If you want to take care of your body, then you eat right, exercise, visit the doctor regularly, pay attention to signals that indicate wellness, and engage in healthy habits that support your overall well-being. But, if you want to take care of your mind, what should you do? As it turns out, many of the exact same things that you do for other parts of your health.
Below, we explore lifestyle choices that can help to improve your mental health. We also examine some of the warning signs to watch for when it comes to your psychological wellness and the positive indicators that your mental health is stable. We share suggestions for habits and lifestyle choices that you can make that will provide you with optimal mental health, as well.
Understanding Mental Health
Your mental health encompasses your social, psychological, and emotional wellness. Mental health influences how you feel, think, and act throughout your life while determining how you related to others, cope with setbacks, and make decisions that can change your life. Your mental health is a critical part of your overall wellness at all stages of your life.
Your mental health is important for many reasons. Your ability to cope with stress is dictated by your psychological and emotional health. Whether you have strong, healthy relationships also depends on your mental well-being. This aspect of wellness influences how well you take care of yourself, your ability to be productive and accomplish your dreams, how well you contribute to society, and your overall ability to realize your potential in life. In short, without strong mental health, it is exceedingly difficult to succeed in other parts of your life.
When your mental health is weak, you can have psychological or emotional problems that interfere with your ability to live happily and healthily. Mental health problems and illnesses affect your behavior, how you think, and how you feel. Disorders like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder can make it difficult to function or lead a productive life.
While mental health problems are common, with about half of all people in the U.S. suffering from some form of a disorder (Centers for Disease Control), there are many treatments and changes to lifestyle that can improve these conditions. The best treatments are those that combine conventional therapies with healthy changes to lifestyle that focus on overall wellness.
10 Signs Of Damaged Or Poor Mental Health
Your mental health can be healthy and weak depending on life, your current circumstances, and other variables that influence your mood, and we all got through periods where our mental health is low from time to time. When these periods last for extensive amounts of time or when you are struggling to maintain a normal life because of your psychological problems, though, you may have or be heading toward a mental illness.
There are many warning signs that you should be aware of that can indicate that you or a loved one is struggling with mental health problems. While some of the symptoms are more obvious, such as crying all the time, others are more subtle. Here are several signs of mental illness to watch for.
1. Feeling overly worried or anxious. While it is reasonable to feel stressed or worried now and then, anxiety that is consistent and interferes with your daily life is not normal. Chronic anxiety can negatively affect your physical health while also influencing how you perceive and think about life.
2. Chronic unhappiness or depression. If you feel hopeless, lack interest in life, or are sad all the time, then depression could be a problem for you. Depression that lasts longer than a few weeks could signal a mental illness that you should have treated by a qualified professional.
3. Changes in your appetite or weight- If you have lost or gained quite a few pounds in a brief period without making a concerted effort to do so, then you should pay attention for other warning signs of mental health problems.
4. Being prone to emotional outbursts- If you find that your mood changes very suddenly and dramatically or that you often act out toward others or yourself in anger or distress, then you should be careful. Uncontrollable emotional outbursts are a sign that you are not managing your emotions well or that your mental health is suffering.
5. Withdrawing from loved ones or life- While it is necessary to spend time alone and focus on yourself from time to time, if you are purposefully withdrawing from friends, loved ones, obligations, and other parts of your life, this is a sign that your mental health is suffering.
6. Changes in sleeping patterns- If the amount or quality of your sleep has changed significantly, you could be suffering from a mental health problem. Sleep disturbances are common with anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.
7. Having thoughts of worthlessness or guilt- If you often think, “Why bother?” or “I’m worthless,” this is a clear sign that your mental health is suffering. Blaming yourself or continuously criticizing yourself, especially for things that are beyond your control, can indicate your self-esteem or psychological health is lacking.
8. Abusing substances or engaging in addictive behaviors- Addictions are ways to numb the pain, distract yourself from emotional turmoil, and improve your mood. But these behaviors also lead to more mental health problems. Whether you take drugs, drink alcohol, or engage in other compulsive behaviors like gambling or shopping, you need to pay attention to what these are telling you about your mental health.
9. Difficulties thinking or using logic- Mental health disorders can cause you to lose concentration, have trouble remembering, or find that your beliefs or thoughts have become exaggerated or unusual, you should pay attention to your mental health.
