Conversations involving habits to improve mental health have really taken center stage in the last year largely due to the isolation impact of COVID-19.
People experienced job loss, divorce, eviction, violence & death around the world. Then we lost one of the primary means to cope with those types of stress: entertainment – removing even more opportunities to socialize, unwind, decompress & escape the everyday pressures of life.
So this article will offer some healing habits to improve mental health and get you back on that pre-pandemic track!
Disclaimer: none of the information presented throughout this post is meant to diagnose nor replace any medical advice or treatment. Please do not self-diagnose or self-prescribe & always seek the help of a trained, licensed mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment of any psychological disorder or condition regardless of severity, and disclose any & all medications and supplements being taken.
What is Mental Health?
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, mental health is defined as our “emotional, psychological and social well-being”.
The World Health Organization further defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
Our mood, thoughts & beliefs are heavily influenced by our mental health status. It helps define how we interact with others, how we handle stress and influences our decisions.
Many factors play a role, such as your gene expression, brain chemistry, life experiences, trauma and/or having a history of mental health problems in the family.
However, mental health problems are more common, and treatable, than you might think, and they are not necessarily the same thing as a mental illness.
Regardless of what type of mental health category you might fall into, you should never feel any shame for nurturing your mental health & wellness.
What are the Warning Signs to Improve Mental Health?
The warning signs to improve mental health are vast & may not be all-inclusive. It’s very possible to feel a few or all symptoms at different periods of time based on different life experiences happening all around you. Some common warning signs might include (3):
- Little to no energy
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Eating too much or too little
- Avoiding or pulling away from friends, family & loved ones
- Helplessness or hopelessness
- Severe mood swings
- Increased irritability
- Decreased patience
- Loss of desire to socialize
- Little to no desire to do the things that used to bring you joy
- Little to no reaction to the things that used to bring you joy
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating/thinking/speaking, forgetfulness
- Persistent, obsessive thoughts (i.e. overthinking; negative self-talk)
- Physical aches & pains
- Thoughts of self-harm
This is purely meant to be just a list of examples for awareness and is not meant to diagnose nor replace any medical advice. In addition, if you do experience one or more of these signs, that does not necessarily mean that you have mental health issues either. Always seek the help of a trained, licensed mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment.
What is Mental Illness?
The American Psychiatric Association defines mental illness as a “health condition(s) involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these)” and is often associated with public, work & family socialization problems accompanied by significant distress.
Mental illness is common and treatable. In fact, 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with some form of mental illness but can live healthy, functional lives with proper treatment. (4)
Mental Health vs Mental Illness
Mental health and mental illness are not one and the same, and should not be used as interchangeable terms. Instead, mental illness (and wellness – defined below) should be thought of as subcategories of mental health as each can independently affect your overall mental health.
“Mental health is the foundation for emotions, thinking, communication, learning, resilience & self-esteem. Mental health is also key to relationships, personal and emotional well-being & contributing to community or society.”
-The American Psychiatric Association
According to the APA, mental health involves efficiently & effectively functioning in daily activities, such as productivity, adaptability to change, & healthy relationships.
Whereas mental illness is the collection of all diagnosable mental disorders with significant changes in mood & behavior, heightened distress & issues functioning appropriately in social situations.
What is Mental Wellness?
Mental wellness is defined as the inner mechanism that helps us “think, feel, connect, and function”, and is an ongoing, functional action that helps us “build resilience, grow, and flourish”.
More than just mental or cognitive functioning, mental wellness involves our emotions, social relationships, day-to-day function & religious or spiritual awareness.
Furthermore, the absence of mental illness does not equate to mental wellness. Mental wellness must be actively implemented on a conscious & subconscious level on a daily basis.
For many, being happy takes work & active effort. It’s easy to pass the blame to others & wallow in negativity, anyone can do that. But it takes real work on your part to make yourself happy.
>> For more help & guidance on Mental Wellness, be sure to check out the Mental Wellness Dietitian, a trusted authority for stress, gut health, anxiety, brain fog & fatigue management <<
Mental Health vs Mental Wellness
Simply put, mental wellness involves the daily activities that work to help or hinder our mental health progress. These activities might include:
- Positive or negative thinking & self-talk
- Quality of your diet
- Physical activity
- Mental, emotional & physical cleanliness
- Drug and/or alcohol use
- Sleeping patterns, habits & hygiene
But there are lots of ways to combat this through healthy, daily habits to improve mental health. And to really enhance those benefits, cannabis can act as a wonderful mediator to improve mindfulness, relieve stress & relax the mind. Lots more tips below!
>>> Getting professional guidance from licensed mental health professionals is easier than ever through applications like BetterHelp, TalkSpace & Cerebral <<<
Common Mental Health Concerns
Anxiety & depression are some of the most common, growing, mental health concerns in the U.S. As either a cause or a consequence, insomnia is becoming more prevalent as well.
Poor quality sleep can further exacerbate anxiety & depression symptoms. Inversely, both anxiety & depression (independently or in combination) has the potential to exacerbate insomnia.
What is Anxiety?
