Updated on 4/12/22
Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, yet many people discount the need to nurture it. Why is mental health important? When we pay attention to our mental well-being we can stabilize emotions, boost our mood, build and maintain healthy relationships, and so much more.
With all of life’s responsibilities, it’s easy to let your mental health drop to the bottom of your to-do list, but prioritizing yourself and your wellness is always worth it for you and your loved ones. Give yourself permission (a symbolic permission slip if you will) to focus on your mental health, explore your needs, and give yourself what you’re missing to be the best version of yourself. Maybe you need to ask for help, call a friend, treat yourself, forgive yourself, or look inward. Whatever it is, make it a priority.
It’s important to continuously work at reducing the stigma surrounding mental health so people feel more comfortable taking care of themselves. Mental health awareness month is celebrated every May and is influential in helping promote mental wellness and fight the stigma surrounding mental health.
Being mentally healthy doesn’t mean we don’t have any problems in our lives. What it does mean is that we’re better-equipped to deal with the curveballs life throws us in a healthier way.
When we make mental health care a priority, we can be more:
- Content with our world
- Full of life and fun-loving
- Able to deal with stress
- Ready to bounce back from difficult situations
- Full of a sense of purpose
- Flexible in our relationships and environments
- Able to establish and maintain healthy, fulfilling relationships
- Prepared to recover from disappointment
- Able to heal from trauma or grief
- Focused on establishing a healthy work-life balance
Read on to learn 14 tips on how to improve mental health in constructive, positive ways.
“Mental health care is just as important as taking care of our physical health, but most of the time we do not take it as seriously. When we start to prioritize our mental health, we can begin to feel more positive about our life, and can practice dealing with stressors in a healthier way.”
14 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health
Our mental health affects how we feel, think, and act on a daily basis. It’s more than just “not being depressed” or “not having anxiety” — being mentally healthy takes work. Luckily, we’ve listed out the top 14 ways to improve mental health here.
Making a commitment to seeking in-person or online therapy is one of the best things you can do for your own mental health. Many people have found great success through psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy). Clinical trials have determined psychotherapy can be as effective as some medications for anxiety and depression. If you’re experiencing any mental health conditions or struggling in any aspect of your life, therapy might be something to consider.
“Seeking and engaging in therapy is a great first step to improving your mental health. Therapy helps you create awareness and insight into yourself that is needed in order to bring about a positive change in your mental health and overall wellbeing.”
We all know that exercise is directly related to our overall health, but it’s not just about our physical well-being. Studies show that regular exercise can have a positive impact on several mental health conditions, including depression. One recent study found that running for just 15 minutes every day or walking for an hour can significantly reduce the risk of developing major depressive disorder (MDD) by more than 25%.
Tips on how to improve mental health by staying active:
- Create an exercise schedule and stick to it
- Make working out a priority
- Find a workout buddy for support
- Keep a workout journal to track your progress
- Start small and build up to a more rigorous program
- Set (achievable) goals
Engage with others and make social connections
Physically being with others is important to our mental health. Humans are social beings. Spending time with other people and making face-to-face connections is imperative to fulfilling our needs from both an emotional and a psychological perspective.
Tips on how to improve mental health by engaging with others:
- Make plans with others (and do your best to keep them)
- Find events or activities that you enjoy so you’ll look forward to them
- Join a support group
- Start a book club
- Call an old friend and plan to get together
- Smile and say hi to people, even when you don’t know them
Focus on your stress levels
Stress can be a real killer. It literally affects our mental and physical health in several ways. Stress can quickly lead to anxiety and depression and take a serious emotional toll on our mind and spirit. Being aware of our stress levels can help us redirect our energy before stress gets out of control. Stress management is essential in keeping our mental health balanced and positive.
Tips on how to improve mental health by reducing our stress:
- Practice breathing techniques
- Do yoga
- Mindful meditations
- Talk to a friend or family member
- Make sure to make time for yourself
Make sleep a priority
Sleep is something most of us take for granted. It’s one of the most important parts of our life, but we often don’t make it a priority. Even just a few nights of not enough sleep can really take a toll on our mental health. Getting enough sleep can help your mind stay sharp, reduce your stress, help with your energy levels, and improve your mood.
Tips on how to improve mental health by establishing good sleep habits:
- Simply put: go to bed at a reasonable time
- Limit screens for 2 hours before bedtime
- Calm your mind before getting into bed — try writing in a journal, taking a bath, lighting a candle, diffusing essential oils, or listening to quiet music
- Keep a schedule — go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends
- Try white noise machines
Make a commitment to a brain-healthy diet
Eating healthy is a win-win. You’ll not only improve your mental health, but you’ll also feel and think better when you have a healthy diet.
Eat a diet that’s primarily low in sugar and saturated or trans fats and high in healthy essential fats like good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Tips on how to improve mental health by eating well:
- Too much caffeine
- Trans fats — partially hydrogenated oils
- Refined carbs (white flour, white rice)
- Highly processed foods
- Fried foods
- Nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts)
- Fatty fish that are high in Omega-3s (salmon, anchovies, herring, tuna)
- Blueberries and other fruit
- Leafy greens
Find purpose in your life
It might sound simple, but when we have a purpose in our life, it’s easier for us to focus on the good and get through the inevitable tough times. Having a purpose gives us a reason to work in life. It’s also important to brain health as it encourages new cells to grow and drive new neural pathways. Purpose can help improve our immune system, relieve stress, and eliminate pain.
