(That Don’t Include “Being Grateful”)
I get so fed up with online mental health “gurus” whose only trick is to tell people to practice gratitude. Yes, being grateful has many benefits. It helps you keep things in perspective, stops you from catastrophizing, and keeps your brain focused on good thoughts instead of bad. But not everyone is capable of such perpetually positive feelings. When you’re depressed or anxious, or even just feeling blue, it can be really hard to make a list of things you’re grateful for. Here is a list of eight simple things anyone can do for their mental health. Depending on what you’re going through, any of these may be difficult or impossible, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t find the energy or resolve to do all of them. Think of this list as a menu to choose from — a list of different things to try to see if they work for you.
#1. Read more books.
Self-help books are always useful. I read over a dozen self-help books during my marriage separation, when my mental health was arguably at the lowest it’s ever been. But don’t discount fiction, too. There is something powerfully healing about stepping into the story and imagination of someone else for a little while.
#2. Take social media breaks.
I don’t think most of us realize how energetically draining social media can be. So much of what we see online is negative and paints a woefully bleak picture of humanity. You’d be amazed at how much better you feel when you give yourself a break from being bombarded with everyone else’s shit for a while.
#3. Get regular exercise.
Listen, you don’t have to do CrossFit or run marathons. Just find something that moves your body and works up a gentle sweat — and something you actually enjoy doing. I find that it’s helpful to choose exercise that aligns with your mental state. If you’re struggling with anger or frustration, take a kickboxing class. When you’re feeling like life is out of your control, try yoga.
#4. Drink less coffee and alcohol.
We’ve all seen some version of the “coffee all morning and wine all night” meme. I am a lover of both coffee and wine. I certainly love my morning coffee to get my day started, and there is nothing like a soothing glass of red wine after a particularly stressful day. But consuming stimulants and depressants all day long can keep your mental and emotional state ping-ponging back and forth in a very harmful and unnatural way. Scaling back my coffee intake to two cups a day and limiting my glasses of wine to weekends has made a huge difference in my mental health.
#5. Drink more water.
Everything, including your mental health, is easier to handle when you’re hydrated.
#6. Reassess your relationships.
I bet you can think of at least one of your relationships that’s having a negative impact on your mental health right now. Maybe it’s time to do something about it. That could mean removing someone from your life, or having that hard conversation you’ve been putting off. We are naturally social beings, and our relationships can have a serious impact on our mental health. We need to make sure we’re keeping those relationships healthy.
#7. Spend time outside.
The sun has such powerful, magical properties when it comes to our mental health. Our natural response to depression and anxiety is to shut ourselves in our rooms and our beds, and I’m not here to knock that. Our room is our sacred place. Just remember to get outside, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
#8. Grieve that thing you’ve been avoiding.
Grief is not reserved for the loss of a loved one. Humans are able to grieve many things — the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, the closing of a door that you wanted to stay open. We often push grief aside, telling ourselves that we’re overreacting or being dramatic. We gaslight ourselves into thinking that what happened doesn’t deserve to be grieved. But it does. It desperately does. Give yourself permission to grieve that thing. It will poison you from the inside until you do.
I always find lists like these to be a little glib. Practicing good mental health is a lifelong, holistic process that is far more than drinking water and getting outside. Don’t think of this as a prescriptive list for fixing your mental health. Instead, thing of it as a list of tools for your tool chest — things to try when you’re down and see if they work for you. Although none of these things can be the single answer for improving your mental health, they all have the ability to move the needle in a more positive direction.
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