SMART STRATEGIES TO STAYING HEALTHY
Building Better Mental Health
Are you looking to boost your mood, handle your emotions better, or build resilience? These six life-changing strategies for improving mental health and well-being can show you how.
Understanding good mental health
Your mental health influences how you think, feel, and behave in daily life. It also affects your ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, build relationships, and recover from life’s setbacks and hardships.
Robust mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics.
People who are mentally healthy have:
- A sense of contentment.
- A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.
- The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.
- They have a sense of meaning and purpose in their activities and relationships.
- The flexibility to learn new skills and adapt to change.
- A balance between work and play, rest and exercise, etc.
- The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
- Self-confidence and high self-esteem.
The relationship between resilience and mental health
Solid mental health doesn’t mean you never go through bad times or experience emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, and change. And while these are standard parts of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety, and stress. But just as physically healthy people are better able to bounce back from illness or injury, people with robust mental health can bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress. This ability is called resilience.
People who are emotionally and mentally resilient have the tools to cope with difficult situations and maintain a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible, and productive in bad times and sound. Their resilience also makes them less afraid of new experiences or an uncertain future. Even when they don’t immediately know how a problem will get resolved, they are hopeful that a solution will eventually be found.
Whether you’re looking to cope with a specific mental health problem, handle your emotions better, or to feel more positive and energetic, there are plenty of ways to take control of your mental health—starting today.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health and Wellbeing
- Connect. Building solid and varied social connections in your life can increase your happiness and feelings of self-worth.
- Be active. Now… let’s not get this twisted – what you do with your body can have a powerful effect on your mental well-being.
- Take notice. Happiness is often right in front of your eyes – more than enough to be happy right now. …
- Keep learning. A comfort zone is a cool place but nothing ever grows there. Step out of the comfort zone. You will learn things you never knew you never knew.
- Give. Whether it’s giving a friend a hand, throwing your weight in behind a cause that matters or just supporting other people in some way.
Your mental health is an important part of your well-being. This aspect of your welfare determines how you’re able to operate psychologically, emotionally, and socially among others.
Considering your mental health’s role in each aspect of your life is essential to guard and improve psychological wellness using appropriate measures.
Because different circumstances can affect your mental health, we’ll be highlighting risk factors and signs that may indicate mental distress. But most importantly, we’ll dive into all of the benefits of having your mental health in its best shape.
Risk Factors for Poor Mental Health
Mental health is described as a state of well-being where a person can cope with the everyday stresses of life. This state permits productive work output and allows for meaningful contributions to society.
However, different circumstances may affect the ability to handle life’s curveballs. These factors may also disrupt daily activities and the capacity to manage these changes.
The following factors, listed below, may affect mental well-being and increase the risk of developing psychological disorders.
A child subjected to physical assault, sexual violence, emotional abuse, or neglect while growing up can lead to severe mental and emotional distress.
Abuse increases the risk of developing mental disorders like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or personality disorders.
Children who have been abused may eventually deal with alcohol and substance use issues. But beyond mental health challenges, child abuse may also lead to medical complications such as diabetes, stroke, and other forms of heart disease.2
A substantial contributor to mental well-being is the state of a person’s usual environment. Adverse environmental circumstances can cause harmful effects on psychological wellness.
For instance, weather conditions may influence an increase in suicide cases. Likewise, experiencing natural disasters firsthand can increase the chances of developing PTSD. In some instances, air pollution may produce adverse effects on depression symptoms.3
In contrast, living in a positive social environment can protect against mental challenges.4
Your biological makeup could determine the state of your well-being. A number of mental health disorders have been found to run in families and may be passed down to members.
Your lifestyle can also impact your mental health. Smoking, a poor diet, alcohol consumption, substance use, and risky sexual behavior may cause psychological harm. These behaviors have been linked to depression.6
Signs of Mental Health Problems
When mental health is compromised, it isn’t always apparent to the individual or those around them. However, there are certain warning signs to look out for, that may signify negative changes for the well-being. These include:7
- A switch in eating habits, whether over or undereating
- A noticeable reduction in energy levels
- Being more reclusive and shying away from others
- Feeling persistent despair
- Indulging in alcohol, tobacco, or other substances more than usual
- Experiencing unexplained confusion, anger, guilt, or worry
- Severe mood swings
- Picking fights with family and friends
- Hearing voices with no identifiable source
- Thinking of self-harm or causing harm to others
- Being unable to perform daily tasks with ease
Benefits of Good Mental Health
Whether young or old, the importance of mental health for total well-being cannot be overstated, when psychological wellness is affected, it can cause negative behaviors that may not only affect personal health but can also compromise relationships with others.
Below are some of the benefits of good mental health.
A Stronger Ability to Cope With Life’s Stressors
When mental and emotional states are at peak levels, life’s challenges can be easier to overcome.
A stable mental state can encourage healthier coping mechanisms where alcohol/drugs, isolation, tantrums, or fighting may have been adopted to manage relationship disputes, financial woes, work challenges, and other life issues.
A Positive Self-Image
Mental health greatly correlates with personal feelings about oneself. Overall mental wellness plays a part in your self-esteem. Confidence can often be a good indicator of a healthy mental state.
A person whose mental health is flourishing is more likely to focus on the good in themselves. They will hone in on these qualities and generally have ambitions striving for a healthy, happy life.8
If your mental health is in good standing, you might be more capable of providing your friends and family quality time, affection, and support. When you’re not in emotional distress, it can be easier to show up and support the people you care about.
Dealing with depression or other mental health disorders can impact your productivity levels. If you feel mentally strong, it’s more likely that you will be able to work more efficiently and provide higher quality work.
