Mental health is a broadly used term that includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. The state of our mental health affects how we think, feel, act, make choices, and relate to others. Good mental health is not the same as no acute mental illness, just like good physical health is not the same as no illness or injury at this moment.
Maintaining your mental health, like maintaining your physical health, requires a consistent routine and good health-hygiene habits.
A person whose mental health is in good shape is resilient, able to feel and express a full range of emotions (positive and negative) and to form and maintain positive relationships with others. Change and uncertainty are taken in stride and do not overwhelm. Mentally healthy people can learn new things and cope with unusual events and situations. None of us can prevent the unexpected, but we can take good care of our mental health so that when surprises or challenges happen, we can process and cope with them.
First and foremost, if you are struggling, there is help for you. If you are in crisis, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. For non-crisis mental health care, INTERGIS Mental Health is committed to helping you by offering a variety of treatment options, including free anonymous online screenings and resource information, and a 24/7 crisis line to get you pointed in the right direction.
Good habits will help with mental and physical health, but for chronic or acute conditions (eg: anxiety, depression, bipolar disease, and others), a combination of medication coupled with good mental health habits is needed. Think of it this way: someone with Type 2 diabetes can probably improve their blood sugar levels with diet and exercise, but good habits combined with medication are more effective.
The National Institute of Mental Health says it’s time to seek professional help if you are experiencing severe or distressing symptoms that have lasted two weeks or more, such as the following.
- Difficulty sleeping
- Appetite changes that result in unwanted weight changes
- Struggling to get out of bed in the morning because of mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in things you usually find enjoyable
- Inability to perform usual daily functions and responsibilities
Don’t wait until your symptoms are overwhelming. Talk about your concerns with your primary care provider, who can refer you to a mental health specialist if needed.
Here are nine tips for maintaining or improving day-to-day good mental health.
Self-care. This plays a role in maintaining your mental health. Self-care means making time to do things that make life nice. For some, that may be treating yourself to a weekly movie night. Others enjoy time spent reading, talking with friends, soaking in a bubble bath, or going for a long (or short) walk. A few small acts of self-kindness each week can make a big difference in how we feel.
Get enough sleep. Rest is crucial to good health, mental and physical. Stick to a schedule, waking and going to bed at the same time each day. Create a wind-down routine. Put on your most comfortable sleepwear, brush and floss your teeth and settle in for a good, long snooze. Nix blue-light emitting devices before bed and avoid too much caffeine.
Learn how to deal with stress. Stress is a part of life. Developing coping skills can change how much stress affects you, and how resilient you are. Deep breaths are a great on-the-spot stress minimizer. Consciously relaxing your muscles can diffuse a stressful moment. So can listening to a favorite song or watching a funny video. In the long-term, the tools that help keep us mentally and physically healthy are the very same tools that help us deal with stress: good sleep and nutrition, exercise, self-care, connection with others and the other tips mentioned in this article.
Liven up your routine. Human beings love a good routine, and most of the time we enjoy the feelings of security and safety they offer. BUT…a little change of pace can liven up your day. Drive to work a new way or choose a different jogging route. Rearrange the pictures on your walls or your living room furniture. Make a new recipe. Brush your teeth with the opposite hand. You get the idea!
Treat yourself with kindness. Watch out for self-criticism and negative self-talk. Your inner critic is doing you no favors. Perhaps you’re not even aware of your inner critic – start to listen to your inner monologue and when you hear the critic, tell it you don’t want to hear it. After you’ve practiced silencing the critic, work on replacing the critic with an inner ally who notices the good things about you.
Say no when you need to. Focus on your goal and priorities, and if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much, say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ to new tasks. At the end of the day, be mindful of all you have accomplished, and try not to turn the narrative to what you didn’t get to.
Eat well and drink plenty of water. What you put into your body will affect how you feel. Junk in, junk out. Getting a good balance of nutrients, including fiber and water, can have a stabilizing effect on your mood. Sugary or over-processed foods spike your blood sugar levels, which then drop, leaving you feeling tired, cranky and even unstable. Too little of specific nutrients including vitamin B12, selenium, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc and calcium has been linked to depression. Aim for meals that contain a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, plenty of protein and moderate amounts of healthy fats.
Surround yourself with good people. Our friendships and relationships can sometimes help (or hurt) our mental health, so it’s important to seek out interactions with people who are supportive, kind and positive. Reaching out to new people can be hard but worthwhile. Look for positive people you’d like to engage with wherever you go regularly: work, school, church or even the gym are great places to start.
Avoid drugs and alcohol. Say no to drugs and keep your alcohol use to a minimum. Recent studies show that for women, moderate drinking means no more than three drinks on any one day and seven or fewer drinks per week. For men, it’s no more than four drinks on any one day and no more than 14 drinks per week. As for other self-medicating or recreational drugs, avoid them.
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