Mental health struggles are nothing new, but in recent years, there has been a decided increase in the number of people who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
As a result, more people are starting to pay attention to how important it is to take care of mental health, but when “self-care” campaigns from certain brands focus on face masks and lighting a few candles, it can be hard to know how exactly to take care of your mental health.
That’s where this article comes in.
There are so many different ways the things we do impact our mental health, so we’ve put together this ultimate guide to taking care of your mental health so that by the end of it, you’ll know why it’s so important, what to do, and what to avoid to benefit your mental health.
Why Mental Health is Important
But first, what is mental health and what does this encompass?
Mental health essentially refers to our mental well-being or our state of mind, and involves looking at how people think, feel, or act when they’re faced with each day’s challenges.
Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health conditions, and unfortunately, they’re on the rise. As two of the leading causes of disability, even without an official diagnosis, an increasing percentage of the population suffer from symptoms as a result of poor mental health that affect their wellbeing and how well they are able to function.
As a result, taking care of your mental health is becoming more important than ever, and this is especially true since the global Covid-19 pandemic that started near the beginning of 2020, as the disruption to our daily lives and routines has thrown a lot of people out of joint.
How to Care for Your Mental Health
Learning how to take care of your mental health can help you create a routine so that when you’re feeling low, the things that make you feel better don’t seem so out of your reach.
This section will discuss some of the ways you can actively care for your mental health, followed by another section on what you should avoid to avoid worsening your mental state.
Talk About How You Feel and Your Thoughts
Emotions can be complicated and fickle, and trying to wade through the messy thoughts in your head is sometimes a near impossible task. Talking about how you feel out loud is not only cathartic, but it can actually help you better understand your thoughts and feelings.
Recently, there have been several campaigns working to reduce the stigma around speaking up about struggles with mental health. Men, especially, tend to internalize their feelings and emotions, often due to toxic masculinity and a fear of being ridiculed or thought of as “weak”.
Not convinced? Check out this article from the New York Times on Why Talking About Our Problems Helps So Much (And How to Do It).
It’s not as simple as finding a single solution, but you can reduce mood swings, improve your ability to focus, and feel happier overall just by making a few conscious changes to your diet.
There are also the physical benefits to consider, as a healthy body promotes a healthy mind. Several studies have found links between physical conditions such as diabetes or obesity and mental conditions like depression, so switching to a healthy diet can reduce these risks.
You don’t need to completely cut out your favorite foods; simply swap out white, processed carbs for whole grain versions, increase your intake of fruit and veg, and cut out anything that makes you feel rubbish after eating it. As it can be difficult to find the motivation to cook (and clean up after) when your mood is low, try to prepare a few nutritious meals in advance.
It’s not just food, either you need to think about, either, as you should also try to make an effort to ensure you’re drinking enough water during the day.
Keep Alcohol To a Minimum
It’s common sense that drinking too much can make you feel crappy the next day, but consistently turning to alcohol to dull the pain of your problems can have even worse effects.
It will be harder for you to deal with the root of your problems if you’re masking them with alcohol, and excessive drinking can have negative long-term implications on your health.
If you believe that you need some help getting your alcohol consumption under control, there are plenty of alcohol and drug resources available to you, including service lines, mobile apps, online chat sites, and recovery programs that aim to help you cut down on alcohol.
Avoid Using Drugs
Similarly, using drugs is one of the worst ways to “self medicate” if you’re experiencing mental health struggles and will aggravate the issue, despite providing a temporary escape.
Even recreational drug use is best avoided, as it’s too easy for something that started out as fun to spiral into an addiction or habit that can ruin your mental health as well as your life.
Like with alcohol, there is also your physical health to consider, and mixing drugs, in particular, can be exceptionally dangerous or potentially even fatal.
There’s plenty of discourse about the frustration patients sometimes feel when they’re at their lowest point with their mental health, and their doctor’s response is “have you tried exercising more?” If truth be told, the reason it’s so irritating is probably because it’s true.
Physical activity has been scientifically proven to boost serotonin and improve mental well-being, so while we’re not advising you to sign up for the next half marathon (although, you do you), getting out for some fresh air and being active can increase your energy levels.
Plus, the chemicals your brain releases after exercise are known for making you feel good, and can boost your self esteem as well as improving concentration and quality of sleep.
