Updated: Jul 27
Ten Habits to Improve your mental health.
Show me your habits and I’ll show you who you are – Unknown.
Habits are all the rage. We tend to focus on habits as it relates to goals and accomplishing things. It is very easy to look at our lives and see things that we are doing that provide us with a healthy or unhealthy life. You eat ice cream every day? Your waistline will show it. Do you impulse buy every time you go to Target? Your bank account will reflect that.
But what about your mental health? Do you have habits that support or improve your mental health?
Do you ever stop to consider how your thoughts and habits around your thoughts impact you? We are facing a mental health crisis of epic proportions and seek to find the answer, yet little do we think about the habits we engage in that contribute to poor self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
Many of us can pinpoint things like social media as being toxic for us, but have you actually thought about the habits you engage in that help create the anxiety in the first place? And while you may acknowledge the contributing factors, do you actually do anything about it? Below are tips but the change will actually happen when you actually execute some of the tips recommended on a CONSISTENT basis.
It is not enough to just implement these things and once you feel better, go back to the habits that lead you to poor mental health in the first place. The challenge is to implement habits that are permanent and sustainable. In other words, you are changing your way of life, your way of thinking, your way of being. I get it, it can be intimidating if you suspect that I’m going to tell you to deactivate your Instagram account.
While you can do that if you want to, I live in the real world too, and recognize that this is not sustainable or enjoyable. And hopefully, if you incorporate some of the tips below, you may not miss some of the things you currently believe you could NEVER live without. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.
1. Incorporate a sleep hygiene schedule.
You hear it all the time, but truly, getting enough rest has a significant impact on your mental health. Have you ever noticed that when you don’t sleep well, you’re cranky and you have less patience for the everyday functioning of life (i.e., getting yourself off to work or kids off to school?)
Things feel innately harder and your start to complain and yell or see everything as a burden? As a fix to this, you make an extra-large coffee or reach for the donut or sweet or chips, because “I need this”.
And the vicious cycle begins because you may start to talk negatively to yourself for eating the thing and not liking yourself. Many of us already talk badly to ourselves, even when we have had a good night’s sleep so imagine how much worst it is when you don’t sleep well.
Get into the habit of sleep and you increase your ability to be resilient when life comes at you.
2. Take your lunch (or break or whatever).
You only get 15 minutes. You don’t have time. You have too much to do. You have to use your lunch to make the doctor’s appointments. OR you take your lunch and proceed to spend that time scrolling on social media, the latest news, or tuning into March Madness, the NFL draft, obsessing about what the celebrity du jour is doing.
While I understand the need to best use your time, I ask you, must you do these things every day? Is your lunchtime jammed with obligations more often than not? Why do you struggle to pause and actually focus on what is in front of you?
Focus on the task at hand, eating. Focus on one thing, for a period of time, and pay attention to what is happening with you in the present moment.
3. Limit your interruptions
The blessing and the curse of our phones is that we are accessible. We can pick up our phones and Google the science behind cancer, and keep track of our kids, but we can also pick up our phones every time a notification comes through regarding a weather alert or who just got arrested.
Every time you get distracted, you lose focus and possibly trigger an emotional reaction to whatever it is that took your attention away from the task at hand.
It has been suggested by numerous studies that switching your brain from one task to another incessantly, leads to fatigue, anxiety, and depression. This in part is because you can never feel like you are getting anything done.
The notifications are activating a part of your brain that seeks instant gratification and pleasure, so this one is hard, but try and remember that on the flip side of this is your anxiety and depression because those dopamine hits need to come down, resulting in the subsequent emotional crash. Is that text really necessary or worth it?
4. Feed your mind with positive thoughts
Some people call it affirmations, some call it manifestation. I call it feeding your mind with healthy thoughts. It has been said that we have between 50,000-70,000 thoughts a day.
As a therapist who works with clients who have experienced trauma, that number leans closer to 70,000. Why? Because they are living in the past, having thoughts of anger, shame, resentment and guilt.
This is in addition to the “normal” thoughts we all have such as what’s for dinner, what emails we have to reply to, which kid has to get to which sport, which bill has to get paid and on and on.
And often, along with these running to-do lists are the thoughts that accompany the thoughts such as “I should eat a salad because I’m getting fat” or “I should be making more money”, to accompany the thought that you have to remember to reply to the emails.
Our brains are in a never-ending spiral of taking in information and deciding what to do and how to feel about the information we take in.
But what if you could intentionally plant thoughts that were nurturing and supportive? Can you say to yourself, “it is ok to ask for what I want”, or “I am capable of great things”. How about “I love you”.
Some of you are going to eye roll me on this one, but that’s kind of the point. Why do you reject or eye roll? Do you dismiss the idea wholeheartedly or do you say, “I don’t like those, but I’ll come up with ones I like”? The point is to take control of some of the thoughts that jingle around in there and when you can feed your mind positive thoughts, you increase your overall well-being.
5. Sit in silence
This can be difficult for some people. While many perceive that sitting in silence is impossible, (especially when you have 50,000 thoughts running around up there), the point is to try and give them an outlet, but also to assess the quality of those thoughts. Sitting in silence means not taking in any additional information, via television, social media, emails, mail, etc.
You are overwhelming your brain and tasking it with having to categorize it, identify its’ importance, and navigate whether this information is vital to your survival. By sitting in silence, you allow your brain the opportunity to rest, to possibly observe other things, to come up with your next multi-million-dollar idea. This can be uncomfortable for people who do not like to be alone or sit with themselves, however your mental health depends on it.