Most people experience some form of anxiety at some level on a daily basis. Running late for work is one very simple example of how the thought of being late for work heightens your anxiety at that moment for that day.
However, in more severe cases of clinically diagnosed anxiety disorders, one might experience debilitating symptoms that make it difficult to accomplish daily tasks and routines.
Some symptoms* of mild to severe anxiety might include:
- Extreme anxiousness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Rapid heart rate/trouble breathing/panic attacks
- Trouble sleeping
- Uncontrollable worry or helplessness
- Avoiding anxiety-inducing triggers (i.e. work, spouse, specific object)
Do not self-diagnose & seek help when intense feelings of fear arise, your worry becomes overwhelming or obsessive, you’re feeling depressed, you suspect your anxiety is linked to a physical, underlying problem or condition and/or you start experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
*Note that some of the symptoms above could also mimic symptoms of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) from prolonged overuse (or abuse) of cannabis.
If you experience CHS, a tolerance break/abstinence for a minimum of 48 hours and up to 2 weeks might be necessary to reset your ECS, calm symptoms & adjust your tolerance down to a more therapeutic level.
What is Depression?
We may experience acute periods of “depression” in times of loss or rejection, such as the death of a loved one or being overlooked for a promotion. Additionally, other medical conditions like thyroid disorders can mimic symptoms of depression.
However, depression is much more than just sadness or grief. If left untreated, undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed, depression can lead to life-altering changes that could negatively impact your career, relationships & overall livelihood.
The American Psychiatric Association’s definition of depression is a common, serious, and treatable medical & psychiatric condition that affects the way you act, think, and feel, oftentimes in a negative manner.
Depression can leave you feeling sad with a loss of interest in the things that you used to enjoy. Some symptoms of mild to severe depression might include:
- Appetite changes
- Difficulty sleeping
- Lack of energy & enthusiasm
- Hopelessness/no sense of purpose
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Pacing, inability to sit still
- Trouble concentrating, making decisions, or finishing tasks
- Thoughts of suicide or impending doom
Do not self-diagnose & seek help if symptoms “last at least two weeks and must represent a change in your previous level of functioning for a diagnosis of depression” intense feelings of fear arise, your worry becomes overwhelming or obsessive, you suspect your depression is linked to a physical, underlying problem or condition and/or you start experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
What is Insomnia?
Sleep is heavily linked to both anxiety and depression, and as Dr. Su-Nui Escobar, DCN, RDN puts it, “A good night’s sleep is essential to manage stress!”. Couldn’t have said it better myself!
If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia, then you know how incredibly debilitating it can be. Lack of or poor quality sleep can be detrimental to our performance, productivity, and overall mental health & wellness. So what exactly is insomnia?
Insomnia is a fairly common sleep disorder that can make it difficult to:
- Fall asleep
- Stay asleep
- Get back to sleep from waking too early
And you’ll likely feel exhausted (already) as soon as you wake up, making motivation & productivity a challenge. It can become a vicious cycle, but it is imperative to manage stress in order to improve your sleep and vice versa – MUCH easier said than done! I totally get it.
In trying not to stress about your stress, then your mind races right towards that stress you’re trying to avoid, and then you stress that you’re stressing about your stress (that made sense, right?!).
Basically what I’m trying to say is to be patient with yourself. Even if you get caught in that whirlwind, recognize it, process it, then try one of the habits below to reframe your thoughts & thinking.
Healing Habits to Improve Mental Health
Mental health starts within ourselves. While there are severe cases in which brain chemistry alterations may require much more aggressive & external treatment, on a whole, we can practice mindful habits to improve our mental health on a daily basis.
We just have to make a purposeful habit out of doing so. Remember that happiness is a choice, not just a random or unplanned feeling. And we must choose to feel, not just think, happy in order to actually be happy.
Try out some of these habits to improve mental health in your day-to-day routine, and give it time. All good things come to those who invest the time to manifest their desires on a daily, consistent basis:
- Create a relaxing, positive environment – one that you can’t wait to return to
- Nourish gut health (a.k.a. “The 2nd brain”) with proper nutrition & mindful eating
- Create & maintain a prebiotic & probiotic daily regimen
- Incorporate adequate protein for muscle recovery & adequate (healthy) fats for cognitive recovery
- Follow a consistent schedule
- Trial an elimination diet or FODMAP protocol to rule out any trigger foods – metabolically, physiologically & emotionally
- Reduce sugar intake – sugar addiction is no myth when it comes to brain chemistry
- Stay adequately hydrated using a water bottle with hash marks with volume goals per hour (i.e. 10 oz. by 9 am, 10 oz. by 10 am, etc.)
- Raise dopamine levels naturally
- Get moving and/or exercise – whatever physical movement brings you joy, go with that!