Tips on how to improve mental health by finding your purpose:
- Foster or get a pet
- Spend quality time with loved ones
- Invest time and effort into your hobbies or interests
- Find work or activities that allow you to be creative and do something different
Remember to find gratitude
Being grateful is a huge component of our overall mental health and well-being. When we regularly engage in gratitude checks, we can learn to focus on the things that matter while letting go of the “small things.” Especially in the age of social media, it’s easy to get caught up comparing ourselves to what we believe others have/are/do (even if it’s not reality).
Tips on how to improve mental health by finding gratitude:
- Keep a gratitude journal
- List 3 things you’re grateful for each morning
- Say thank you
- Do things unexpectedly and without expectations
Keep a journal
Writing regularly can help us process events, emotions, and experiences throughout our day. It can be a way for us to let go of things that maybe weren’t so great. It’s also a way for us to preserve the wins we get.
Tips on how to improve mental health by journaling:
- Have a journal next to your bed or desk so you always know where it is
- Make it a habit to journal at the same time every day or night
- Use a “system” if you struggle coming up with what to write about — for example, list 3 things you loved about your day and 3 things you want to do differently tomorrow
It may sound like a simple idea that won’t have much impact, but doing things for others can be a mood boost for us, too. Not only can kindness be great for those we help, but according to a study by the Clinical Psychological Science journal, it’s been shown to decrease stress hormones that are related to how stressed we get, while increasing levels of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters linked to positive feelings. Kindness also increases self-esteem and is linked to longevity.
Tips on how to improve mental health by being kind:
- Donate time or money
- Smile at strangers
- Pay for someone behind you
- Drop a meal for someone who’s ill
Go off the grid
Disconnecting every once in a while is a great way to recalibrate your mental mindset. If you can’t ditch the phone entirely, consider setting your alerts to do-not-disturb to limit disruptions for a set time period. Do something with a loved one or for yourself during that time. You’ll likely find that you didn’t realize how much you needed a break from the 24-7 way of life technology often brings.
Tips on how to improve mental health by going off the grid:
- Turn your smartphone off (or set it to do-not-disturb)
- Give yourself a break from social media
- Set a vacation responder on email
- Have a “device-free” day
- Opt for a walk instead of that social media scroll
- Let friends, family, and coworkers know that you’ll be off the grid for a specified time
Forgiveness is directly linked to our mental health. In fact, research has shown us that the ability to forgive others for transgressions can help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to forget what happened or let that person off the hook for hurting you, it’s more of an internal feeling of reconciling your feelings about what happened to let go of it.
Tips on how to improve mental health by forgiving:
- Let someone know that you’re ready to move on and mean it
- Call an old friend you had a disagreement with
- Journal about your anger/disappointment/hurt so you can let go of it
- Be honest with your feelings so you can get closure
Research shows us that smiling actually helps reduce stress. Every time we smile, our brain releases neuropeptides, which are small molecules that help us fight off major stress. Even forcing a smile may help improve your mood.
Tips on how to improve mental health by smiling:
- Just do it – smile, often
- Catch a stranger’s eye and surprise them with a smile
- Keep a gratitude journal – it’ll remind you of things to be grateful for
Getting outdoors can do wonders for your mood. Even the simple act of being out in nature has shown positive physiological effects on mental health. Going outside for even a half-hour a day has been proven to reduce cortisol levels, which can in turn reduce stress.
Tips on how to improve mental health by getting outdoors:
- Go for a short walk in the morning
- Take your animals for a walk
- Have lunch outside on a patio or deck
- Park further away from your location so you can spend time walking
- Find a park to eat lunch at during your work week
- Sit on a rocking chair, swing, or bench outside and read
- Have your coffee outside in the morning
- Go for an evening stroll
How to Get Help with Your Mental Health
You can improve mental health through the help of support groups, therapy, or any of the individualized options we’ve listed above. Knowing how to better improve your mental health is the first step towards a more peaceful, rewarding, and healthy approach to life. Consider taking that first step towards good mental health with a licensed online therapist at Talkspace.
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3. Weir K. Forgiveness can improve mental and physical health. Monitor on Psychology, 48(1). https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/01/ce-corner. Published 2017. Accessed November 6, 2021.
4. Kraft T, Pressman S. Grin and Bear It! Smiling Facilitates Stress Recovery. Association for Psychological Science – APS. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/smiling-facilitates-stress-recovery.html. Published 2012. Accessed November 6, 2021.
5. Park B, Tsunetsugu Y, Kasetani T, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environ Health Prev Med. 2009;15(1):18-26. doi:10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793346/. Accessed November 6, 2021.
6. Ansell, E. “Helping Others Dampens the Effects of Everyday Stress”. Clinical Psychological Science, https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/doing-small-acts-of-kindness-may-lower-your-stress.html Published 2015. Accessed November 19, 2021.