June 3, 2024

8 Small Habits to Improve Your Mental Health

Written by Julian Hooks

Woman working on improving her mental health

In the modern world, the pace of life is often fast and filled with stress. While big steps towards improving mental health are beneficial, small, consistent habits can also make a significant difference. Here are some simple habits that can enhance your mental well-being.

1. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness means being present and fully engaging with the moment without distraction or judgment; it involves noticing the world around you and recognizing your emotions without letting them overwhelm you. You can practice mindfulness through meditation, which involves sitting quietly and paying attention to your thoughts, sounds, the sensations of your body, or your breath – focusing on one thing at a time.

For practical steps to start, begin with just five minutes a day. Find a quiet and comfortable place, focus on your breath, and gently bring your attention back to your breath whenever it wanders. This simplicity makes it easy to integrate mindfulness into your routine despite common challenges such as distractions or feeling like there isn’t enough time. To combat these issues, start with very short sessions that can be more easily accommodated. Additionally, try incorporating mindfulness into daily activities like eating or walking which can make the practice more accessible and less time-consuming.

  • Go deeper: Consider incorporating it into unexpected areas of your life, such as mindful listening during conversations or mindful observation during routine tasks like showering or commuting. Attending mindfulness retreats or advanced workshops can also be very beneficial
  • Tech solutions: Apps like Headspace and Calm offer up advanced courses in mindfulness that cover a wide range of topics, including stress management, mindful eating, and more

2. Set a Gratitude Journal

Gratitude Journal

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Maintaining a gratitude journal can help shift your focus from what’s lacking in your life to the abundance that is present. This practice involves noting down things you are grateful for each day, which can enhance your overall sense of well-being and happiness. Many people who practice daily gratitude journaling report higher levels of positivity and motivation, highlighting the effectiveness of this simple habit.

To keep consistent with your gratitude journaling, it’s helpful to keep your journal by your bed and make writing in it the last thing you do before you go to sleep each night. This routine not only aids in remembering to write, but also ends your day on a positive note, reinforcing the benefits of the practice.

Common challenges include forgetting to write entries or feeling like there’s nothing to be grateful for. To overcome these obstacles, set a daily alarm as a reminder or keep the journal by your bedside for easy access. If you’re struggling to find things to be grateful for, start with acknowledging basic comforts such as a warm bed or a delicious meal, which can help in gradually recognizing greater and more profound aspects of gratitude.

  • Go deeper: Consider including visual elements like photos or sketches in your journal entries. This addition can make the journal more engaging and personal. Additionally, starting a gratitude circle with friends or family where you share things you’re grateful for can significantly increase the impact of this practice through social interaction, making it more enjoyable and deeply rooted in your routine
  • Tech solutions: The journaling app ‘Day One’ provides excellent support for multimedia entries, allowing you to enrich your gratitude entries with photos and voice memos. It also includes reminder features to help keep your journaling consistent

3. Connect with Nature

Man walking in the forest to improve his mental health

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Being in nature, whether you’re taking a walk through a park, gardening, or simply sitting outside, can have profound effects on your mental health by reducing stress and enhancing your mood. Studies have consistently shown that spending time in green spaces can decrease stress and lower symptoms of depression and anxiety, making it a solid option for those looking to improve their mental well-being.

To make the most of the benefits nature offers, try to spend at least 30 minutes in nature each day. This could be during your lunch break, a walk after dinner, or even a morning routine of having coffee outside. The key is regular exposure, even if it’s brief, to help cultivate a deeper connection with the environment and provide a respite from daily stresses.

Still, living in urban areas with limited access to green spaces can pose challenges. If you find yourself in this situation, look for local parks or community gardens which can offer a sanctuary from the urban environment; even small exposures, such as keeping houseplants or watching nature videos, can provide mental health benefits by bringing elements of nature into your home.

  • Go deeper: Consider practicing ecotherapy activities such as forest bathing, wildlife photography, or participating in environmental conservation projects. These activities not only deepen your connection to nature, but also actively contribute to its preservation
  • Tech solutions: The app ‘AllTrails’ is perfect for finding detailed information on local hiking trails, complete with user reviews and difficulty ratings. Another useful app, ‘PictureThis’, helps identify plants and wildlife, enhancing your connection and understanding of nature

4. Establish a Routine

A stable daily routine can provide a sense of structure and predictability, which is particularly comforting in times of stress. Such routines might include setting regular times for waking up, eating meals, and going to bed. Psychologists support this notion, suggesting that routines can significantly reduce stress levels by reducing decision fatigue and uncertainty, with consistency helping to streamline your day-to-day decisions, allowing for a smoother, less stressful experience.

However, maintaining a routine can be challenging, especially when unexpected events occur or if you have an irregular schedule due to shift work or frequent travel. In such cases, it’s beneficial to have a backup plan, like a condensed bedtime routine, that ensures you maintain some consistency even when your regular schedule is disrupted. For those with fluctuating schedules, focus on maintaining smaller, core parts of your routine, such as a morning meditation or a consistent bedtime, which can be adhered to regardless of other changes in your schedule.

  • Go deeper: Consider integrating your routine with biophilic design principles in your living or workspace to enhance your connection to natural rhythms. Advanced planning tools can also be used to fine-tune the timing of different activities based on when you are most energetic or focused
  • Tech solutions: ‘Habitica’ can be a particularly effective tool. It turns routine establishment into a game, rewarding you for consistency and helping build complex routines in a fun and engaging way. Google Calendar is also an excellent resource for visually mapping out and adjusting your routines

5. Limit Screen Time

Excessive screen time can negatively affect your mental health by disrupting your sleep and reducing the time spent on physically or socially rewarding activities. To mitigate these effects, it’s essential to take proactive steps. A practical approach is to use apps that monitor your screen time and set limits. Turning off electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime can significantly help your mind unwind and prepare for sleep, improving sleep quality and mental well-being.

