Sometimes improving your mental health requires you to take on an entirely different mindset. A healthy mind is just as imperative as a healthy body as we age, and no matter what age we are. But caring for your mental health is less about trying to “keep up” with life and more about slowing down. Enjoying life is about pausing to realize what you enjoy about life first. Becoming healthier and mentally well is about making more mindful choices.
By implementing some of these simple tips into your daily life, you can improve your mental health tremendously no matter where you are in life.
Practice Mindfulness Meditation
There are countless health benefits of meditation and just as many ways to practice it. Such benefits like decreased blood pressure, heart rate, pain, and anxiety and depression symptoms are all accessible, even if you are someone who feels like meditation just “isn’t for you.”
Most meditations have four elements in common: a quiet space, a comfortable posture, a focus of attention on your breath or an object, and an open mind that allows thoughts to pass through without judgment.
Mindfulness meditation is a practice where you focus on a steady object or your breath, noticing your thoughts as they make their way through your mind. Instead of getting carried away by a thought or judging it or yourself, you just observe it instead.
The awareness you cultivate through meditation will help you notice unhelpful thought patterns to ultimately help reframe your mindset, but this can take time. In the short term, a regular meditation practice serves as an excellent reminder that you can always choose to return your focus to your breath, using it as a tool to handle any circumstance or negative thought that comes your way.
Get Adequate Sleep
There is a close, bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health, which means that insufficient sleep can worsen mental health problems, and mental health issues can make it harder to sleep.
You can improve your mental health by improving your sleep, and it helps to think of sleep as a process that starts from the moment you wake. Because you operate on a clock known as your circadian rhythm, the habits you follow throughout your day affect how much sleep you get and the quality of it.
Here are a few practical ways to build your day around sleep:
- Welcome in some natural sunlight as soon as you wake up by opening the blinds or stepping outside. Your internal clock is regulated by light exposure, and the sun is the most powerful light source that plays a significant role in regulating your body clock.
- Avoid drinks like coffee, soda, and caffeinated tea past midday. These can all contribute to long-term sleep deprivation, and it can lead to a cycle that is difficult to break. For instance, if you take in caffeine too late in the day and do not sleep well as a result, you may decide to recoup the following day with more of the same.
- Keep substances like alcohol and smoking to a minimum or avoid them altogether. Like sleep and mental health, there is a multidirectional relationship between these substances, sleep, and mental health. For example, alcohol can contribute to poor sleep, which can further worsen your mood, causing you to want to drink more.
Fuel Your Body Properly
Can you recall the last time you felt anxious or like something wasn’t right? Do you remember feeling a sense of uneasiness, as if there were a “knot” in your stomach?
We call these “gut feelings” for a reason: the mind and gut are more intricately connected than many people may realize. Your digestive health impacts your mental health, and it also works the other way around.
You have likely heard of Serotonin before - the chemical that is often associated with happiness. We have also come to understand Serotonin as a neurotransmitter mainly produced in our brain, yet a large amount of this chemical that affects your feelings and emotions is made in your gut. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that send messages between your gut and your brain, which is how they accomplish impact on your mental health.
The bacterial cells in your gut help regulate chemicals like Serotonin, which is why it is so important to keep a thriving and diverse ecosystem of bacteria in your gut. The best way to do this is to improve your gut health by eating a healthy diet comprised of more fruits and plant-based fiber, an important energy source for bacteria in your gut.
Probiotics, which are found in fermented foods and supplements, introduce beneficial functions to gut microbial communities that reduce inflammation linked to certain diseases and disorders, such as depression. These supplements are invaluable when it comes to a thriving gut and mind.