5 Things You Can Do Today to Improve Your Mental Health
We all know there is a strong correlation between mental and physical health. Sports Psychologists have taught us time and time again that to perform at your physical best, you need to have the proper mindset and habits that focus and encourage your performance.
There are lots of reasons you may want to improve your mental health. Maybe you are struggling with a particular issue or want to improve your performance. Either way, these five steps will help you on your way to being the rockstar you always wanted to be.
1. Get Proper Sleep
Setting and maintaining a bedtime and morning routine teaches your body and brain to reset themselves. When you do the same behaviors before going to bed, you are “chaining” these behaviors together and associating them with going to sleep. These behaviors become cues to your body that you are getting ready to rest and will condition you to go to sleep more easily.
Sleep is your body’s opportunity to heal itself and when your brain consolidates memory. When you sleep, your body goes through sleep cycles, and each cycle has longer and more extended periods of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. REM sleep is where the good stuff happens. If you wake often or consume alcohol before sleeping, you limit your brain from REM sleep.
A proper bedtime routine will limit your exposure to bright lights (such as a TV or cell phone) for at least 2 hours before you want to sleep. This allows your brain to help regulate your circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle).
2. Eat a Balanced Diet
Your body and brain need the proper fuel to run efficiently. You wouldn’t put diesel in a car that runs on unleaded gasoline. Make sure you drink plenty of water, eat lots of green leafy things, and some lean protein. You should drink eight glasses of water each day to stay adequately hydrated. Your brain needs this hydration and nutrients to function at its peak performance. Meals that are heavy with carbohydrates or red meat, as well as fried things, tend to slow us down and limit how we can focus and persist on tasks.
Your brain is made to exercise. When you move around, especially during aerobic exercise, your brain releases neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin). These are the same things our brain releases when we feel good (like eating and having sex). This is where the idea of a “runner’s high” comes from. Many medications, such as antidepressants, target these neurotransmitters in the brain to increase these. You can do this naturally by moving and getting your heart rate up 20-30 minutes 3 -4 times per week. You might also find that the sense of accomplishment from exercising helps you to feel more confident.
4. Be Around People You Love
I once had a supervisor tell me that before I decided to diagnose someone, I needed to make sure that they weren’t reacting to being surrounded by jerks. This seems self-explanatory but is very accurate. You feel better and are built up by being around people you love, who also love you back. This allows you to be yourself and feels accepted. People that love you will look out for you and care about your well-being.
5. Do Things You Enjoy
You need to cultivate hobbies or interests that you care about. These things stimulate your brain and help you to develop a greater sense of purpose for who you are. If you have difficulty finding this sense of purpose, try something new; volunteer with a new organization; find a new skill to learn, or share an idea with someone. If you try something new and don’t like it, you don’t have to do it again, and you are already stronger for having had that experience, identifying how you felt, and asserting yourself.
You are investing in yourself when you commit to these five simple steps. It may take time, and making new habits is difficult, but I can’t imagine a better investment with both short-term and long-term gains. If you want help setting your specific goals or routines or need help finding how to best work around particular issues, reach out to a professional. The psychologists and therapists at Psych Associates are ready to help you be the rockstar you dreamt of becoming when you were a little kid.
About the Author: Dr. Gabriel Cline, Ph.D. is a nationally recognized psychologist and author. He is on the State Committee of Psychologists, taught at several colleges and universities, and is the owner of Psych Associates in Springfield, MO.