I know. I drink the Kool Aid on this one. You know you should do it but you make excuses about why you can’t. You judge the process and yourself, either telling yourself you “can’t” do it or it’s “silly” or you “don’t have time”. So, what is the deal with meditating anyways?! Meditating just allows you to explore what is going on with you.
The goal is not to stop your brain from thinking, but rather it is about stopping long enough to learn how NOT to react to every thought that comes to mind. You teach yourself that you don't have to freak out about the thing or that person. You recognize that that idea may not be a good one. You recognize that you are still feeling anger and hurt from your argument with your spouse.
Once you can take the time to actually watch your thoughts and not just blindly be emotionally jerked around by them, you become better equipped to respond to the world.
7. Cultivate positive and nurturing relationships.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is attributed with the famous quote “You’re the average of the five people spend the most time with”. There is also the offshoot of that quote which is “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”.
Those quotes often speak to the habits of people in our lives who have things in common (i.e. being a smoker, eating fast food, exercising, etc.), but it also includes their mindset.
Are you around positive people who complain all the time and feel that they world is against them, or are you around people who see everything as an opportunity to do and be better?
Go ahead and do an audit. We often limit this exercise to those immediately around us like our spouses, our friends, our parents, our kids, etc. And we limit that audit to people we like.
But what about people you don’t like? While people tend to focus on the people in their immediate environment, explore everyone that enters your orbit. It could be co-workers that you don’t like and stab you in the back, your mean supervisor who takes credit for all of your hard work, the Instagram influencer who makes you feel fat and poor, the President of the United States who tells you the sky is falling, the talking heads on the shows you tune into every night who tells you the other side is evil.
Studies have shown that negative political ads work and venomous content on social media gets more engagement. We are addicting our brains to consume negativity and negative content.
Some of that negativity we seek out (doom scrolling) and some of it we don’t (back stabbing co-worker), but either way we are around it. And we in turn become cynical, angry, depressed and anxious. And what do we do with that? Seek out more negative and depressing content.
So although you may not have a personal relationship with the talking head, you may seek that person out to “see what they have to say” and that person’s opinions and views infiltrate your psyche. The back stabbing co-worker takes up oxygen at the dinner table because you need to vent.
8. Move your body
We hear it all the time, but here is another reminder to get up and move around. Studies continuously show that exercise is good for our minds and bodies, yet so many of us just don’t do it. It feels hard, our bodies hurt, we’d rather be watching the latest Netflix documentary, we have work to do.
There are so many barriers to being active and so we just don’t do it. Part of the problem is that we think that moving our body has to entail getting in exercise clothes and going to the gym. We’re tired and we have to get dinner on the table so that’s not happening. But being active can entail things you can do around the house.
A recent study asked housekeepers to assess their physical activity. They deemed themselves as lazy or felt guilty because after a long day at work, they were too tired to go be active and exercise. They felt some anxiety and depression. However, when their movements were studied, they were found to be more active and took more steps than was recommended for “optimum health”.
When they were told that their jobs were actually equivalent to spending 2 hours at the gym, not only did their mood improved but their accompanying choices (i.e. eating better, getting rest, etc.) improved too.
This is all to say that you can make choices in your daily life where you can be more active. Put that load of laundry in and stand up while folding. Vacuum your entire house more than once a week. Dust more often. Go outside and pull weeds. Mow the lawn.
9. Ask yourself about your fear.
Fear is one of the things that seem to live with us at all times. Fear of not having enough money. Fear of losing our jobs. Fear about being rejected or made fun of. Fear of failing. Fear about something happening to us, our kids, our parents, our homes.
It is never ending and it takes a toll on our mental health. And it can be scary, when someone asks you to actually sit with that.
The reality is that running away from fear actually contributes to mental health deterioration. If you were to actually sit with your fear and play out the worst case scenarios, what you find is that 1). You can’t change the outcome if the thing you fear the most occurs 2). Most of the time the thing you worry about doesn’t come to fruition and 3). When bad things happen, it’s never as bad as you thought it would be and you’re actually stronger at dealing with the issue than you thought.
The other thing about sitting with your fear is that you can explore ways to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Can you get education to make yourself more valuable to your job? Can you get life insurance to better protect yourself and your family? Can you work on your mindset to be more resilient against possible failure? There are things that you can explore and/or address when you allow yourself to sit with your fear.
10. Be grateful
Gratitude is not about toxic positivity and never having a bad day. Gratitude is about seeing what is possible. As I am writing this blog post, it is the Lenten period of the year. 40 days of some sort of sacrifice. I don’t do this for any particular religious reason, but it seems a good time as any to go without.
I gave up meat this year. I love burgers and tacos and cheese cheesesteaks, so the challenge was a lofty one. And it’s been HARD! But what I discovered is that I was forced to try things that I normally would never try…and the stuff was GOOD! Not only did I go outside of my comfort zone, but I had an appreciation for the meat that I do consume the other months of the year.
I felt gratitude for alternatives. I felt gratitude for the farmers who raise the food that I eat. I felt gratitude for having food period. I felt gratitude for the animals themselves who provide me with food. I will feel grateful when I bite into that first juicy burger once the 40 days are up.
The point is that instead of focusing on what I don’t have, I focused on what I did have and the experience makes me appreciate my life all the more. The noise and the anxiety somehow quiet down, because I allow myself to appreciate all that I have. So, incorporating a gratitude practice ultimately allows you to prioritize more of what’s important and less of what’s not.
As you seek to improve your mental health, know that there are little things that you can do in your daily life, that if consistently applied, can add up to healthier and happier life.
My name is Edwige and I am a therapist who specializes in mom issues (stress and anxiety) and trauma. Find me on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.