Summertime is the season of changes and new beginnings. As we transition out of winter, it’s important to prioritize your mental health by spending quality time on your self-care. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is estimated that 1 in 5 American adults live with a mental health condition, and many more experience poor mental health. Just like physical health, it’s important to take care of your mental health to ensure you can remain healthy in a holistic way and really thrive. Below are six suggestions for practicing self-care and improving mental health.
1: Get a good night’s rest
Making sure you not only get enough sleep but also high-quality sleep, is key. It is recommended that adults age 18-64 get 7-9 hours of sleep every night and that teens get 8-10. High-quality sleep is defined as falling asleep within 30 minutes of getting into bed, waking up less than two times throughout the night, and feeling refreshed and rested when waking up in the morning. Getting enough high-quality sleep is correlated with better mental health while sleep deprivation can increase the risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders and worsen one’s mental health. If you currently don’t get enough high-quality sleep because of a busy schedule, insomnia, or another condition, there are steps you can take to work on getting better sleep. It’s a good idea to avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol for a few hours before you go to bed, and to stop screentime 30 minutes before sleeping. As alternative nighttime routines, you can instead relax with a book or journal. You can also sip warm lemon water or herbal tea to help yourself become more relaxed, but you shouldn’t consume any liquids starting two hours before you plan to go to sleep to avoid waking up in the middle of the night. It’s also a good idea to avoid lying in bed during the day or doing activities like working or watching TV. Even if you have a busy schedule, it is important to prioritize good sleep and studies have shown that getting enough high-quality sleep increases productivity, work performance, memory, and concentration. If you’re still having trouble falling asleep, you can try taking a melatonin supplement to aid in falling asleep. It is recommended that you take a low dose (0.5-3 mg) 20 minutes before going to bed. (Please consult with your doctor prior to taking any supplements or vitamins.)
2: Connect with others
Having a strong support network increases self-worth and happiness. Research shows that stronger relationships are correlated with greater levels of happiness and mental health. Building your support network can be achieved through strengthening existing relationships and creating new ones. There are many ways to build stronger relationships including spending more time with family and friends and meeting face-to-face whenever possible such as having a family movie or game night or spending a day out in the city or out in nature with a friend. There are also many ways of creating new relationships. Other ideas include studying with a classmate or having lunch with a coworker. You can also join community-based activities such as a book club, a church group, or a volunteer organization to expand your social circle and meet new people. Connecting with others and building stronger relationships will not only improve your mental health but also the mental health of those with who you connect.
3: Eat a balanced diet
Research shows that eating more fruits and vegetables is positively correlated with greater mental health. In addition to eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day, it is recommended that you put an emphasis on whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, unsaturated fats, and eat added sugar, saturated fat, and processed foods in moderation. Even if you don’t have a weight loss goal, eating a healthy diet has many benefits, including reducing depression and improving overall mental health. Even if you are shopping on a budget, there are many affordable healthy options. If you don’t think you have time to cook, many meals can be meal-prepped ahead of time and there are many simple meals that require minimal preparation and cooking and can be finished in 30 minutes or less. Also, keep in mind that your diet doesn’t need to be perfect, and even making just small changes can improve physical and mental health.
4: Incorporate movement into your daily routine
Regular physical activity improves both physical and mental health. The CDC recommends that adults exercise for 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, every week. Movement doesn’t have to be lifting weights in the gym, sweating it out on the elliptical, or going on a 5-mile run. The key is to make it fun and sustainable. This can include things like biking to work instead of driving, having a family outing at the park instead of staying inside and watching TV, going ice skating or on a hike with your friends, taking a leisurely walk around your neighborhood, or even simply parking farther away from the entrance the next time you go grocery shopping or getting up to walk around for a few minutes every hour at work. If you do decide you want to join a gym, working out with a friend can make the experience less intimidating and more enjoyable, and creating an upbeat and motivating workout playlist is also key. There are also many different types of home workouts available for free on Youtube and many of them are geared towards beginners. If you’re not in high-intensity workouts, yoga is a good choice and can be done in a class, with a friend, outside, or at home. Even if you are not aiming to lose weight, incorporating more movement into your daily routine can greatly benefit your physical and mental health.
5: Take up journaling
Journaling can be a great skill to reflect on yourself, your life, and your health, and writing can act as a stress reliever. Journaling has been shown to help people reduce stress, manage anxiety, and cope with depression and grief. When you’re journaling, you’re allowed to write anything you desire with no judgment. This can include things in your life you’re grateful for, things you want to improve, goals, your mood, your triggers, recent or past experiences, relationships, conflicts, rants, letters to others or to your past/future self, affirmations, and much more. A journal can act as a safe space where you can express yourself without fear of consequences from hurting others or judgment from others. You can keep your journal in a special decorated journal, a plain notebook, a laptop, or even on your smartphone. There are no rules around journaling including how often you journal, how long your entries are, or how you structure your journal or entries, so make it personal and make it yours.
6: Get outside
Exposure to sunlight has been shown to trigger serotonin in the brain, which is a mood-boosting hormone that improves concentration, relaxation, and happiness. Regularly spending time outside causes greater mental health and overall well-being. Now that the weather’s warming up, it’s a great time to start going outdoors more often, either in your neighborhood or out in nature. Spending more time outside can also help you improve physical activity as an added bonus, helping to boost your mood even more. Even if you have nowhere to go, getting out of the house after being cooped up all day is a good way to get in fresh air and have a change of scenery, and taking a break and a 20-minute walk in the middle of the day can improve your focus and productivity when you resume working.
Keep in mind that your life isn’t going to be perfect and that making lifestyle changes is hard so you should congratulate yourself for any effd be best to seek professional help either from your PCP, a therapist or counselor, or support groups within your community.
Written by Samantha Srichai, Content Contributor
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