- Manage stress through breathing techniques, meditation, positive thinking & daily affirmations
- Practice mindfulness & manifestation techniques
- Create a vision board
- Speak kindly to & about yourself and others
- Both trash & excess materialistic items that bring you no emotional fulfillment
- Not only does this physically declutter your living environment, it’s a mindful practice in decluttering your mind as well
- Indulge in daily self-care (even if that’s just 5 minutes a day – take time out solely for you, it’s not selfish to do so)
- Improve your sleep hygiene
- Try to avoid napping during the hours of 10 am & 2 pm, and try to be asleep within the window of 10 pm to 2 am at night to improve your circadian rhythm (1)
- Create a bedtime routine
- Start turning lights down to an ambient level 2-3 hours before getting into bed and/or use natural lighting such as candles
- Explore & adopt Hygge habits (pronounced HOO-GUH – bet you weren’t expecting such an aggressive-sounding word to mean something so calming)
- A defining characteristic in Danish culture that represents a “quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being” (and I have no Scandanavian in my ancestry, I just wish I was a viking!)
- Do something creative like an art project or use a creative thinking or gratitude journal such as 52 Lists of Calm: Journaling Inspiration for Soothing Anxiety and Creating a Peaceful Life by Moorea Seal or the Creative Thinking Journal from Pilgrim Soul (no lie, the cover even says “Please Use This Journal When YOU ARE HIGH”)
- Nourish your endocannabinoid system through optimal nutrition & mindfulness practices such as fatty fish, avocados & mangoes.
- Read a motivational book (this list has some of my favorites for self-acceptance, confidence & encouragement):
- Complete Wellness: Lifestyle strategies and more than 800 Easy Natural Remedies by S. Curtis, P. Thomas, J. Wood, F. Johnson & F. Waring
- Dodging Energy Vampires by Christian Northrup, MD
- Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting by Lynn Grabhorn
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marques
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- The Cannabis Apothecary: A Pharm to Table Guide for Using CBD & THC to Promote Health, Wellness, Beauty, Restoration and Relaxation by Laurie Wolf
- The Cozy Life with Hygge by Pia Edberg
- The Simple Guide to CBD by Janice Newel Bissex
- The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Disclaimer: none of the information presented throughout this post is meant to diagnose nor replace any medical advice or treatment. Please do not self-diagnose, and always seek the help of a trained, licensed mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment of any psychological disorder or condition regardless of severity.
Affirmation Habits to Improve Mental Health
Actions speak louder than words, always. And even speaking those words out loud is an action. One of the best ways to help you start to actually build confidence & self-love is to physically speak those words out loud to yourself.
Never sit in silence. Speak your intentions to yourself, those you care about, and to the universe, and it will come to you. The universe is a lot like Santa Claus, always watching, always listening.
“Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing”.
-The Santa Clause, 1998
And if no one is around, then who cares if it feels or sounds silly? Your spoken words are only between you and the universe, and the universe doesn’t judge, it just acts & reacts accordingly.
Here are some of my favorite affirmations for positive thinking & feeling. What are some of yours?
- I will be patient with myself today
- It’s only a thought, and a thought can be changed
- I make my happiness a priority
- I make my wellness a priority
- I will not compare myself to others (shoutout to my fellow self-proclaimed “imposters”)
- I deserve all that is good
- My efforts are being supported by the universe
- I am finding it easier to release excess worry
- I won’t give up on myself or my dreams
- I am going to let go of playing small
- I stand tall in my uniqueness (and I’m only 5 feet tall!)
- I am perfectly imperfect
Habits to Improve Mental Health: Talk It Out
Help is always available to you, and now it’s easier than ever to get in touch with a qualified & trusted mental health professional. Too intimidated to go into an office and speak one-on-one? That’s ok & a very common feeling!
In today’s remote world, remote therapy just makes sense as one of many habits to improve mental health.
That’s why apps like BetterHelp, TalkSpace & Cerebral were developed with different options & features including FaceTime, texting & other unique ways to communicate remotely with your dedicated mental health professional, usually at a lower cost than traditional therapy.
Habits to Improve Mental Health: Be Kind to You
Now, I’m no mental health expert by any means, but we all need to strive each day to maintain and nourish our mental health just as much as we do our physical & dietary health.
What makes training and maintaining your mental health so tough is that you don’t have the same kind of apparent results that you see from physical or dietary health such as a change on the scale (even in a day) or looking super vascular after a high-carb meal.
Our mental health success doesn’t “reward” us in the same way as other health issues do, so it’s up to you to be mindful each day to make this happen for yourself.
As a former mental health hypocrite, I can tell you that this is by far one of my hardest barriers to overcome and one I’m working on single every day. Allow yourself the bad days with the good because then you’ll just punish yourself for not sticking to your mental health goals each day.
Ups and downs are normal. If we didn’t experience sadness, then happiness wouldn’t feel as great. If we didn’t experience pain, then love wouldn’t feel as powerful.
I’m not saying it’s an easy journey to be on, but it is a possible one. Don’t limit yourself by thinking that YOU don’t have control over your happiness. That was my mistake for many, many years.
Don’t blame others, situations, or circumstances. Yes, they may make life more challenging & help to shape you, but at the end of the day, only we are in control of our own futures, nothing & no one else. Accept what you’ve allowed into your life, and either nurture it or pivot to correct it.
You are uniquely you. You are not alone. The YOUinverse loves you.
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