While many people strive to become healthier, it’s easy to neglect mental health.
People tend to think of health as an absolute, meaning you are either healthy or unhealthy. This is especially true for mental health. We hear terms like “fit for duty” or “fit for parenthood.”
In some cases, psychologists are asked to determine whether a person is considered “suitable” for a particular task or role. In fact, there is still a common misconception that people who seek mental health treatment must be sick while everyone else is mentally healthy.
In fact, there are as many variations in mental health as there are differences in levels of physical fitness.
Regardless of your current mental health status, here are some easy ways to incorporate mental health exercise into your routine:
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mindfulness practice — Mindfulness is the practice of letting go of thoughts while concentrating fully on current activities.
Mindfulness is called a “practice” because no one person has ever perfected the activity. Our brains are programmed to constantly think and process information. This can lead to obsessive thinking, worry, alienation and resentment.
Mindfulness practice provides an opportunity to train your brain to release toxic thoughts and focus intentionally.
Mindfulness can be practiced while sitting still and focusing on the breath or a calming image. Mindfulness can also be practiced during physical activity, such as walking or yoga.
The key is to always bring your attention back to the present moment whenever a thought enters your mind. Even if you are interrupted by your thoughts every two seconds, consistently letting them go and refocusing on the present moment means you are effectively practicing mindfulness.
avoid negative thought patterns — What do you do when worried or negative thoughts pop into your head? If the fear came true, would you plan what you would do, or would you imagine the worst-case scenario?
Maybe you’ve tried to talk yourself out of this worry, but can’t quite convince yourself that there’s nothing to worry about. Attaching to and accepting negative thoughts is bad for mental health.
It is always difficult to avoid the trap of negative thinking. To improve mental health, it is important to learn ways to avoid falling into negative thought patterns, recognize when such thinking traps occur, and get rid of obsessive thoughts.
Replace Negative Self-Talk With Positive Self-Talk — Do you criticize yourself when you make a mistake, or compare yourself to others who seem better? Far from being motivating, this negative self-talk can be frustrating and unproductive.
To improve your mental health, try to stop those self-criticisms and even give yourself some praise for things you do well.
Instead of making negative comments about yourself as a person, try to point to specific actions you would like to improve.
Make time for friendships and other self-care activities — Friendship and fun aren’t just for kids. Research shows that mentally healthy adults have satisfying relationships with others and engage in activities that bring them joy.
Think about the choices you make each day to help support your physical health. Some of these may be habits that require no thought or willpower. Fitness activities may include the following:
- Avoid the candy aisle of the grocery store
- Use salad instead of chips
- Prioritize sleep
Each of these physical health activities has similarities to mental health activities. E.g:
Lifting weights is like meditation. Each weight repetition builds strength and trains muscles.
Likewise, every time you bring your attention back to the present moment, you train your brain and strengthen positive neural pathways.
Avoiding the candy aisle is like avoiding negative thought patterns. You may feel the urge to worry about something, try to predict the future, or consider a problem from all angles.
Like candy, the idea may be tempting, but in the end it’s not nutritious and may even make you sick!
Substituting a salad for chips is like replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Chips are quick and easy. They’re easy to pair with burgers, but with a little effort they can make a healthy change.
Self-criticism can easily follow mistakes, but separating the two and replacing them with healthier thoughts will lead to better mental health.
Prioritizing sleep is like prioritizing friendships and other self-care activities. Taking time to nourish yourself through sleep, meaningful activities, and relationships is not wasted. This investment of time will pay off in improved mental health.
Are you ready to improve your mental health? With discipline and consistency, it is possible to make great strides in mental health. Let 2023 be the year of striving for the best physical and mental health!