5 Lifestyle Changes that Help Improve Mental Health
Treating a mental illness such as anxiety or depression usually involves psychological therapies and medication. But there are also some lifestyle changes we can do for ourselves to help improve our mental health.
These lifestyle changes are beneficial not just for people diagnosed with a mental health condition. Positive life changes can be empowering, and we are all capable to make small meaningful changes.
Here are five techniques that can help reduce stress, improve mood, and manage mental health:
1. Improve your diet and physical activity
A nutritious diet is important for optimal brain function.
Load up your diet with the following: wholefoods such as leafy green vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean red meat, and seafood; and foods rich in polyphenols, such as tea, berries, dark chocolate, and wine.
Increased physical activity is also beneficial — at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days or a total of 150 minutes over the week is recommended. You can do simple exercises such as jogging, swimming, sports, or weightlifting.
Even short bouts of activity such as doing household chores can immediately elevate your mood.
Adding social interaction and exposure to nature can further increase mental well-being.
2. Limit bad habits
Having an alcohol or drug addiction makes a person more likely to develop a mental illness and poorer health.
While a little alcohol consumption may help prevent depression, it does not provide beneficial effects on brain function.
Reducing alcohol or substance misuse and quitting smoking leads to reduced anxiety and better mood. While it may take time to overcome withdrawal symptoms, the brain adapts in time.
3. Give yourself time to rest
Simply maintaining a regular sleep schedule, adjusting caffeine use, and reducing exposure to light before sleeping can help treat insomnia and improve sleep quality.
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Forcing sleep is not recommended. If you have trouble falling asleep within 20 minutes, redirect your focus on an activity with minimal light and stimulation until you feel tired.
Taking the time to relax and immersing yourself in hobbies and leisure activities is also important for regulating stress.
4. Spend time in nature
A little bit of sunshine can brighten up people’s moods. It also helps increase production of the mood-maintaining chemical serotonin and vitamin D, which also helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle.
Try limiting your exposure to environmental toxins such as chemicals, pollutants, and “noise” pollution, as those negatively affect mental health. Limit your time on gadgets.
Simply spending time in nature, or being around animals or pets can greatly improve your mood.
5. Take note of how you feel
While positive lifestyle changes cannot replace medication or psychological therapy, they are a helpful accompanying treatment.
Some lifestyle changes, such as quitting bad habits, may be challenging and must be handled delicately and with professional support. Go easy on yourself and try to be realistic when setting goals.
Take time to observe how you feel mentally after a nutritious meal, an outdoor walk with a friend, or a good night’s sleep.