Don’t be Afraid/Ashamed to Ask for Help
Asking for help can sometimes feel like one of the biggest challenges when you’re experiencing a period of poor mental health. It’s practically a natural instinct for most of us to respond with “I’m fine, thanks!” whenever someone asks how you are or how you’re doing.
If you want to improve your mental health, you need to understand that there’s zero shame in admitting you’re struggling or asking for help. Whether it’s emotional support or literal help with the day-to-day tasks you find too difficult, having help can relieve some of the burden.
Asking for help can also create a deeper connection between you and a trusted friend or family member, which in itself can be beneficial for your mental health. Alternatively, you can contact one of the many mental health services that have been set up to support you.
Get Enough Sleep
A lack of sleep can have a bigger impact on your mental state than you might think.
If you find yourself waking up on the wrong side of the bed more often than not, you might not be getting enough of it. This can lead to irritability and frustration, and you’ll probably notice that you feel overwhelmed more easily than you would if you were feeling well-rested.
Try to stick to a consistent sleep schedule, so that if you find yourself falling asleep during the day (we see you, depression naps), you won’t have as much difficulty drifting off at night.
Pick up a Hobby That You Enjoy
Actively making the time to do the things we enjoy is a great way to boost mental health, so if you’re experiencing a bit of a dip, it might be worth checking out a potential new hobby.
Check out this article on rejuvenation 101 for some more inspiration when it comes to small, enjoyable activities that can improve your mental health. Some of our favorites include:
- Listening to music you love.
- Learn to express yourself through song, dance, or art.
- Read purely for pleasure.
- Flying kites on sunny days.
- Pick an active hobby, like walking or rock climbing.
- Cathartic writing or storytelling.
Any of the above hobbies will allow you to reconnect with yourself. Besides, they’re fun!
Respect Your Limits and Don’t be Hard on Yourself
One of the very few positive things to come out of the global Covid-19 pandemic that spread throughout the world in early 2020 is that local lockdowns forced people to slow down too.
It doesn’t matter whether your calendar is busy with work or social activities; if you push yourself too hard, you’re more likely to burn yourself out which can take a toll on your health. Saying yes to everything can lead to feelings of resentment or of being taken advantage of.
So, make sure you’re checking in with yourself regularly to see if you’re feeling overwhelmed with everything you have on, and try to respect your limits by setting appropriate boundaries.
Surround Yourself With Positive People
Positivity breeds positivity, so surrounding yourself with people who are likely to uplift will help encourage a happier mindset in yourself, instead of letting you dwell on the negative.
This applies online, too, and there’s been a bigger focus on curating your social media feed with accounts that inspire you, make you feel happy, and spread positivity across your page.
We’re not saying you should cut out all the complainers in your life. This simply means that you should fill your social circle with people whose company you genuinely enjoy, look forward to, and come away from feeling uplifted and happier rather than drained and down.
Learn How to Cope With Stress
Studies suggest that stress can affect your entire wellbeing, so reducing stress levels is a great step toward self-care and looking after your mental health.
Whether it’s through yoga, or just closing your eyes for 5 minutes and switching off; you’ll need to find what works best for you. There are plenty of different ways to try and manage or cope with stress, including the following examples:
- Identify the source and eliminate it.
- Start saying “no” more often.
- Avoid people or situations that you find particularly stressful.
- Reframe the issue and look at the bigger picture.
- Talk to people and explain how you’re feeling.
You can find more information and advice on stress management here.
Focus on the Positive
Don’t allow yourself to become consumed by your perceived failures. Focusing on the positives will help you rise above negative thoughts and remind you of the good in your life.
That doesn’t mean you can’t acknowledge failures, as these are an opportunity you can choose to learn from for the future. Wallowing in them will create a similarly negative mindset, whereas positive thoughts and feelings can reduce stress hormones.
Allow Time to Relax During the Day
Whether it’s a bath or watching a movie, finding time to relax is very important.
But a busy schedule can make this difficult. A lot of people find it hard to set aside some “me time” for themselves, despite it being incredibly beneficial to your mental health. If you struggle to take time to relax during the day, try to start with something simple.
This can be anything from taking a short 15-minute break from whatever you’re doing and going for a walk, especially if you spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen for work, to baking something new at lunch time just because you’re always wanted to try a recipe.
Practice Good Hygiene
One of the most under-discussed symptoms of many mental health conditions is poor hygiene. When you’re in the throes of depression or going through a period of particularly high anxiety, basic tasks like brushing your teeth and washing your hair can be challenging.
