Life has a way of throwing curveballs. Sometimes things do not work out the way we want them to. Other times, we get exactly what we asked God for, only to feel that the blessing is a burden. We have heard the advice, “Keep your chin up,” and “Keep calm and carry on;” but sometimes the stress and worries of life can take their toll on our mental health.The following is a list of strategies to improve your mental health. These are tips you can incorporate starting today. Give yourself one month of consistently doing tasks to improve your mental health, and see if you feel more at peace, calmer, and more joyful.
1. Take a step back.
When life feels chaotic, one of the best things to do for yourself might be to take a step back. Identify what is causing stress and find a way to avoid it or delegate it. With regard to the pressures that sometimes come from social media, it may be necessary to disconnect from those kinds of apps and websites for a while until you are in a better headspace. This is a particularly beneficial habit for youth and adolescents who struggle with the pressures of social media.
Your brain might work like a computer, but your emotional state should not have multiple tabs open at once. Take a breather to get your bearings and focus on what is best for your mental health right now.
Exercise is an antidepressant treatment that we can all use in moderation. (If you have physical concerns, please consult your physician before starting any new forms of exercise.) It is an inexpensive form of self-care, yet it increases endorphins and leaves us with a higher sense of well-being and self-esteem.
Endorphins are the “feel good” hormones our body produces during exercise. When we are flooded with these hormones, the natural byproduct is an overall reduction in feelings of stress. Think of the time spent as an investment in your future.
Exercise strengthens bones and muscles, tones the body, improves flexibility, burns calories, regulates blood pressure and heart rate, improves cardiovascular endurance, and decreases the risk of breaking a bone during a fall. It also raises self-confidence as you begin to feel better, and notice the physical benefits of regular exercise.
3. Challenge yourself.
Want a quick boost? Challenge yourself to learn something new. Create new goals that are doable and with a deadline. Have you always wanted to learn how to cook? Buy a cookbook with recipes that get you excited, and commit to trying a few new ones every week. Have you always wanted to write a novel?
Map out your idea, then write a specific number of words each day, perhaps a small number like 192. Does that figure not sound like much? If you write 192 words every day, you will have an 80,000-word rough draft of a novel at the end of one year! Break down your significant challenges into small tasks, and you will reach your goal.
4. Find a hobby or interest.
When we focus on caring for others or meeting deadlines, we forget to take time out for ourselves. Yet, the time we spend on something we love can bring us a great sense of peace and accomplishment.
Is there a hobby you have not found the time to work on lately? Is there something you have always wanted to try? Whether fishing, reading, hiking, crocheting, or playing the piano, find a hobby or interest and give your mind a break while you indulge.
5. Eat more whole foods.
Most people underestimate the power of nutritious foods and the long-term effects of junk food. Certain chemicals and foods such as refined and processed sugars can cause chronic inflammation in the body and brain. This inflammation can affect your mood, increasing your chances of developing depression and anxiety as well as a host of physical complications.
If switching to a healthier diet seems complicated, try starting with just one meal. For example, switch to healthier breakfast options for one week. The following week, switch up your lunches while maintaining the other more beneficial changes you have made.
6. Have fun with friends.The last few years have been difficult for many people as they have isolated themselves from others. Although social media and video calls are great for staying connected, these platforms do not take the place of face-to-face interactions. Hanging out with a group of friends leaves a sense of belonging and community. There is a relational intimacy that develops when you know you can confide in your closest friends and feel accepted by them.
Reach out to a few friends today for coffee or lunch. Better yet, invite them to participate in outdoor activities such as hiking before having a picnic. If you do not have any close friends, who do you know who could use a friend? A new neighbor? The man or woman from church who usually sits alone? Take the initiative. You just might be someone else’s blessing.
7. Treat yourself.
Self-care is not emphasized enough for caregivers and those struggling with mental health issues. Taking the time to relax and recharge is critical for your mental health. This could be going to the mall and window-shopping by yourself, grabbing your favorite coffee, going to the gym, walking around a lake, or relaxing at the beach.
Treating yourself does not need to cost money either. You can do your own nails, visit the library, or attend a free concert or movie. Any service or task that makes you feel pampered will work.
8. Remember to laugh.
Do you remember the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?” How about “laughter a day keeps the blues away?” When you laugh (really belly laugh), your body releases hormones (there are those endorphins again) that ease some of that stress and tension you have been under.
Laughing at a movie or television sitcom distracts you from intrusive thoughts and worries. Finding something funny to watch for five minutes a few times a day can help lift your mood, making it easier to get back to work. Take small breaks throughout the day to laugh.
9. Start a gratitude journal.
Have you ever sat down to pray and felt like you were giving God a to-do list, Such as a list of things that need to be done or worries keeping you up at night? Although you should always turn to God with those items, do not forget to thank Him for all the blessings He has given you.
Consider starting a gratitude journal of gifts. Every day, write down three to ten things you are grateful for, even during the most chaotic of times. The more you address these blessings, the more blessings you will begin to recognize.
10. Spend time with God.
While keeping your gratitude journal, make spending time with God a priority. When you first open your eyes in the morning, give God a quick good-morning check-in instead of grabbing your phone. Make some time to delve into His word either with a physical Bible or an app on your phone. In the evenings or in the car, give God a shout-out about your day. Ask for His guidance and thank Him for everything He has done.
11. Forgive others.
Forgiving others is a command from the Bible that is sometimes hard to swallow. People can and will let us down because they are human. But we have a God who does not want us lugging around a burden we were not meant to carry.
Work on forgiving someone who has hurt you to free yourself. This does not mean that you have to do this in person. In some instances, you will need to forgive and have no contact with the other person. But letting God bear that weight will improve your mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
12. Be generous.
Something about being a generous and kind person sets you up for success. It shows you have God’s amazing love inside of you, and you are willing to share that love and kindness with the world. Begin by making a list of organizations or churches that need volunteers.
Or consider sponsoring children and families at Christmastime or throughout the year. You will be surprised at how God can take your time and finances and multiply it with His grace and goodness to further His kingdom.
When You Feel Like It is Too Much
Sometimes trying to dig yourself out of a hole of anxiety, depression, and worry can leave you feeling drained and exhausted. There is hope. Feel free to reach out to me or one of the other Christian counselors in the online directory to schedule a one-on-one session. We work with clients who need a little extra help coping with life’s challenges and setbacks, as well as those with mental health concerns. Contact us today!
“Keep Climbing”, Courtesy of Bruno Nascimento, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Today I am Grateful”, Courtesy of Gabrielle Henderson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Take a Break”, Courtesy of Alessio Zaccaria, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Lunch”, Courtesy of Katie Smith, Unsplash.com, CC0 License