While being healthy (mentally and physically) is vital for each of us, most times, physical health takes the lion’s share when it comes to prioritization. And the result? Mental health is the one taken for granted and usually gets neglected or put off until “next week”, which of course, turns into “next month”, and it’s an endless cycle.
That’s not just a generalised statement – it’s the reality. Did you know that although tens of millions of people in the US have mental illnesses, only half of them receive treatment? The impacts of not doing so can be severe – varying from an inability to perform daily functions to suicide.
With that being the case, it's crucial not to push your mental health to the back burner to maintain your well-being. But sometimes, you just don't know how to give it the right amount of attention, right? That's why we're about to tell you all about how to make your mental health a priority.
1. Keep Your Stress Levels in Check
If you’re someone who tends to get stressed quite easily, that’s something you’ll need to work on. Stress is one of the most negative emotions because it takes a huge toll on your mental and emotional health, getting in the way of everything you do.
Most times, that disruption it causes doesn't only come in the form of how you feel, think, or behave but also how your body performs its functions. So, for example, it's not abnormal to encounter insomnia, loss of appetite, concentration difficulties, and more as a result of stress.
So, what’s there to be done? It’s not like you can click on a button to avoid getting stressed and turn off any stressors, right? True, but there are stress management strategies to help you stay balanced.
Stress management strategies differ in nature, so you’re guaranteed to find one that appeals to you. One of the most common ones is relaxation practices and techniques, like yoga, deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and similar. These have been shown to have a significant impact on reducing stress and balancing your mind’s well-being.
Another strategy is appealing to your senses, which basically involves doing what relaxes your body in relation to your five senses. For instance, if uplifting songs tend to calm you down, you should listen to them, or if squeezing a stress ball puts brakes on your stress, you should use them, and similar!
Either way and whichever strategy you choose, the goal is to get your stress-busting hormones released and familiarise yourself with how you can calm yourself anytime, regardless of where or when stress hits you.
2. Don’t Skimp on Sleep!
Have you ever heard that if you skimp on sleep too often, you might end up sick? Unfortunately, that’s not an exaggeration. Not only does lack of sleep influence your mental well-being, but it also affects your immune system, putting you at higher risk of getting sick and determining how fast you recover if you do.
On top of that, when you don’t give your body the rest it needs, your brain has trouble functioning properly, and you’ll find yourself retaining and learning information much more slowly, and memories aren’t formed as naturally as they should.
Not just that, but not getting enough sleep further reduces your ability to feel satisfied and happy with your life. It may seem like a catch, but it really isn’t. As we were just saying, sufficient sleep supports the proper functioning of the brain, including producing hormones and chemicals that regulate mood and support positive mental well-being.
So, the next time life gets busy, and you think that sleep should be the first thing to go, you might want to think again.
High-quality sleep isn’t a luxury; it’s a must for your well-being, so don’t skimp on it. But it’s worth mentioning that we’re not referring to occasional late nights – we’re talking about consistently missing out on sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation is bad all-around!
The bottom line is that with a good night’s sleep being so essential to your health, prioritise it no matter how busy or demanding your schedule gets before it wreaks havoc on your health. Always aim to get your 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night!
Additionally, work on developing healthy sleep habits to help you, like establishing a bedtime routine and being consistent with it, setting up some bedtime rituals like taking a warm bath or shower before going to bed, optimising your surrounding environment for sleep, and more.
3. Find Your Purpose in Life
Purpose means different things to different people, so there's no definitive answer we can give as to what purpose means, but you may think of it as "what drives you on" or your reason to get out of bed every day. Sometimes, when you're confused about what gives your life purpose and meaning, your mental health goes South.
In fact, finding your purpose in life is also crucial to brain health because it helps it generate new cells, create new neural pathways, and more. Body-wise, it also strengthens your immune system, alleviates pain and beyond.
If you’re wondering about the relationship between your purpose and your body, it’s very simple – when you have a purpose, you’re motivated. And when you’re motivated, your body wants to support you to pursue your goals and ambitions, and so it works to relieve stress, keep you motivated, and support you physically.
Now that you’re aware of that, our piece of advice to you would be to practice whatever it is that brings you meaning and purpose and provides you with the fulfilment that keeps you content.
For instance, if your purpose in life is to feel good about yourself, you may volunteer on a regular basis to help others or the community and explore schools, churches, charitable organisations, and similar.
Similarly, if your purpose is to feel needed, you may want to consider caring for a pet – they’re the pros when it comes to making you feel needed and wanted, and they’ll shower you with unconditional love that’ll provide you with your purpose and more.
Take the time to sit down with yourself and pinpoint what exactly gives you the most rewarding and meaningful feeling, and take it from there! The more you practice these activities or practices, the higher your sense of purpose will be and the better your mental health.
4. Eat With Mental Health in Mind
If you've ever gone on a diet, you may have noticed that your body felt different and that you were thinking and even feeling differently. At that time, you probably associated it with weight loss, but in reality, what you eat and don't eat really does affect how you feel.
If your diet consists of unhealthy foods, it’s an endless loop from there. Your sleep gets disrupted, energy gets sapped, your immune system gets weakened, and of course, that all takes a toll on your brain and mood.
In contrast, with a wholesome diet (one that has a balance between protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, fiber, and minerals), reduced sugar, and a lot of healthy fats, you’ll find yourself more energetic, sleeping better, feeling better, and even looking better.
