I love lists. So when I made the decision to get real about my mental health journey, I started looking for lists. Lists of what to do and how to do them. Of what not to do and why. I began to notice that there were 10 specific mental health habits that were always included on these lists. So, I started a list of my own – a list of the most essential habits for improving mental health.
Take a look below and see if you have any of these habits already (good for you! I’ve got a couple as well). Or any that you’ve tried before but let go of (there’s definitely some of those for me). I will go more into the juicy, scientific stuff for each individual habit on separate posts (why they’re important and examples of each). But for now, let’s look at my list for the 10 essential habits for mental health:
1. Early to bed, early to rise
Have 30 minutes to an hour to yourself before the rest of the house gets up. This will set the tone for the rest of your day. When I can make myself (it’s not a habit, yet), getting up before my husband and kids is my time to journal, have a cup of tea, take a look at my schedule for the day, and get mentally prepared. Even if you live on your own, waking up early allows you time to get ready for the day, and get focused, without having to rush out the door.
This is a biggie. Studies have shown that just 15-20 minutes of activity can reduce anxiety and depression. That’s a walk around the block. Sounds easy, but if you’re like me, it’s not. I know I feel better during and after exercising, it’s just getting myself to do it in the first place. This is where making it a habit, and setting goals, will be helpful.
3. Keep a journal
Does anxiety and depression create a constant stream of consciousness in your head? It does for me. The actual act of writing something down can help quiet the mind. It can also keep you organized and focused. Your journal could be a section of your day planner or a diary. I use a bullet journal. The biggest thing to remember is that this journal is for you. No need to look pretty (unless that brings you joy).
4. Spend time in nature
Survivalist skills not required. Do some gardening. Walk to work or sit outside for lunch. Take your little one to the playground. Fresh air can refresh your mood.
5. Spend time with others
As an introvert, I appreciate my alone time. But, there is a limit. Alone time can turn into isolation and that’s not good. Spending time with others gets you talking and connected.
6. Make your bed
It’s difficult to have a clear mind when you’re surrounded by chaos. The simple act of making your bed can make you feel more put together. Actually, every room has its “bed” that can make the whole space feel disorganized. The dining room table covered in homework. The counter-top in the bathroom. The dreaded kitchen sink. I am in no way a neat freak. But, I do notice my anxiety go down a bit if my living space is in a more manageable order. If I’m not having a good day, just trying to hit those few main spots can help.
7. Reduce your caffeine intake but stay hydrated
Coffee drinkers, hear me out. I didn’t say eliminate, just reduce. Caffeine increases your heart rate. Not good for the anxiety sufferers. Have your tall, double soy latte mocha whatever first thing in the morning, and then work your way down to decaf for the rest of the day. Or, try tea – the caffeine levels are much lower.
While you’re not drinking caffeine, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. We’ve all heard the benefits of staying hydrated, but did you know that dehydration can have a direct affect to your mental health? Feeling run down or crabby? Sip some water if you haven’t had any in a while.
Whether you adhere to a certain faith or not, taking the time to recognize how all things are connected will help put things into perspective. Personally, I’m an agnostic atheist, so meditation for me means recognizing my thoughts, remembering that feelings are not facts, and that, despite our flaws, we each have inherent worth. I need those reminders. A lot.
9. Have regular social media/news detoxes
We are all familiar with the Facebook black hole. You log on to write a happy birthday message to your old college roommate, and three hours later, you come up for air, dazed and confused and wondering where the day went. Don’t get me wrong. I love Facebook. It’s a great way to keep up with friends, find out about local events, and stay connected. However, studies have shown that people actually feel less happy after being on Facebook. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others and their seemingly perfect, successful lives. The news can bring you down fast as well. You can stay up with what happening in the world, but make yourself step away after 10 minutes. Better yet, take a day off.
10. Express gratitude
Research shows that gratitude can improve relationships, reduce depression, and build resilience. Impressive. Gratitude can be expressed in many forms – verbally, written, or by actions. Recognizing things and people outside ourselves on a regular basis can be powerful.
So how do we add these habits into our lives?
We need to go slow. Take our time. Be intentional in adding these things into our lives until they become habits. And we will check in with ourselves to make sure these habits stick. Will adding these habits to our lives make anxiety and depression magically go away? No. But they can make life more vital and full. Just like physical exercise, mental exercise is a life long commitment.