Good mental health is both a state of mind and a lifestyle. Part of it is developing a rational, positive mindset about oneself and the world. Having sources of pleasure and a manageable level of stress facilitates good mental health as well.
Additionally, it’s important to have a lifestyle that helps maintain this state of mind. This goes beyond fulfillment in work and relationships. It’s about regularly engaging in activities that provide a sense of peace or catharsis, including being in nature, meditating, or working with a therapist.
By practicing good mental health, people become more resilient and able to cope when their lives are riddled with stress and misfortune.
“Practicing good mental health habits before you feel distressed is like putting money in the bank for the bad times,” said Jude Miller Burke, Ph.D., a business psychologist and author of The Adversity Advantage. “When a bad time then comes, you are more prepared.”
If you feel like you’re missing a positive mindset or healthy lifestyle, try out some of the tips we gathered by asking therapists how to practice good mental health.
1. Work With a Therapist
Big surprise: therapists suggested going to therapy as their top tip for improving mental health. It’s still a useful tip, though. Therapy can improve quality of life and reduce symptoms of mental illness — among many other benefits — according to hundreds of studies.
Working with a therapist is like having a coach who constantly helps and pushes you to maintain good mental health. Throughout a relationship with a therapist, clients can set specific and actionable mental health goals. These can range from developing new thought patterns to implementing healthy lifestyle changes. If trauma, toxic relationships, mental illness, or negative beliefs are holding you back from having a positive state of mind, working with a therapist might be especially helpful.
2. Try Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness practices can reduce negative rumination and stress, and improve relationship satisfaction, according to a meta analysis of studies on the mental health benefits of mindfulness. Here are some examples of practicing mindfulness and meditation:
You can practice mindfulness in many other ways. Therapist Lisa Bahar recommended incorporating mindfulness into routine activities we tend to take for granted. Think about the last time you ate something that tasted good, maybe an expensive dessert. Were you in the moment when you ate it? Were you present, only thinking about the taste of the food and the experience of eating it?
3. Exercise Regularly
When people exercise, it’s as if some of their anxiety, depression, and stress transforms into sweat. Rather than festering in their bodies, it slides off.
4. Have a Healthy Diet
Each piece of food and glass of liquid we drink affects our mental health. The effects are small, but they can add up as part of a healthy diet. For example, certain types of diets can help people manage depression, according to a study published in BMC Medicine.
Here are some supplements, beverages, and vitamins that can help you have good mental health:
- Herbal supplements: GABA, kava, passion flower, L-theanine, lemon balm
- Non-caffeinated tea
- Vitamin B, magnesium, vitamin D3, omega-3 [fish oil]
Consider conducting further research or consulting a nutritionist for help incorporating these into a diet.
5. Be Grateful
When people take what they have for granted, it’s like they are placing constraints on how happy they can be. Gratitude helps us enjoy our privileges, the people in our lives, and material possessions. It’s a way to be free of constraints on how much happiness we can derive from what we have.
Gratitude is something you can practice by regularly taking time to run through a list of what you have and why you appreciate it. This will make you more likely to foster fulfilling relationships, sleep well, and feel well physically, among other benefits.
6. Laugh A Lot
Laughter can be therapeutic. Every time we laugh, our brains release dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel happy. If you’re missing some laughter in your life, try going to a comedy club, binge watching a new comedy series, or checking out some standup specials on Netflix.
7. Sing Your Heart Out
Even if it’s only in the shower, singing will make you feel good. The musical vibrations literally change the brain for the better by lowering levels of hormones that typically indicate stress.
8. Have At Least a Little Bit of Social Interaction
Even introverts and people with social anxiety need at least a little social interaction to be mentally healthy, according to studies on social relationships and health. Having relationships or simply chatting with people occasionally can make a huge difference.
If you are missing a degree of social interaction, consider joining one of the following communities and groups:
- An activist group related to a cause you care about
- A networking, professional, or meetup group based on a common skill or interest
- A religious community
- A form of group exercise, including team sports
- Group therapy
9. Volunteer Somewhere
Volunteering can improve mental and physical health, according to research from Carnegie Mellon University. The satisfaction of doing something for other people is invaluable. It can also be an opportunity to practice gratefulness.
There are hundreds of opportunities for volunteering. If you want something guaranteed to improve your mental health, therapist Keeley Teemsma recommended volunteering with an animal rescue or shelter.
“Spending time with animals, giving love, getting love, and knowing they appreciate your actions — even though they don’t have the words to express how they feel — always feels amazing,” she said.
10. Know Your Personality and What You Love
When people know who they are and what they love, it’s easier to for them to find sources of good mental health. Burke offered the example of an introvert reading a book and having alone time as opposed to an extrovert needing stimulation from others.
“Choosing activities that correlate with your personality traits helps retain a mental health balance,” she said.
If you’re struggling to think of activities to try, Burke recommended thinking back to your childhood. Those memories might contain clues to what could bring happiness as an adult.
11. Challenge Negative Thoughts and Self-Criticism
All of us have some negative thoughts about ourselves, other people, or even the nature of the world. When these inevitably occur, ask yourself, “Is this line of thinking fair? Is it logical?”
Negative beliefs are often irrational and flimsy. When we challenge them, we can replace them with positive beliefs that boost mental health. If you have trouble doing this alone, consider working with a licensed therapist.
12. Think About What You Want, Not What You Should Be Doing
“Should” is about placating other people. That won’t bring happiness or peace.
Try to constantly think about what you want. Put your desires first and worry about the “should” later. Even if you can’t always do what you want, simply asking yourself is part of practicing good mental health, according to therapist Steve Sultanoff.
How to Practice Good Mental Health
If you try even one of these tips, you’ll be practicing good mental health. To feel even better, start adding more of them to your lifestyle and see what fits. Good mental health can become part of who you are and what you do, not only something you obtain.