Many of us are hoping that the year ahead of us bears little resemblance to the one we left behind. However, if there is one tidbit of knowledge worth carrying forward, it’s the importance of mental health. Knowing how to manage your mental health—understanding what hurts and what helps—can be the difference between struggling and succeeding during a difficult time.
In this blog, we’ll go over some strategies that you can use in your everyday life to improve your mental health
Learn to Manage Stress and Anxiety
Develop a Meditation Habit
Meditation has become increasingly popular over the last five years. This comes as no surprise when one considers the benefits it offers, some of which include:
- Stress management
- Increased focus on the present
- Fewer negative emotions
- Easier time sleeping
There are many different kinds of meditation, but the one that most people practice in mindfulness.
We allow positive thoughts to pass by freely, but we stop each negative thought in its tracks . The end result is that we spend more time dwelling on our negative thoughts than we do our positive ones. The goal of meditation is to show the practitioner that both positive and negative thoughts occur involuntarily and, if left alone, quickly disappear. It is the decision to focus on these thoughts and assign them significance that is within our control and often detrimental to our mental health.
The key to developing a meditation habit is to start small. Many people quit meditating because they either find it too difficult or set overly ambitious goals such as doing unguided meditation for an hour every day.
Apps such as 10percenthappier, Calm, and Waking Up offer beginner courses for people looking to create meditation habits. Each class is a 10-minute guided meditation that either introduces a new concept or reinforces a previous one. Users are encouraged to complete one short meditation per day until the course is completed.
Seek Professional Help
Thanks to the many mental health initiatives in past years, the taboo around therapy has largely been lifted. Because the stigma is being lifted, access and accessibility has increased greatly. Many employers now offer psychological services as part of their extended benefits plans and telehealth options are available.
Modern psychotherapy focuses on giving the client tools to use in their everyday lives. Modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps clients notice the distortions in their thinking and to take a step back and view their thinking patterns from a distance. From there, the psychotherapist and the client work together to develop strategies to reframe negative thoughts and behaviors and consider other perspectives.
CBT has become popular because it is a short (typically between 6-20 sessions) and practical implementation of psychotherapy. Many local practices as well as online providers offer CBT as one of their modalities, and resources such as CounsellingBC help you find the right psychotherapist for you.
Understand How Physical Health Affects Mental Health
Sleep is something we know we should focus on, but never do. Whenever life gets busy, sleep is the first thing that gets hit. Because at the end of the day, things have to get done. And even if you’re only getting five or six hours of sleep a night, you’re still able to function, so what’s the harm?
The truth is that sleep plays an important role in regulating our mood. Psychologists have found a direct link between mood regulation and our circadian system, which wants a consistent and predictable schedule. When our circadian rhythms change due to a lack of sleep, our mood becomes unregulated and we are more prone to experience anxiety, depression, and stress.
To fix this problem, sleep experts recommend creating a consistent pre-bed routine that tells your body it’s time to go to sleep. Some suggestions for your routine include:
- A warm shower
- Reading a book
- Dimming the lights
- Leaving all electronics in another room
Exercise has reliably shown to be one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health. Aerobic exercise such as running, swimming, biking, and dancing, reduce anxiety and depression. This is caused by the physical stimulus of exercise. However, it has other benefits such as improving self-efficacy, self-esteem, providing social interaction, and offering a distraction from other problems. These other benefits also improve our mood and mental health.
The key to developing an effective exercise habit is finding a form of exercise you enjoy. As we mentioned above, dancing is shown to have as many benefits as running, and it sure is a lot more fun.
Though there is no guarantee that 2021 will be better than 2020, the start of a new year provides an opportunity for each of us to reflect on how we want to spend our time and improve our quality of life. Using this time to develop healthy and meaningful routines that will increase our wellbeing and mental health puts us in a position to handle whatever the new year throws our way.