Higher Quality of Life
When mental well-being thrives, your quality of life may improve. This can give room for greater participation in community building. For example, you may begin volunteering in soup kitchens, at food drives, shelters, etc.
How to Maintain Mental Health and Well-Being
Because mental health is so important to general wellness, you must take care of your mental health.
A few introductions to and changes to lifestyle practices may be required to keep mental health in shape. These include:7
- Taking up regular exercise
- Prioritizing rest and sleep daily
- Trying meditation
- Learning coping skills for life challenges
- Keeping in touch with loved ones
- Maintaining a positive outlook on life
Another proven way to improve and maintain mental well-being is through the guidance of a professional. Talk therapy can teach you healthier ways to interact with others and coping mechanisms to try during difficult times.
Therapy can also help you address some of your negative behaviors and provide you with the tools to make some changes in your own life.
A Word From Verywell
Your mental health state can have a profound impact on all areas of your life. If you’re finding it difficult to address mental health concerns on your own, don’t hesitate to seek help from a licensed therapist.8 Sources
Improving Your Eating Habits
When it comes to eating, we have strong habits. Some are good (“I always eat breakfast”), and some are not so good (“I always clean my plate”). Although many of our eating habits were established during childhood, it doesn’t mean it’s too late to change them.
Making sudden, radical changes to eating habits such as eating nothing but cabbage soup, can lead to short term weight loss. However, such radical changes are neither healthy nor a good idea, and won’t be successful in the long run. Permanently improving your eating habits requires a thoughtful approach in which you Reflect, Replace, and Reinforce.
- REFLECT on all of your specific eating habits, both bad and good; and, your common triggers for unhealthy eating.
- REPLACE your unhealthy eating habits with healthier ones.
- REINFORCE your new, healthier eating habits.
- Create a list of your eating habits. Keep a food diary for a few days. Write down everything you eat and the time of day you eat it. This will help you uncover your habits. For example, you might discover that you always seek a sweet snack to get you through the mid-afternoon energy slump. Use this diary pdf icon[PDF-36KB] to help. It’s good to note how you were feeling when you decided to eat, especially if you were eating when not hungry. Were you tired? Stressed out?
- Highlight the habits on your list that may be leading you to overeat. Common eating habits that can lead to weight gain are:
- Eating too fast
- Always cleaning your plate
- Eating when not hungry
- Eating while standing up (may lead to eating mindlessly or too quickly)
- Always eating dessert
- Skipping meals (or maybe just breakfast)
- Look at the unhealthy eating habits you’ve highlighted. Be sure you’ve identified all the triggers that cause you to engage in those habits. Identify a few you’d like to work on improving first. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for the things you’re doing right. Maybe you usually eat fruit for dessert, or you drink low-fat or fat-free milk. These are good habits! Recognizing your successes will help encourage you to make more changes.
- Create a list of “cues” by reviewing your food diary to become more aware of when and where you’re “triggered” to eat for reasons other than hunger. Note how you are typically feeling at those times. Often an environmental “cue”, or a particular emotional state, is what encourages eating for non-hunger reasons.
- Common triggers for eating when not hungry are:
- Opening up the cabinet and seeing your favorite snack food.
- Sitting at home watching television.
- Before or after a stressful meeting or situation at work.
- Coming home after work and having no idea what’s for dinner.
- Having someone offer you a dish they made “just for you!”
- Walking past a candy dish on the counter.
- Sitting in the break room beside the vending machine.
- Seeing a plate of doughnuts at the morning staff meeting.
- Swinging through your favorite drive-through every morning.
- Feeling bored or tired and thinking food might offer a pick-me-up.
- Circle the “cues” on your list that you face on a daily or weekly basis. While the Thanksgiving holiday may be a trigger to overeat, for now focus on cues you face more often. Eventually you want a plan for as many eating cues as you can.
- Ask yourself these questions for each “cue” you’ve circled:
- Is there anything I can do to avoid the cue or situation? This option works best for cues that don’t involve others. For example, could you choose a different route to work to avoid stopping at a fast food restaurant on the way? Is there another place in the break room where you can sit so you’re not next to the vending machine?
- For things I can’t avoid, can I do something differently that would be healthier? Obviously, you can’t avoid all situations that trigger your unhealthy eating habits, like staff meetings at work. In these situations, evaluate your options. Could you suggest or bring healthier snacks or beverages? Could you offer to take notes to distract your attention? Could you sit farther away from the food so it won’t be as easy to grab something? Could you plan ahead and eat a healthy snack before the meeting?
- Replace unhealthy habits with new, healthy ones. For example, in reflecting upon your eating habits, you may realize that you eat too fast when you eat alone. So, make a commitment to share a lunch each week with a colleague, or have a neighbor over for dinner one night a week. Another strategy is to put your fork down between bites. Also, minimize distractions, such as watching the news while you eat. Such distractions keep you from paying attention to how quickly and how much you’re eating.
- Eat more slowly. If you eat too quickly, you may “clean your plate” instead of paying attention to whether your hunger is satisfied.
- Eat only when you’re truly hungry instead of when you are tired, anxious, or feeling an emotion besides hunger. If you find yourself eating when you are experiencing an emotion besides hunger, such as boredom or anxiety, try to find a non-eating activity to do instead. You may find a quick walk or phone call with a friend helps you feel better.
- Plan meals ahead of time to ensure that you eat a healthy well-balanced meal.
Reinforce your new, healthy habits and be patient with yourself. Habits take time to develop. It doesn’t happen overnight. When you do find yourself engaging in an unhealthy habit, stop as quickly as possible and ask yourself: Why do I do this? When did I start doing this? What changes do I need to make? Be careful not to berate yourself or think that one mistake “blows” a whole day’s worth of healthy habits. You can do it! It just takes one day at a time!