10. Your behavior or feelings change significantly- If you notice that you no longer enjoy the same activities, your functioning at work or school has declined dramatically, or your thoughts are vastly different than they used to be, you could be developing mental health issues. Changes in mood or behavior are early warning signs of mental health problems.
Characteristics Of Positive Mental Health
Having strong mental health is not just about having no mental health problems. Being free of disorders like anxiety and depression is excellent, but it is not enough to be mentally healthy.
Instead, psychological wellness also includes your abilities to overcome challenges, connect with other people, recover from hardships and setbacks, and cope with stress. To be strong mentally and emotionally, you must be able to perceive reality, accept it for what it is, manage your emotions, and react to life and others in productive, healthy ways.
You reveal your mental health by what you do and what you do not do. Below, we describe the characteristics of those with robust mental health, so that you understand what you need to work toward if you want to improve your psychological wellness.
20 Signs You Are Mentally Strong
1. Your sense of self is strong. When you are psychologically well, you have a clear understanding of who you are. You know you can rely on yourself, and you are not codependent or possessive.
Being mentally healthy means you know yourself well and can depend on your own strengths when necessary while also know when it is okay to ask others for help. You do not easily question your own identity, either.
2. You have healthy self-esteem. Your self-esteem is part of your sense of self and is your confidence in your own abilities and needs. Those whose self-esteem is healthy accept their weaknesses as well as their strengths. You know how to self-evaluate and are not dependent on others to validate your accomplishments.
3. You have strong, healthy relationships. Being mentally healthy depends a great deal on the other people in your life. When you are able to form healthy relationships that include firm boundaries, then you will enjoy strong mental health. Treating others well and fairly, showing them respect and love, and ridding your life of those who are harmful, and toxic are all important for maintaining your mental health.
4. You accept what you can and cannot control. A sign of mental health is understanding and accepting that not everything in your life is within your control. A desire to control everything or to worry about things outside your influence creates anxiety. Focusing on what you can change gives you autonomy in your life and helps you enjoy better happiness.
5. You realize the world owes you nothing. Those who feel entitled will suffer in life because they do not possess the mental strength to get what they want. Entitlement is a sign that you are relying on “fate” or “the universe” to take care of you when, in reality, only you can make yourself happy. Being mentally healthy means realizing that life is not always fair, and you make not get what you want, but that is no reason to treat others poorly or unfairly.
6. You are realistic about life. Using reasoning and logical thinking is a sign of mental health. It means you accept reality for what it is, you are aware of what is happening around you, and you lack the understanding and acceptance necessary to be happy in a sometimes-irrational world. Those who are the most realistic are the happiest because they understand the boundaries in which they must operate to succeed in life.
7. You are proactive and take charge of your life. You understand that you are responsible for your life, and if there is a problem, you must be the one to fix it. You work to prevent issues by considering your choices, making informed decisions, and having a plan for when things might go wrong. You feel in control and know that, even though life can be challenging, you can learn a lot and enjoy life for all it offers.
8. You understand your emotions and know how to manage them. Having strong emotional health is vital to your overall mental well-being. Your feelings are a necessary part of your life, and you know how to recognize what you are feeling, you know the sources of your emotions, and you make healthy choices based on how you feel. You use self-reflection regularly to stay in touch with how you feel and to work through trauma and pain in healthy ways.
9. You have empathy for others. Those who are mentally healthy know and understand their own emotions and can apply that by having empathy for others. While you may not agree with others, you can know how they feel and act. You have compassion for those in pain and try to help when you can.
10. You are adaptable. Being mentally strong means you can adapt quickly to change or setbacks and keep a cool head in new and unexpected situations. You can make new plans or revise old ones when life throws you curve balls, and you are open to change and new ideas.
11. You enjoy helping others. Because you realize that everyone could use a helping hand from time to time to make their lives better, you enjoy being helping and caring whenever possible. You realize that you are not responsible for others’ well-being, but you understand that being kind and generous can help other people to help themselves.
12. You realize you can’t please everyone. Being mentally healthy means that you realize that you cannot possibly make everyone else happy all the time. There are people who will disagree with what you do and who will dislike you, no matter what you do. And that is about them, not you. Being mentally healthy means that you accept that your job is to like yourself, not to make others like you.
