work, school, family, and other obligations pressing to the forefront, concerns about our emotional and mental wellbeing naturally take a back seat. 

There is a common belief that we don’t need to worry about a problem if it doesn’t interfere with our lives in a significant way. Unfortunately, this is not always true. Issues with mental health can affect anyone seemingly out of nowhere, eventually adding up to throw a monkey wrench into our plans. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality only holds water for so long. 

Luckily, there are many small adjustments we can make in our lives to help improve and maintain mental, emotional, and physical health. Making an effort to adopt healthy behaviors in the early stages of mental challenges, such as depression or anxiety, can help to manage symptoms down the line. When we sense something isn’t quite right, it’s often better to address the issue before it develops into something more.

DISCLAIMER: The following tips are not intended as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Various cases of mental illness may persist and fluctuate regardless of changes in lifestyle. Do not disregard medical advice or delay seeking the advice of a mental health care provider based on the content of this article.

Let’s take a look at 10 strategies for improving and maintaining mental health through practical and gradual adjustments:

Physical Exercise 
Regular exercise offers a smorgasbord of mental health benefits, providing significant relief to depression, anxiety, and other illnesses. Working out at the gym, going for a quick run, or even walking around your neighborhood for an hour can make a huge difference in seemingly unrelated areas of your life. Those who exercise regularly experience increased energy throughout the day, better sleep at night, better memory and problem-solving, and an overall improved outlook on life.

Maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet improves working memory and concentration, reduces mood swings, and lessens fatigue. It can be very beneficial to avoid processed foods and instead opt for more nutrient-dense, whole-food options, such as veggies, fruits, brown rice, eggs, and fish. 

“You are what you eat” may be an old cliché, but new studies have shown that the relationship between gut health and the brain plays an outsized role in determining our overall quality of life.   

Getting regular sleep is arguably one of the most important aspects of maintaining one’s mental health. Just like exercising regularly and maintaining a well-balanced diet, sleep largely affects our ability to focus, deal with mental and physical stress, and keep depression and anxiety at bay.  

Mindfulness Practice
Various forms of meditation, yoga, tai chi, and other mindfulness practices are empirically proven to increase calmness and mental clarity, improve working memory, and enhance one’s ability to regulate emotions.

Being in the present moment can be incredibly challenging, especially in today’s milieu of constant distractions. Luckily, it’s possible to train oneself through mindfulness exercises to let go of ruminations and constant self-judgment. Various relaxation practices based on Buddhist principles and other Eastern traditions help to reduce anxiety and stress, often helping to lessen the effects of mental illness.

Immerse Yourself in Nature   
It’s become easier than ever to get lost in our smartphones and forget how much the great outdoors has to offer us. Spending time amongst nature has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, elevate mood, improve sleep quality, and enhance cognitive function. Even going for a short walk through a park or sitting under a tree can yield significant results for your mental health.

Practice Gratitude
Toward the end of your day, try listing off 3 things that you’re grateful for. This can be a private exercise or done with a group. Some families like to go around the table at dinner and share something they’re thankful for on that given day.

It may be difficult or feel funny at first, so start with something small. For example, you may have noticed how good the sun felt on your skin as you stepped out the door to start the day. Or perhaps you solved a really tough problem at work or school.

This is an especially fruitful practice when taking note of the subtle gestures of kindness that come from those around us. The next time somebody holds the door for you or brings you a treat they know you love, take a moment’s pause and observe how it makes you feel. (Also, don’t forget to say thank you!)

Acknowledging and appreciating the little things can add up in surprising ways.  

Maintain Relationships
Whether it be with family members, old friends from years past, or neighbors you wave to from your car window, it can be challenging to stay in touch. Making an active effort to check in and see how someone’s doing can go a long way. This sort of gesture can even be as small as sending a text message to ask what someone’s been up to or how their dog is doing.

Reaching out helps to show that you care and want that person to be involved in your life in one capacity or another. Humans are social animals and live longer, happier lives when meaningful relationships are maintained.

Offering your time and energy when you have a bit to spare not only helps others directly, but pays back dividends to you as well. Studies have shown that lending a hand to other people relieves stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions by releasing dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins in the brain.

One of the most significant factors in a healthy, happy life is the balance one strikes between competing responsibilities, needs, and desires. Work/life balance is one of the more common dilemmas facing Americans today. Nevertheless, it’s becoming increasingly common to put more emphasis on time for family, leisure, and passion pursuits. Too much of a good thing isn’t beneficial to anyone. On the other hand, “all work, no play makes Jack a dull boy.” 

Management of Stress
Finding healthy ways to manage stress offers many long-term benefits. This entails avoiding detrimental coping strategies that may provide immediate relief but lead to problems down the line, such as regular drinking or drug use, spending sprees, binge eating, and other risky behavior.

The strategies mentioned above can be effective tools for leading a healthier, happier life. 

When setting out to adopt new habits and make life adjustments, it’s important to do so at your own pace. Slow and steady wins the race, and developing a plan with reachable goals is paramount to sustained improvement. 

Our friendly and compassionate mental health experts at Families, Inc are here to help. Give us a call or visit us at one of our 8 local clinics in Arkansas. Together, we can help you enjoy a healthier, happier life.



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