If you can practice good hygiene, however, it can have a positive impact on your mental health for many reasons. You’ll feel better, for a start, and it helps to reduce the risk of illness or infection. When you feel more presentable, you’re also more likely to socialize with others.
Consider Meditating or Mindful Practice
Taking a moment to pause in the busy world of today and try to find clarity can be a great way to improve your state of mind and your overall outlook. Meditation and mindfulness are both calming grounding methods that can help you reconnect with yourself and how you feel.
There are plenty of relaxation techniques that you can use to practice being more mindful. You can follow guided meditation sessions or simply put on some relaxing music and allow yourself to sit with your thoughts. There are some great apps available, like Headspace, with free or paid subscription options, or there’s a variety of videos available for free on Youtube.
Things to Avoid That Can Harm Your Mental Health
If you’re suffering with a cold, you’re unlikely to go and spend a night dancing out in the snow. Similarly, when you’re going through a period of low mental health, there are certain things that you should avoid as they can be harmful to your mental state.
This section focuses more on what you should avoid rather than ways you can take care of your mental health, although in many ways these are two in the same.
Surrounding yourself with negativity is one way to ensure that your own mindset takes a turn toward the negative which can be incredibly damaging to your mental state.
Like we mentioned earlier, social media is one of the biggest breeding grounds for negativity and so should be used with caution in order to protect your mental health.
Unfollow or block the accounts of people who spread negativity across your feed, and don’t allow people to get under your skin. Although it can be harder in real life when there’s no easy “block” button to press, you should still make the effort to remove negative people.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
A lack of sleep can do more than make you feel cranky, and not getting enough is a common contributing factor to poor mental health.
This is because “fundamental neurobiological behavior is controlled by homeostatic and circadian (24-hour) processes and is vital for normal brain function”.
Essentially what this means is that when you don’t feel well-rested, you don’t feel good, which makes it harder to practice the activities or techniques that benefit your mental state.
Feeling overly tired can also lead to irritability which means you’re more likely to lash out at those closest to you, and this can have a negative effect on your relationships.
Not Eating Well
Your brain requires a number of different nutrients to function properly and extensive research has shown that there are “strong links between what we eat and how we feel.”
Not eating well can therefore lead to not feeling good, which is only going to harm your mental health in the long run. It can be a vicious cycle of not being mentally well enough to cook properly balanced, nutritious meals, not eating well instead, and worsening your mental health as a result, so prepping your meals in advance can be a huge help.
Try to eat at least three meals a day and include the following foods as part of a balanced diet:
- A wide variety of fruit and vegetables
- Wholegrain cereals, breads, rice, and pasta
- Nuts and seeds
- Dairy products (in moderation)
- Oily fish
- Your recommended daily water intake
Bottling Up Your Feelings
We’re not suggesting you should scream and shout at the top of your lungs for every thought or feeling that pops into your head, but bottling up your feelings is an equally bad idea.
This can cause you to dwell on certain situations or events which, as we’ll discuss shortly, can be detrimental to your mental well-being. If you’re not able to speak up about how you’re feeling, it’s less likely that you’ll be able to let it go any time soon.
Silently holding on to grudges in this way can actually cause intense inner turmoil that leads to anxiety and feeling incredibly tense. This usually manifests and then blows up in an explosion of emotions that you can’t contain or keep bottling up any longer.
To avoid everything spilling out at once like this, and to avoid damaging your mental health by sitting on a source of conflict with no resolution in sight, avoid bottling up your feelings.
Toxic Relationships or Workplaces
Sometimes there are people who bring out the worst in you. It doesn’t always necessarily make them a bad person, but if you find yourself in a toxic relationship, it’s okay to walk away. In fact, we recommend that you do walk away, for the sake of your mental health.
Don’t exert your energies or spend time stressing about people who don’t add value to your life. It can cause you to be miserably unhappy and increases negative feelings of self-doubt.
Whether they’re romantic relationships, friendships, or workplaces, try to resolve anything in your life that’s toxic or harms your mental health, even if this means cutting it out completely.
You Don’t Find Time to Relax Enough
If you’re struggling to set aside time for yourself during a busy period at work or on a day when it feels like you have a million and one things to do, try to focus on smaller, more achievable methods of relaxing.
This can even be as simple as taking more time away from your screens and socials, as these can cause you to miss out on the little joys that are often right in front of your eyes.
