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7 simple, concrete steps you can take towards improving your mental health

Have you ever found yourself becoming aloof from your friends, incapable of staying focused at work, unable to find pleasure in the things you used to enjoy, or wanting to just sleep entire days away? Then you might be in need of a break for the sake of your mental health.

The World Health Organization estimates that around 260 million people worldwide suffer from anxiety disorders, while 300 million people are living with depression. And even if you have not been clinically diagnosed with any mental health condition, feeling burned-out has become a common phenomena in today’s competitive and highly stressful culture. Even the most well-adjusted individuals sometimes reach a point when they feel like they have lost control over their day-to-day life.

While it’s no substitute for seeking medical help when you feel that you really need it, we made a list of a few simple and concrete things you can do that can help improve your mental health. Check them out below:

1. Be a bit more mindful about your physical health

We’re not asking for a complete lifestyle overhaul if you’re not up for it. Science has proven that several physical activities affect our psyche just as much as they affect our bodies, so taking baby steps to improve your physical health can contribute a lot to your mental health as well. You already know the drill: get enough sleep, stay hydrated, try eating more nutritious food, and avoid booze and cigarettes as much as you can. If you can’t do it everyday, don’t be so hard on yourself. You can try weaning yourself from your unhealthy habits slowly instead of quitting altogether abruptly.

2. Clean up your social media feeds

Remember when social media used to just be a fun, clean distraction? Now it’s a cesspool of hate and bigotry that has taken over our lives. Granted, not all parts of it are sordid; people are still using it to spread love, acceptance, and joy. And those are the parts that you need to seek out. If you find that you’re often exposed to negative things through your social media feeds, spend some time sprucing it up. Fortunately, social media sites allow you to filter what you see. You can prioritize posts from your friends and family, even those accounts that posts cute and funny animal videos.

If you’re up for it, you could even go on a social media detox. Turn off all your accounts for a specific amount of time—maybe a week or two—and see how much it affects you. A number of studies has already shown that reduced exposure to social media actually helps improve your mental health.

3. Find a new pastime or hobby

If none of the things you used to enjoy seem to cheer you up anymore, maybe trying something new can do the trick. There are tons of things to explore, and its effectivity relies on what you’re already interested in. For example, if you used to enjoy reading books a lot, maybe you can try other forms of storytelling like listening to podcasts. Art therapy is also an option; creating things with your hands is always a satisfying activity. You’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of it. More importantly, it will help you express and understand your emotions better, which will do you a lot of good.  

4. Go for a walk

When you’re feeling stressed out, try going for a walk. Not only does walking help clear your thoughts, but it actually decreases the production of stress hormones in your body. It is a science-backed way to uplift your mood. Plus, establishing a daily walking routine requires less effort than sticking to a running or jogging schedule. And because you’re just walking, you have time to let your mind wander and think about things other than what you’re currently stressing about. 

5. Find time to be quiet and reflective

A lot of people swear by yoga and meditation, but it is often hard for beginners to be that steady and still—physically, emotionally, and mentally—for long. You can try two-minute meditations every day until you can go for longer. But if you really have a hard time meditating, you can try simply being quiet and reflective instead. Find a cozy place during your free time, be it during your early morning coffee or before you go to sleep, sit or lie down, and just soak up the silence. This is the time to let your thoughts run their course and when you don’t have to focus on anything. Giving yourself time to think will help you feel more grounded and at some point you’ll definitely feel calmer. You can use this time to think about where you are in your life right now, where you want to be, and if you’re up for it, what you need to do to close the gap between the two.

6. Make lists, take notes

Is there anything as calming as making a list? Perhaps, but only a few things. When you’ve got too much on your plate, making a list helps you organize your thoughts and lessen your anxiety. Figuring out a process to finish all the things you need to do helps you visualize the tasks at hand and makes you realize that it’s not nearly as daunting as you thought it was. All you need to do is to break down that overwhelming task into smaller, more doable steps.

Aside from making lists for your tasks, make a habit out of taking notes and jotting down your thoughts. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown, extra-detailed journal. Try writing down at least one thing you appreciated that day: a really good cup of coffee, a friendly stranger you met on your commute, a song you just heard and instantly liked. This will help remind you that no matter how bad you thought the day was, there are still small pleasures in life.

7. Cut back on your binge-watching

Binge-watching seems like the only way we consume content these days. With the rise of streaming services, it’s hard not to fall into the habit of watching entire seasons of a series in one day. But studies have shown that binge-watching leaves you anxious, lonely, and depressed. Aside from getting less sleep, binge-watching makes us disassociate from reality. Here’s what Dr. John Wallans, the editor of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition) handbook, has to say on the matter:

“What binge-watching can do is turn our brains off and make us sink into depression and apathy. Some people do not recover as quickly…and they are drawn into watching two or three episodes at a time. The habit slowly develops into a disorder, in which they are never free from psychological disintegration, and use excessive television marathons as a distorted coping mechanism.”

Let’s face it, though. We already know binge-watching isn’t good for us. There’s always that inner voice telling us not to watch our favorite show until three in the morning, but we do it anyway. If you’ve gotten to the point where you can’t go to sleep without watching your shows, it might be time to cut back. For starters, try turning off the Autoplay function of the streaming service you’re using. You can also set an alarm for when you want (or when you know you need to) to stop watching, so you don’t fall into that “just one more episode” hole.



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