13. You set healthy boundaries for yourself. You know when to say “no” to other people as well as yourself. Mental health means knowing your own emotional responsibilities and being comfortable standing up for yourself. You say no to unhealthy behaviors from others that can harm you or others, and you do not feel guilty when you stand up for your boundaries.
14. You are open to feedback. Being mentally healthy means accepting that you do not always have all the answers, and there is still room for improvement. When you have a keen sense of yourself, you are open to feedback and learning from others, because you understand that there is always room to grow.
15. You welcome the help of others. When you understand yourself, you realize that you cannot solve everything on your own and that you need the help of others from time to time to achieve your goals. Sometimes, that might mean getting help to enable you to improve your mental health, as well.
16. You are resilient. Mental health and strength are about knowing how and when to overcome obstacles, respond appropriately to setbacks, and bounce back from failure in life. When you have mental strength, you understand that you can learn a lot from these types of negative situations,
17. You stick with it when necessary. Persistence is a sign of strong mental health, whether it is in achieving your goals, solving a problem, or forming a new habit. Persistence keeps you focused on what you want to achieve and helps you find ways around obstacles in your path.
18. You take care of yourself. When your mental health is robust, you understand the importance of caring for your physical health as much as your mental well-being. You make healthy choices about what you eat, how you move, and when you sleep. You choose to adopt habits that will support a strong body as well as a strong mind.
19. You have a growth mindset. Being mentally healthy means knowing that you can always improve yourself and your life. You are open to learning from all situations in life, and you see experiences as ways to continue growing. You enjoy trying new things and meeting new people because it allows you to learn and understand new things.
20. Your mind is at peace. One of the goals of mental health is to create harmony and acceptance within your mind. Mental health allows you to stay calm and clear-headed during a crisis, teaching you to use your rational thought instead of your emotional brain to make good choices, and you know ways to deal with stress to keep your mind from racing.
Lifestyle Choices That Can Improve Your Mental Health
Now that we have examined what strong and poor mental health look like, it is time to consider how you can improve your own mental well-being. Mental health is not something you “have” but instead is something you do.
It is a set of skills that you must practice, and developing some regular habits and changing your lifestyle in key ways can enable you to improve that mental health over time.
Anybody can have mental or emotional health problems in their lives, and most of us probably will at some point. In fact, nearly 20 percent of Americans have a diagnosable mental health disorder. But even though this is common, most of us do little to maintain our mental health or to address problems when they arise.
You do not have to suffer or feel bad, though. There are plenty of things you can do, including lifestyle changes, that will elevate your mood and help you feel mentally stronger. It will take time and patience as well as dedication, just like it does to lose weight, become physically stronger, or improve your body’s health.
Below, we explore many lifestyle changes that can bring you better mental health when you practice them regularly. While you may already be doing some, others may come as a surprise or be areas where you can improve. Adopting just one or two of these at a time, then working to make them healthy habits in your life, can boost your psychological health.
1| Exercise Regularly
Getting exercise for at least 20 minutes every day can boost your mental health. Exercise releases “feel-good” hormones and neurotransmitters that can boost your mental outlook. Moving regularly improves blood flow to your brain, which can improve cognitive function. When you are fit and active, you improve your self-esteem, as well. Those who exercise regularly have a reduced risk for depression, anxiety, heart disease, obesity, and other chronic illnesses.
Any exercise that involves social interaction has additional benefits, as does working out outside (more on these below). Finding activities that you enjoy will increase the likelihood that you will stick with the habit. One of the best things you can do for your mind is to take care of your body, and exercise is a significant part of that habit.
2| Become More Mindful
Mindfulness is a state of being aware of yourself and your feelings and thoughts in the present moment. You can learn to focus your mind and calm your body to pay attention to your current thoughts and emotions by learning mindfulness techniques.
When you are more mindful, you worry less about the things outside of your control and focus more on how you are currently doing and feeling. Mindfulness teaches you to understand how your mental state affects your body and your actions, as well. Learning to be more mindful improves your brain’s connections and processing, giving you lower levels of stress, improved memory and cognition, and better control over your emotional health.
