If there’s one thing that the COVID pandemic has taught many of us, it’s that our mental health can be fragile. No matter how well put together you think your life is right now, it only takes one unexpected event to overturn it, potentially causing you a lifetime of mental distress.
However, current research into how the human mind functions seems to show that our capacity for recovery is much greater than previously thought. Whether it’s a serious mental health issue like substance use disorder or something like anxiety or post-traumatic stress, the brain is able to readjust and create fresh connections that bypass the ones associated with mental illness.
The creation of new neural pathways seems to happen faster in specific circumstances. The key to faster brain growth seems to be to build regular habits that provide a constant but surmountable challenge. Additionally, setting oneself self up to be able to do these habits regularly can increase one’s potential to heal faster and maintain better mental health.
Below are some habits that can help keep you sharp and mentally healthy. If you’re in New England and need help with a substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health conditions, get in touch with the team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers.
Meditation, which could be loosely defined as any purposeful contemplative exercise, has long been widely agreed to have benefits for mental health, especially when done frequently.
However, it’s only recently, thanks to noninvasive imaging technologies, that the brain could be directly observed during meditation and its progress tracked over time.
Mindfulness, a type of secular meditative practice, is strongly associated with neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells. However, there is reason to believe that similar benefits could be gained with other meditative approaches.
2.) Making Your Bed
How your day begins can serve to frame the rest of it. By starting with a small win like a made bed, some psychologists and mental health researchers contend that you could effectively set your baseline self-confidence and motivation higher than it would otherwise be, maximizing the odds of you maintaining good habits throughout your day.
3.) Actively Practicing Gratitude
Multiple studies show that training one’s self to be grateful could help increase one’s happiness by effectively rewiring your brain. Practicing gratitude could be seen as parallel to such psychotherapy interventions as cognitive-behavioral therapy, where an individual reeducates themself to see the world more realistically.
4.) Exercising Regularly
Exercise is now understood to be as effective as antidepressants in some cases, all while having fewer side effects and with more physical health benefits. While it is not a replacement for psychotherapy and psychiatric medication, it can be a means to significantly reduce the need for it or to further improve one’s quality of life. It can also alleviate anxiety symptoms common in many mental health disorders by enabling individuals to burn off energy and improving their quality of sleep.
5.) Keeping to a Regular Schedule
People with mental health issues like trauma, anxiety, and depression often have problems concentrating, which can make it tough to build any habit. By better scheduling one’s recovery activities, recovering individuals can allow themselves a better shot at making more consistent progress in their mental health.
6.) Focusing on Nutrition
For people with chronic mental health issues, malnourishment and obesity can further exacerbate an already difficult situation. Eating right may not bring immediate benefits, but over time, it can help one be sick less often, which often leads to a better mood and more confidence.
Eating healthy meals can also help improve energy levels, helping one meet different challenges throughout the day. Finding affordable, easy, and enjoyable ways to eat healthily can be a fun activity in itself, as well.
Journaling one’s thoughts at least once a week can be a good way to get a better perspective on one’s emotional state. It can also be a good way of tracking one’s progress.
The gains one gets from all the other activities we mentioned tend to happen very slowly. It can be difficult, if not impossible, for someone in a state of mental distress to get a realistic grasp of their recovery. Journaling can make this possible, helping provide the individual and their therapist insights into their recovery journey.
8.) Being Kind to Others
Helping others and practicing compassion can do wonders for your mental health. According to several studies, actively performing selfless acts of kindness can dramatically increase one’s own happiness and improve overall mental health, over time.
These are just some of the habits anyone can pick up to help improve their mental health. Everyone is different, so it’s important that you try a range of different activities — including ones not on this list — to see which combination works best for you.
It’s also critical that you have realistic expectations, as most of these activities may need to be done for the long term for them to have any lasting benefits. Finding a therapist you trust can may also help to improve your outcomes. Note that serious mental health disorders like addiction will also need to be addressed by qualified psychiatric professionals to ensure a safe and sustainable recovery. Good luck, and be well!