Your overall health is a system with numerous working parts, and all require your attention. Mental health is just as important as physical, emotional, spiritual, and social.
However, most of us focus solely on the physical and count on our brains to “make do” no matter how many tasks and lack of sleep we toss at is. Our mental health becomes increasingly important as we age, but there are easy things we can do starting today – habits to improve mental health.
Carve out a little time each day to care for your mind, and it will positively benefit the rest of your wellness.
Here are five daily habits that are fast, easy, and guaranteed to optimize your mental health
- Practice positive affirmations. They don’t need to be said aloud (but they can be). You can simply think them, write them, or make an effort to recognize when you’re speaking unkindly to yourself. A lot of people fall into the habit of having internal thoughts that are insulting and even abusive. Thinking, “I’ll never get this,” or “My skin is terrible” isn’t doing you any favors. If you’re not your number one supporter, who will be? You’re in control of how you talk to yourself and, ultimately, how you treat and think of yourself.
- Include pranayama in your daily practice. Even if you don’t practice the asana (poses) part of yoga, pranayama can easily be built into your daily routine. It’s the practice of breath control, and there are numerous options. However, breath control can be dangerous for newcomers, so choose a book or video series that helps walk you through it. Most people don’t fully fill and deplete their lungs when they breathe. A lot of people breathe largely into their collarbones, unaware that they’re only filling up their lungs partially. A safe and energizing pranayama is four-part breath. It entails fully filling your lungs up as you count, holding that breath as you reach the same count, exhaling to the same count, and holding at the exhale to the same count.
- Take a walk outside. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of fresh air and getting outside. No matter where you live, there’s bound to be some greenery around you which energizes the mind. Seek out local parks, trails, and even if that’s not possible, you can always take a stroll down unfamiliar streets and discover new parts of your neighborhood. It engages your mind in ways a session on the treadmill never can, and even a brief walk can instill energy into you. When possible, find chip or dirt trails to challenge your feet and ankles, which can atrophy after years of shoes and using the pavement.
- Read. It sounds so simple, but reading (books, not screens) is one of the original mental workouts. It doesn’t matter what you read as long as you enjoy it. Scour the library for new books, check out a local independent bookstore, or see what your favorite online etailer has on special. A common New Year resolution is to make more time for reading, and it’s easy. You can read on a break, during your commute in some cases, and it’s a great part of a healthy sleep hygiene regimen. Reading in bed, tech-free, can help cue your body that it’s time for bed. Plus, this time of year there are plenty of great “best of” lists to help you find the right book for you.
- Play games. Games like puzzles, board games, crosswords, and pretty much any mental challenge without a screen is a fantastic way to stay sharp. Depending on the game, it can also help boost your social health. Too often, we think games are purely physical or involving technology. Get back to basic, and you’ll be surprised at how stimulating they are. Game night is also a reason to gather your loved ones and spend some quality time together.
Of course, practicing mental stimulation daily isn’t going to ward off mental health issues alone. If left untreated, a mental health condition can lead to addiction and a number of side effects. Treat your mental health just like you do your physical health with regular check-ins with a professional. The stigma around seeing therapists and counselors has fortunately waned in recent years. However, you don’t need to wait until you think there’s a “problem” to bring a mental health expert onto your team. Having a third party to talk to can help you in numerous aspects of your life, including mental health.
This is a guest post.