3| Eat for Better Mental Health
What you eat has a considerable influence on your mental health. A healthy diet full of the macro- and micronutrients your body and brain needs can help your mind perform well and stabilize your mood and emotions.
Your brain, for example, needs healthy fats, magnesium, zinc, and folate to perform well. It also benefits from polyphenols, which can reduce inflammation and encourage healthy blood flow and neural processing.
Eating a diet primarily made from plants and plant-based foods and avoiding foods that are processed, high in sugar, fat, or salt can help keep your body and mind healthy while protecting your mental health.
4| Create a Strong Support System
We are social beings and having other people in our lives who we trust, and love is an essential part of maintaining good mental health. Relationships offer us comfort, give us a sense of purpose, provide support and advice, and give us companionship.
Those with robust mental health have friends, family, coworkers, and mentors they can turn to for assorted reasons and know they can rely on others for support.
5| Reduce Your Stress
Stress is a contributing factor to mental illness and mental health decay. Finding ways to manage and cope with your stress is, therefore, critical for your mental health needs. First, find ways to minimize or reduce sources of stress in your life whenever possible. This can mean changing jobs, getting rid of obligations that do not bring you happiness, or cutting out toxic people from your life.
Next, find ways to learn to cope better with your stress. Helpful strategies for stress management include exercise, yoga, meditation, journaling, spending time outdoors, engaging in a hobby, spending time with friends, and laughing. Doing something every day to help you manage your stress is vital for your overall mental well-being.
6| Share Your Feelings With Someone
Whether you are worried, stressed, happy, angry, or upset, talking with someone about your feelings is an effective strategy for reflecting on how you feel, for working out solutions to problems, and for getting others’ perspectives on your situation. When you have a strong bond with others, you develop a more positive attitude about life and yourself, too.
7| Quit Your Bad Habits
Giving up substances like alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs can have a significantly positive impact on your mental health. Alcohol and other depressants can worsen mental health issues while also decreasing your overall physical health.
Drugs, alcohol, and smoking are often used as coping strategies to help manage emotions and influence mood, but they are not highly effective and only lead to worsening troubles. Give up these unhealthy habits to boost your mental health.
8| Get Plenty Of Quality Sleep
Treating insomnia and other sleeping disorders is crucial for maintaining positive mental health. Sleep is a time when your body and brain recover from your day, when your brain strengthens neural pathways, and when you rest and rejuvenate your cells and tissues.
Without proper sleep, you will have less control over your emotional well-being, your brain will have a harder time thinking logically and rationally, and you will struggle more to cope with stress. Sleep is vital for everyone, especially those with a mental illness.
9| Keep a Journal
Writing in a journal on a regular basis can help you maintain positive mental well-being. Expressive writing whether you share your thoughts and feelings is a healthy mechanism for coping with stress.
It is also a great strategy for working through difficult emotions, for making tough decisions, and for reflecting on areas for improvement in your life. Keeping a journal and writing in it at least three times per week is a simple yet effective strategy for maintaining your mental health.
10| Spend Time Outside
Spending time outdoors and in nature benefits your mental health in several ways. The first is that it exposes you to the sunshine, which boosts your Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D plays a significant role in your mental wellness while also helping you to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Sunshine also helps you control your serotonin levels, which is a neurotransmitter that boosts your mood and enables you to manage your emotions.
Being exposed to nature also helps to reduce your stress while also improving your self-esteem. Being outdoors helps you feel more connected to the world and others and gives you a peaceful respite from the noise and stress of daily life, both of which influence your mental health.
Another aspect of the natural world is animals, and plenty of research supports the idea that having a pet or being around animals improves your emotional and mental health. When you take care of another living creature, your sense of purpose is stronger. Having a pet reduces stress while also providing you with companionship.
11| Give Yourself A Break
Knowing when to rest, get away, and decompress is an essential habit for mental well-being. It is important to take breaks throughout your day to give your mind time to reflect and rest.
It is also crucial that you get away from daily life and pressure regularly, such as with mini-vacations or more extended getaways.
Breaks are essential for keeping stress levels in check and give you time to reflect and learn from your experiences, as well.