However, challenges arise, especially for those whose jobs or hobbies require prolonged screen use. In such cases, it’s beneficial to use apps that track and limit screen time or set specific “screen-free” times during the day. Additionally, adjusting the screen settings to reduce eye strain can prevent sleep disruption, helping maintain both visual and mental health.

  • Go deeper: Regularly assess and adjust your screen habits by conducting weekly reviews of your app usage statistics. This ongoing evaluation allows you to understand your habits better and make necessary adjustments. Implementing tech-free zones in your home, such as in bedrooms or dining areas, can further reduce reliance on digital devices, fostering a healthier living environment
  • Tech solutions: Apps like ‘Freedom’ and ‘Offtime’ are designed to help reduce distractions by blocking apps and websites that might lure you into unnecessary screen time. These tools can be set according to schedules, encouraging better digital habits by limiting access during periods when focus should be on other activities

6. Nourish and Hydrate

The connection between our gut and brain is profoundly significant, meaning that both your diet and hydration levels can substantially affect your mental health. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provides the essential nutrients necessary for brain health. Similarly, staying hydrated is crucial as water facilitates the transport of these nutrients to the brain and helps eliminate toxins. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and probiotics are beneficial, supporting brain health and improving mood, while adequate hydration can enhance cognitive function and mood stability.

Challenges like unfamiliarity with healthy recipes or busy schedules can make it difficult to maintain a diet and hydration routine that benefits mental health.

Many people resort to eating convenience food, which may not always provide the necessary nutrients or hydration for optimal brain function.

To address these issues, plan meals ahead and consider batch-cooking healthy dishes to save time; this approach ensures that you have nutritious meals readily available and also reduces the temptation to opt for less healthy, more convenient food options. Additionally, make it a habit to carry a water bottle, ensuring you stay hydrated throughout the day. Introducing one new healthy recipe each week can gradually expand your culinary skills and preferences without overwhelming you. Incorporate foods with high water content like cucumbers, celery, and watermelon to help meet your hydration needs.

  • Go deeper: Further your understanding of nutritional science and how different nutrients and adequate hydration affect mental health and cognitive function. Experiment with international cuisines to broaden your palate and incorporate a wider variety of nutrients and hydrating foods into your diet
  • Tech solutions: ‘MyFitnessPal’ can be an excellent tool for managing your dietary and hydration habits, allowing you to log your meals and track nutrients and daily water intake, helping to identify where your diet might be lacking – and where it excels

7. Seek Social Support

Social connections are crucial for maintaining mental health; they provide a sense of belonging and self-worth, and support networks can offer help and perspective during tough times. Building strong relationships involves making regular time for friends and family or exploring new relationships through clubs or social groups – connections that can act as a buffer against stress and improve your overall emotional resilience.

However, challenges like social anxiety or feeling like a burden to others can make it difficult to seek out or maintain social connections. To overcome these barriers, start with online communities where anonymity can make interactions feel less intimidating. This can be a safer space to engage without the immediate pressures of face-to-face communications. Additionally, practice small, manageable interactions that gradually build your comfort level, such as commenting on a post or participating in a group chat.

  • Go deeper: Strive to build deeper, face-to-face relationships once you are comfortable with initial engagements. Participate in community classes, workshops, or groups that align with your interests to meet like-minded individuals. These settings provide natural opportunities for connection and can be less daunting as they are focused on activities or interests rather than on the act of meeting people. If you feel comfortable, consider taking on leadership or organizational roles within these groups to enhance your engagement and visibility, which can further strengthen your connections and sense of community involvement
  • Tech solutions: Apps like ‘Meetup’ are incredibly useful for finding and joining local groups or events based on specific interests or hobbies. This app can help you bridge the gap from online interactions to real-world connections by facilitating engagement in activities that you find appealing

 

8. Prioritize Sleep

Woman prioritizing sleep to improve her mental health

Photo by Slumber Sleep Aid on Unsplash

Good quality sleep is crucial for mental health as it helps to repair and restore the brain, supporting overall mental well-being. Establishing a calming bedtime routine, keeping your bedroom cool and dark, and aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night are essential sleep hygiene tips that can enhance your sleep quality.

However, challenges such as insomnia or a noisy environment can significantly disrupt sleep. To overcome these obstacles, it’s important to establish a relaxing bedtime routine that might include reading, meditating, or gentle stretching. Additionally, creating a sleep-conducive environment using blackout curtains to block light and white noise machines to drown out disruptive sounds can be highly effective.

  • Go deeper: Consider investigating your personal sleep needs more scientifically. Using sleep-tracking devices can help you understand your sleep patterns and identify what disrupts your sleep. This data can be invaluable in adjusting your environment, habits, and routines to better support your sleep needs. Techniques like progressive muscle relaxation or sleep restriction therapy can also be explored for deeper sleep management, especially for those struggling with insomnia
  • Tech solutions: Wearable devices like Fitbit or apps like ‘Sleep Cycle’ are excellent for analyzing your sleep patterns and providing insights to improve sleep quality

Final Thoughts

Improving your mental health is a journey of small steps; it’s about making incremental changes to your daily life. By incorporating these habits, you’re building a foundation for better mental health.

Eddins Counseling Group provides mental health support and interventions tailored to the unique challenges you face. To get started, call us – your local Houston therapists and Sugar Land therapists – at (832) 559-2622.

 

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