Building Better Mental Health Looking to improve your mood, better handle your emotions, or build resilience? These six life-changing strategies for improving mental health and well-being can show you how.
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Your mental health affects the way you think, feel and behave in everyday life. It also affects your ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, build relationships and recover from life’s setbacks and difficulties.
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Strong mental health is not just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free from depression, anxiety or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics.
Having strong mental health doesn’t mean you never go through bad times or experience emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, losses and changes. And while these are normal parts of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety and stress. But just as physically healthy people are better able to bounce back from illness or injury, people with strong mental health are better able to bounce back from adversity, trauma and stress. This ability is called
People who are emotionally and mentally resilient have the tools to cope with difficult situations and maintain a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible and productive, both in bad and good times. Their resilience also makes them less afraid of new experiences or an uncertain future. Even when they don’t immediately know how a problem will be solved, they hope that eventually a solution will be found.
Whether you’re looking to deal with a specific mental health issue, deal with your emotions better, or simply feel more positive and energetic, there are many ways to take control of your mental health—starting today.
Building Better Mental Health
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Anyone can suffer from mental or emotional health problems – and throughout our lives most of us will. This year alone, around one in five of us will suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. However, despite how common mental health problems are, many of us make no effort to improve our situation.
We ignore the emotional messages that tell us something is wrong and try to solve it by distracting ourselves or self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, or self-destructive behavior. We hoard our problems in the hope that others will not notice. Hopefully our condition will eventually improve on its own. Or we just give up—telling ourselves that this is “just the way we are.”
The good news is: you don’t have to feel bad. There are practices you can adopt to lift your mood, become more resilient, and enjoy life more. But just as it takes effort to build and maintain physical health, so does mental health. We need to work harder these days to ensure strong mental health, simply because there are so many ways life affects our emotional well-being.
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Even in today’s advanced world, many of us are often reluctant or unable to address our mental health needs. This can stem from a number of reasons, including:
No matter how much time you dedicate to improving your mental and emotional health, you’ll still need the company of others to feel and function at your best. Humans are social creatures with emotional needs for relationships and positive connections with others. We are not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Our social brain craves companionship—even when experience has made us fearful and distrustful of others.
Phone calls and social media have their place, but nothing beats the stress-busting and mood-boosting power of quality face-to-face time with other people.
The key is to interact with someone who is a “good listener” – someone you can talk to regularly in person, who will listen to you without their own concepts of how you should think or feel. A good listener will hear the feelings behind your words and will not interrupt, judge or criticize you.
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Reaching out is not a sign of weakness and will not make you a burden to others. Most people are happy if you trust them enough to trust them. If you don’t feel like you have anyone to turn to, there are good ways to make new friends and improve your support network. Meanwhile, there’s still great benefit from face-to-face interaction with acquaintances or people you meet during the day, such as neighbors, people in the checkout line or on the bus, or the person who serves you your morning coffee. Make eye contact and exchange a smile, a friendly greeting or small talk.
Mind and body are fundamentally connected. When you improve your physical health, you will automatically experience greater mental and emotional well-being. Physical activity also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals that lift your mood and provide extra energy. Regular exercise or activity can have a big impact on mental and emotional health issues, relieve stress, improve memory and help you sleep better.
Well, you are not alone. Hitting the weights at the gym or running on a treadmill isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. But you don’t have to be a fitness freak to reap the benefits of being more active. Take a lunchtime stroll through a park, stroll through an air-conditioned mall while window shopping, toss a Frisbee with a dog, dance to your favorite music, play activity-based video games with your kids, ride a bike or walk to a meeting instead of driving.
You don’t need to exercise until you’re drenched in sweat or any muscle soreness. Even modest amounts of physical activity can make a big difference to your mental and emotional health – and it’s something you can engage in now to boost your energy and outlook and help you regain a sense of control.
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Stress has a huge impact on mental and emotional health, so it’s important to keep it under control. While not all stressors can be avoided, stress management strategies can help you bring things back into balance.
Talk with a friendly face. Face-to-face social interaction with someone who cares about you is the most effective way to calm your nervous system and relieve stress. Interacting with another person can quickly inhibit harmful fight-or-flight stress responses. It also releases stress-busting hormones, so you’ll feel better even if you can’t change the stressful situation yourself.
Appeal to your senses. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smell the ground coffee or a favorite aroma? Or maybe squeezing a stress ball works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so start experimenting now to find what works best for you. Once you discover how your nervous system reacts to sensory input, you’ll be able to calm down quickly, no matter where and when stress strikes.
Make free time a priority. Participate in your favorite activities for no other reason than they make you feel good. Go to a funny movie, take a walk on the beach, listen to music, read a good book or talk to a friend. Doing things just because they are fun is not fun. Play is a necessity of emotional and mental health.
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Take time for reflection and appreciation. Think about the things you are grateful for. Mediate, pray, enjoy the sunset, or just take a moment to pay attention to what is good, positive, and beautiful about your day.
Take up a relaxation practice. While sensory input can relieve stress in the moment, relaxation techniques can help reduce overall stress levels—though they’re likely to take longer to learn effectively. Yoga, mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation can curb stress and return your mind and body to a state of balance.
Understanding and accepting your emotions—especially the unpleasant ones that many of us try to ignore—can make a big difference in your ability to manage stress and balance your mood. The free Emotional Intelligence Intelligence Pack can show you how.
If you haven’t tried to change your diet in the past, you may not be aware of how much what you eat—and don’t eat—affects the way you think and feel. An unhealthy diet can damage your brain and mood, disrupt your sleep, sap your energy and weaken your immune system. Conversely, switching to a healthy diet, low in sugar and high in healthy fats, can give you more energy, improve your sleep and mood, and help you look and feel better.
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People react slightly differently to certain foods, depending on genetics and other health factors, so experiment with how the food you include or eliminate from your diet changes the way you feel. The best place to start is by cutting out the “bad fats” that can harm your mood and outlook, and replacing them with “good fats” that support brain health.
If you lead a busy life, cutting back on sleep may seem like a smart move. But when it comes to your mental health, get enough sleep