12| Get Help When Needed
Making positive changes to your life can help you to relieve minor mental health issues, but if you have a mental illness or your psychological problems are interfering with your ability to live your life, then seeking professional help is the smart and healthy thing to do.
If you are under a professional’s care, it is vital that you follow their recommendations, take any medications prescribed to you, and alert your counselor or therapist with new or worsening symptoms arise.
You can also talk with friends and loved ones about your mental illness, as they are a source of help and support. But if you are in crisis or feel like you need more help than your support system can provide, be sure to find the help you need from a trained mental health professional.
Today’s constantly connected world contributes to our stress and feelings of being overwhelmed or out of control. It is vital to give your mind a rest for social media, images, and other sources of information from time to time.
Turning off the TV, cell phone, tablet, and the computer allows you to spend time with yourself, appreciate your life and the world, and consider your current happiness and health. Take a hiatus from the connected world from time to time to recharge your batteries and get a new perspective.
14| Think Positively
How we think has a powerful influence on our decisions and actions as well as our emotions. Thinking positively helps you feel better about yourself, which in turn helps you make better decisions and develop healthier habits. When you feel negative thoughts creeping in, make an effort to change those to more positive ideas.
Silence critical self-talk that damages your self-esteem. Embrace the positive in all situations in your life. Look for things that make you happy and enjoy them. While you do not have to always be happy to be healthy, learning to lean more toward positivity and less toward pessimism goes a long way to improving your outlook and boosting your mental health.
15| Practice Gratitude
Along the lines of positive, regularly focus on those things in your life for which you are most grateful. Gratitude is linked with mental health and improved well-being. Develop a habit of periodically contemplating your gratitude and recording those things in your life for which you are more grateful.
Keep a gratitude journal, tell people in your life how much you appreciate them, and focus on your gifts and blessings instead of your burdens to increase your mental health.
16| Find a Purpose
When you have meaning and purpose in your life, you are much more likely also to have strong mental health. When you feel needed or good about yourself, you will be driven to succeed and achieve your goals.
Purpose helps you stay motivated, and it gives you new ideas for attaining even larger dreams. Having a purpose generates new brains cells and also creates new neural pathways, which improves your brain health over time. When you feel purposeful, you experience less pain, have better emotional regulation, and have lower levels of stress.
Find work that is engaging and provides you with meaning for others and yourself. Figure out your values and goals and pursue those with zeal. Engage in hobbies and pastimes that help you feel productive and bring you happiness.
17| Give to Others
When you volunteer or donate to those in need, you help them while also improving your own mental health. Volunteering enables you to connect with others. It also helps you develop empathy, learn about other people, and see how you can make a difference in your community. Charitable giving is shown to boost emotional health and improve psychological well-being, so find ways to help others in your area.
18| Take Care of Loved Ones
Caring for others, including children, parents, those who are ill, and the disabled is a rewarding, meaningful, and challenging experience. All of these are good for your mental health, though. When you take care of other people, you feel purposeful and productive, which influences your well-being.
19| Find a Hobby
When you do things that are challenging as well as enjoyable, you improve your psychological health. Hobbies are great for reducing stress, teaching you skills or information, and helping you to meet new people. Hobbies that are outdoors, engage your body as well as your mind, or give you reasons to interact socially have double benefits for your mental health, too.
20| Work on Your Resilience
Strong mental health means being able to get through change, loss, or disappointments without significant emotional upheaval. Building your resilience can help you to improve your psychological well-being. Work on challenging yourself to try new things. Find ways to learn from setbacks and failure. Practice ways to cope with failure or disappointment to help you develop problem-solving skills and increase your resilience.
21| Accept Yourself
Learning to accept yourself is part of your mental health. We are all different, and when you learn to appreciate yourself for those differences, instead of constantly comparing yourself to others, you can thrive and enjoy stronger mental health.
Healthy self-esteem requires you to be proud of yourself and how you are, including what makes you unique from others. Knowing your own strengths and limitations is part of that, including understanding what you can and cannot change about yourself. When you start to accept yourself for what and who you are, you will enjoy much stronger mental health.
Safeguarding your mental health should be a priority in everyone’s life. Without it, your thinking, reasoning, productivity, emotional stability, and relationships can dramatically suffer. Your mental health is crucial to achieving your goals, realizing your dreams, and being happy in this life.
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