We live in something like Charles Dickins’ Tale of Two Cities. It is a time of great mental health awareness, and a time of ignoring that awareness. It is a time of miraculous medical advancement, and a time of that advancement being denied to people constantly. It is a time when we know how to take care of ourselves, and a time when we can’t fit it into our schedules.
These are the paradoxes that make mental health difficult to manage. You can have all the knowledge in the world while having none of the time you need to apply it.
But part of having the knowledge you need in order to take care of yourself means knowing the small things you can do. After all, maybe you’re working 14 hours a day. In that circumstance, it probably feels like there is nothing you can do to help your mental health. At the same time, there might be plenty of things you can do that you just are not aware of.
So, let’s go over the top 10 ways to look after your mental health. Some of these you can do at work, some at home, and some you can do anywhere that you’re awake.
Own Your Thoughts Selectively
We decided to lead with this one because not enough people talk about it. No one is perfectly in control of their thoughts. Everyone thinks things, both negative and positive, that are wrong. Sometimes that means they are morally wrong, sometimes it means they’re factually incorrect.
One of the best things you can do is practice owning the thoughts you approve of and disowning the thoughts you disapprove of. If you think something that you know is vile, then follow it up by thinking, “That’s a weird thought. I don’t consider that my thought.” This is really important for people whose minds wander a lot, and it’s better than beating yourself up over your thoughts.
Keep Track of the Good Things Alongside the Bad
We are never going to tell anyone to pretend like bad things don’t exist. But part of good mental health is knowing that even if you are surrounded by bad things, good things exist. Another important part of mental health is knowing that even if you are surrounded by good things, bad things exist. Make a habit of recognizing the good when you see the bad.
Don’t worry about doing the reverse though; the human mind accentuates the negative, so you are probably already recognizing the bad when you see the good by default.
Give to People
This does not just mean hand dollar bills to the homeless (although that’s a good start). Give attention. Give praise. Give people what you want, because that makes it more likely that they will give the same thing back to you in exchange.
Stay Physically Active
Anyone who has read two words about mental health on the internet knew this was coming. But there is a reason everyone recommends it: Physical activity is part of the body’s ability to handle its emotions. It’s all hormones and chemicals after all, and exercise helps with that process.
Stay Mentally Active
Some people find themselves mentally overactive, and so they probably think that this tip isn’t for them. That is not true. Staying mentally active means stimulating your intellect, not just overthinking text messages. That means you need to be asking interesting questions about the world, seeking new horizons in your interests, and thinking deeply about what you are doing.
Directed thinking is enlightening. Omnidirectional thinking is just painful.
There are a lot of ways to do this, and none of them are going to work very well at first. Even if you go to bed at a good time, you are still probably going to lie in bed trying to sleep for hours.
If you consistently go to bed at the same time, however, your body will learn to relax at that time. And if you curtail your pattern of eating to fit that time, it will work even better.
Eat Healthy, at Least Before Bed
And speaking of eating, that is another common mental health tip you have probably heard before. Like exercise though, it is absolutely true. If you eat nothing but crackers and drink nothing but soda, your body will be in pain from the lack of nutrients.
Prioritize macronutrients (protein, lipids, and carbs) and then vitamins (A, B, C, D, etc.).
Treat Yourself, but Not Before Bed
You don’t have to be responsible all the time though. As long as you are staying active somehow (whether mentally or physically) you can eat almost whatever you want in small portions throughout the day. Make that time your time to eat the things that make you happy, no matter how unhealthy they are on paper. Just remember to pace yourself.
Gratitude can be difficult for someone who is in pain. But you might be surprised how good of a pain reliever it is. And remember, you don’t have to extend this gratitude to people. Thanking people for their patience and attention is good. However, you can also thank a tree for cleaning the air, a spider for catching mosquitos, or the sky for being blue. Thank what makes you happy.
Set Trivial Goals and Celebrate Them
This is a two-for-one tip, as you can do either of these things independently from the other. The first step is setting goals for yourself. Make a goal out of getting out of bed, and then another for showering. The second step is celebrating them. Cheer for yourself. Reward yourself.
Suffering from mental pain can make everything take herculean effort. And people regularly get rewarded for herculean effort, so you should too.
There are a lot of ways, big and small, external and internal, for you to improve your mental health. But probably the biggest thing you can do for yourself is believe that improving your mental health is possible in the first place.
Check out New Waters Recovery if you want to explore your mental health with professionals.
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