Otherwise, you may end up burnt out with your mental health in tatters. Without taking breaks, you’ll also have more trouble concentrating and staying focused. When you’re finding it hard to do things this can lead to a vicious circle of negative thoughts and feelings.
Being Too Hard on Yourself
Don’t allow your feelings to become facts, because when you’re struggling with mental health, the voice inside your head can be the first to turn on you and tell you terrible things.
Whether you’re worried about not being smart enough, or competent enough, attractive enough, successful enough, rich enough, or funny enough – the list goes on – try not to be too hard on yourself, as repeatedly telling yourself this will take its toll and wear you down.
This is particularly true in work situations where you may be putting excessive pressure on yourself to perform to a certain standard. Perfectionism can commonly lead to anxiety and you may develop unhealthy, excessive work habits that worsen your mental health.
Being too hard on yourself can also lead to burnout, so remember to give yourself a break.
Comparing Yourself to Others
With the rise of social media, it’s too easy to check up on old friends, family, or even acquaintances who are seemingly doing so much better at life than you.
Seemingly being the operative word here. It’s important to remember that you only see a fraction of other peoples’ lives online which has been selected because it’s what they want you to see, so don’t allow yourself to be consumed with comparing yourself to others.
If you notice yourself doing this more, maybe take some time away from your screens and socials. The results of a study published in Preventive Medicine shows how this can benefit your mental health, as reduced screen time was associated with “higher levels of satisfaction and optimism, and lower levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms” in the participants.
Dwelling on the Past
There’s nothing we can do to change the past, so dwelling on it can drive you crazy.
By obsessing over past mistakes or playing out situations you wish had gone differently in your head, you’re taking your mind and thus your mental state back to a place of negativity.
Even if you’re dwelling on happy times, this can reinforce feelings of being not as happy in the present, which only serves the negative thoughts in your head.
If you find your mind starting wandering as if it wants to take a trip down memory lane, instead try to remind yourself of some positive affirmations about yourself:
- You are only human and humans make mistakes.
- Nobody is perfect.
- You did the best that you could at the time with the tools you had then.
Try to shift your focus to what you have been able to take away from your past experiences and how you can learn from them, as well as how they have contributed to shaping the person you are today.
Trying to be Perfect
Despite a lot of mainstream media portraying perfectionism as a quirky character trait that highlights a person’s hardworking nature, it is actually a huge cause of stress and anxiety.
It can worsen your mental health in a number of ways, but one of the biggest risks posed by the desire to be perfect at all times is turning to self-harm. This is a rising concern as cases of “cutting” increase amongst children and young teens, who are particularly at risk due to the pressures of school exams and college applications they have to contend with.
However, perfectionism and its consequences to your health are not limited to the young, and can carry on well into adulthood where it can affect how you live your day-to-day life.
Finding time to wind down by yourself and being comfortable in your own company is one thing, but spending too much time alone can lead to feelings of severe isolation and loneliness which can both lead to worse mental health.
It can be easy to cut off contact with those closest to you when you’re struggling with your mental health, as you may wish to protect them or to keep them from seeing you in your current state. Maybe you’re just too exhausted to pretend to keep up with social norms.
As hard as it can be to force yourself to socialize when you don’t feel up to it, try to keep a trusted circle of friends and/or family you can talk to. Even if you’re sitting in silence but there is one other person with you, it can help to keep you from isolating yourself and further worsening your mental health.
As we mentioned earlier, substance abuse, whether drugs or alcohol, can have incredibly damaging effects on both your mental and physical health.
If you become dependent on them, it can also begin to take over your life in a number of negative ways and according to Mind charity, you may experience problems with things like:
- Relationships and friendships
- Money and finances
- Education and/or employment
- Housing or living accommodation
- Crime and potential imprisonment
The added stress of these potential consequences can exacerbate anxiety, depression, and a number of other mental health conditions.
Taking care of your mental health should be a top priority, and we hope that this article has provided some valuable information that you can take away and apply to your own life in order to look after yourself and your mental health.
If you feel like you’re struggling to take care of your mental health or if you feel like you are a potential danger to yourself, please reach out to a trusted friend or family member or, alternatively, reach out to one of the mental health services available and seek help or advice from the trained professionals who are waiting at the other end of a phone call.
It’s important that you always try to remember that things can get better, and if you start to put more effort into the practices that are known to benefit your mental health, you should eventually begin to notice a positive improvement in your mental well-being.