Naturally, there's no one-size-fits-all diet to provide you with since people respond differently to certain foods, and genetics and health factors also go into the equation. But, what we can advise you is to experiment with how the inclusion or exclusion of certain food from your diet changes the way you feel.
Generally, sugary snacks, refined carbs, fried food, food with high levels of chemical preservatives, food including partially hydrogenated oil, alcohol, and caffeine are all associated with negatively affecting mood, so that’s a good place to start.
On the other hand, avocados, nuts, beans, leafy greens, fresh fruit, and fatty fish rich in Omega-3s are known to boost mood and induce positive feelings, so try plugging them into your diet and see what happens.
Before we move on, remember that we're not telling you to completely eliminate all the food you enjoy out of your diet – at all! It's not an all-or-nothing thing – just make a few minor changes at a time and keep it simple to set yourself up for success. It's all about making the right changes and focusing on how you feel after eating to foster healthy new habits.
5. Move Your Body and Stay Active
Yes, staying active provides the same benefits for your brain that it does for your body! After all, there are many ways our minds and bodies are linked and connected, and this is no exception.
Physical activity is known to release endorphins, chemicals that the body produces to relieve stress and pain. They act in a manner similar to that of opioids, which induce feelings of euphoria. Therefore, if you've ever felt that your mood got lifted significantly after a run, you didn't imagine it!
Regular exercise or physical activity can both provide practical solutions to mental and emotional health issues like depression, anxiety, and stress, boost your mood, improve your sleep, and enhance your memory.
Also, we can hear you saying that you're not a fan of exercising or don't have time for it, and take our word for it: you're not alone. But the cherry on top is that you don't even need to be a fitness fanatic to enjoy the benefits of staying active. You don't need to dedicate a specific time slot every day for exercising either.
Getting your body moving can be as simple as taking a walk, dancing to your favourite music, walking laps in a mall (with an air conditioner!) while shopping, playing Frisbee with your pet, walking to an appointment rather than driving, using the stairs rather than elevators, cycling, and similar.
So, no, you don't need to jog on a treadmill or hold pound weights at the gym until you're soaking wet in sweat and your muscles ache! While that's very welcomed, too, even modest amounts of physical activity can make all the difference to your mental and emotional health.
Also, it really helps to add a mindful element to your workouts. So, rather than thinking about everything in your life while you exercise, focus on your body and how it’s working during the exercise, like the feeling of the wind touching your skin, the rhythm of your breathing, and similar.
That's the only way you can disconnect, even if for a little while, from today's "always-on" culture that leaves us always wondering, thinking, and striving about what we're going to do next after we finish what we're currently doing or have on hand, which makes it challenging to embrace the very moment we're living in at present.
Aim to start with around 30 minutes of activity a couple of days a week or three 10-minute sessions, and you’ll love it!
6. Maintain a Sense of Social Connection
While the previous tips for making your mental health a priority mostly involved working on yourself and didn’t necessarily include dealing with other people, this one is all about harnessing the power of face-to-face connections and building a meaningful support network.
In today’s day and age, phone calls and social networks have become the norm, taking the world by storm and immediately diminishing the value of quality face-to-face time with other people. But the thing is, nothing can beat that quality time!
We all have people we just love spending time with, so work on increasing your interaction time with them, even if you both lead busy lives. This should be someone (or a group of people) who you can talk to freely, who will listen to you without any judgments or criticism, and who you can do things with and not feel bored.
With the right company, you'll both feel and function at your optimum level because positive connections to others are what make us thrive! That's how our brains are wired as social creatures – we crave companionship, not isolation.
And if you feel that you don't really have someone in mind to turn to, that's perfectly fine. You can always build new friendships, even with acquaintances or people you encounter on a daily basis, and might have mutual interests with you.
All it takes is exchanging a smile, making small talk, or a friendly greeting! Just break the ice, and you'll be okay. You never know where it may lead, too!
You can also try expanding your circle of friends and colleagues by joining committees, institutions, or groups based on your interests and preferences. Although it may take time to build a relationship with someone, it’s entirely worth it when you actually do.
To make sure you connect with others, always try to set up regular get-togethers with your loved ones, and do your best to stick to them. Remember that every time you get together doesn't have to be for a full day or even a couple of hours – it can be as short as meeting while running errands, going to the grocery store together, or exercising together.
Just do whatever it takes to get out from behind the smartphone or laptop screen and have direct contact with other people rather than virtual interactions because they simply don’t provide the same value that real-world relationships do.
And most importantly, when you do meet up with a friend, it’d be best to turn off your notifications and put your phones and laptops aside so that nothing takes away from the value of your interactions. Reminders, notifications, messages, and calls can all bombard you and unintentionally fuel anxiety and stress, so to feel present, drop the technology!
To Building Better Mental Health!
The six strategies we've discussed should certainly give you more than a head start to get you on your way to making mental health a priority and improving your well-being for good! If you ever lose track, remind yourself that your mental health paves the way for everything you do, from how you think and feel all the way to how you behave in daily life.
When you’re mentally healthy, you’ll develop a zest for living, be able to laugh and have fun, be content, be able to deal with stress, have a sense of meaning and purpose, and be able to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
It’s not about never feeling upset a day in your life ever again but rather about building the resilience that’ll empower you to bounce back from anything unfortunate you encounter in your life.
Just like anything else, mental health requires effort to maintain, so don’t let life take a toll on it and put your all into making it a priority. Start today and let the magic happen!