Engaging in positive mental health activities as early as possible not only can help you get the most out of life, it might even save it. If that sounds too dramatic, look no further than the prevalence of suicide in the US.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, but the third for ages 10-14 and the second for ages 15-24. Establishing good practices like the following early will help you cope through tough times and maintain the positive outlook needed for finding success.
But you don’t have to be young to take advantage either. These activities for improving your “Self” will be effective at every age.
1. Set the Bar Low
Hold up: it’s not what it sounds like! We’re not telling you to under-achieve.
It’s okay to have lofty aspirations, but you don’t want to risk burning out early by setting a goal that is too difficult to reach. Look no further than the aspiring bodybuilder for proof.
Most people with no history of working out and no feel for the proper technique aren’t going to slide under the bar and bench-press 300 pounds on their first attempt. If they tried it, they’d probably be looking for a new sternum.
Three hundred pounds is attainable, even if you’re starting from a lowly 90. But your first step must be doing just a little better than your current best.
Bench-pressing 100 pounds from 90 is realistic, and that’s where your initial goal should be. Now apply that to whatever you’re struggling with in life.
What is one thing you can do today that will make your life just a little better than it was yesterday? Achieve it. Then, move to the next most easily attainable goal and rinse-repeat.
Discipline yourself to incremental improvements. And don’t compare yourself to anyone else except the person you used to be.
2. Improve Your Physical Health
It’s no accident we used weightlifting in the first example. As noted by the American Psychological Association (APA), there is a strong link between exercise and boosting your mood.
That’s why you feel a sense of accomplishment after mowing the yard, whacking weeds, going for a long walk or run, and pumping iron. But exercise isn’t enough.
You also need to be eating the right foods. That means eating enough fiber and lean proteins and eliminating processed sugars.
Portion control is of paramount importance as well. If you’re like us, that’s a constant struggle. Luckily, there are ways to do it without starving yourself.
3. Keep Good Company
Friends and family who support you are what we call “good company.” Those who engage in, and encourage you to engage in, toxic behaviors don’t deserve your attention.
Be careful of people who complain about others or drift towards the negative with every conversation. While some of these relationships may be too close to cut loose altogether — a Mom, a Dad, a sibling — they shouldn’t be the focal point of your time and energy.
4. Help Others
Research has observed increases in oxytocin among volunteers and those who work to help and support others. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that regulates social behavior. Elevated levels coincide with increases in mood and happiness.
Want to take advantage? Here are some suggestions for ways you can get involved:
- Serve meals at a soup kitchen
- Donate to a clothing or toy drive
- Contribute your professional talent (i.e., pro bono legal help to the poor and underserved)
- Give anonymously to a cause or family in need
Volunteering your time and efforts for the well-being of others can be selfish in the best possible way. Why? Because, by helping others, you’re also helping yourself.
5. Steer Clear of Drugs and Alcohol
Illegal drugs, prescription drug abuse, and overconsumption of alcohol aren’t just detrimental to your physical health. They also alter the function of your brain for the worse, especially when carried out over an extended period of time.
The good news: sobriety often changes these effects completely. Just one year of living clean can lead to a deeper appreciation of experiences and loved ones; more energy; better quality-of-sleep; and even improved finances.
6. Treat Yourself
One evil trick of straining mental health is it can make you feel guilty about the good things in life. Time with family and friends or participating in a favorite hobby make you feel like you’re under-achieving.
Snap out of it. There is no such thing as “the little things” if they make you feel good about your life. Finding time for them is a must.
Set aside time each day — and if you can’t do it daily, start by doing it weekly — to do the things you would be doing if you didn’t have a care in the world. Examples:
- Cooking out
- Going to a movie
- Playing video games
- Reading books
- Binge-watching a favorite TV show
Your list may look a lot different. That’s okay. Give yourself permission to make it anyway, and do what you can to find time for them.
7. Track Your Achievements
There are lots of great ways to keep up with your achievements. Apps designed to help you meditate or keep tabs on nutrition and exercise are all over the place. You can even monitor the length and quality of your sleep.
Use what makes sense to you. But also don’t forget about the traditional techniques like writing in a journal or discussing with a friend.
8. Ask for Help When Needed
Self-improvement doesn’t have to be done in a professional setting. But it can certainly help with struggles at every level.
More clinics are moving to a something-for-everyone model such as the one at Columbus, Ohio-based Naya Clinics because they realize a need exists for professional help beyond individuals with clinical diagnoses.
Mental Health Activities Lead to Wellness
Wellness is about more than being in great physical shape. It requires a balance between body and mind.
Mental health activities pour the foundation necessary to build a life achieving that balance. For any extra support, make sure you check out our archive of health and fitness tips.