Ten ways to improve your mental wellness. How to use mindfulness and other healthy habits to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.
My friend Marie is a music therapist who currently works in long-term care. She connects with dementia patients and those with chronic health conditions. Using music, she provides mental health support, end-of-life comfort, and supports those grieving the loss of a loved one.
The two years of working, parenting, and caring for aging parents during the pandemic were demanding. By the second year, Marie began to build self-care and mental wellness into her routine to ensure she could continue to support all those who needed her at work and home.
She recently shared with me 10 recommendations for improving mental wellness.
1. Observe your thoughts
Metacognition is the understanding of our own thought processes and recognizing our patterns of thinking. It helps us step back and observe our thoughts so that we don’t get swept up and carried away by them.
Developing metacognition takes lots of practice.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy is helpful in learning this skill and can help break unhealthy thought patterns.
- Mindfulness is another practice where we can focus on the present moment and calmly acknowledge and accept our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Mindfulness can lower stress, improve our connections with others, increase our focus and attention, and even impact our immune system.
- A daily gratitude practice is good at reinforcing the neural connections for a positive mindset. Our family (Emillie, Brad, Max & Una) share 6 things we are grateful for every day. It sounds cheesy, but its impact on lives has been incredible.
2. Think about your choices
Every time we make a choice, we are saying something about our values. Even if we don’t think about our choices, they are still a reflection of our values. Whether we value work or family, kindness and honesty, or social status and always being right.
Don’t just keep following the easiest path. Think about your values and make mindful choices that reflect those values.
- What activities make you feel good? Give you a sense of joy and purpose?
- What people make you feel accepted and bring out the best in you?
- Material things, status, physical perfection, and achievement are not good values. They are not easily definable. And they aren’t always controllable.
- Good values are reality-based, socially constructive, and within your control.
- A few of Marie’s values include: respecting and caring for others, fairness and justice, authenticity, and honesty.
3. Accept your emotions
We have been conditioned to deny negative feelings, like anger, fear, and sadness. Our minds automatically suppress or redirect these emotions, especially when the feelings are strong.
However, life is not about perpetual happiness, but rather accepting all the ups and downs as they come.
When you have a difficult emotion, take time to feel it. Like a storm passing through, it will come strong at first, then slowly fade. Fighting difficult emotions only prolongs the suffering.
If you struggle with accepting your emotions, mindfulness practice can help.
4. Embrace change
Change is a constant and vital part of living. Fighting change only leads to uncertainty, fear, and frustration.
- The wonderful part of impermanence is the knowledge that no matter how hard things are they will not stay like that forever.
- Embracing change also means that you are always growing and changing. If you live by your values, then you will always be improving as you work towards being your best self.
- Mindfulness and meditation can also help with accepting change.
Treat yourself with the same kindness and concern you would have towards a close friend. Give yourself permission to take breaks, set boundaries, and make mistakes.
Practicing self-compassion also helps us develop empathy and compassion for others.
6. Help others
Knowing that you have made a positive impact in the lives of others is one of the most gratifying feelings. If you are finding it hard to make yourself feel better, try helping someone else feel better.
- Reach out to a friend or family member and let them know you are thinking of them.
- Volunteer your time or donate to an anti-poverty charity.
- Make a pot of soup for a friend who is sick.
- Offer to help someone carry a heavy load.
- Drop off some flowers or cookies as a random act of kindness.
7. Respect your body
Our bodies and minds depend on each other for good health. Taking care of your body is a key part of taking care of your mental wellness.
- Nourish your body with a healthy diet. Ask yourself whether what you are eating is helping or harming your body.
- Choose activities that feel good. It’s easier to be physically active if you are having fun.
- Every body is unique. Love your body and take care of it in whatever way it needs.
8. Go Outside
A connection to nature is key to good health and mental wellness.
Try to go outside every day. Even if you don’t feel like it or the weather is cold and wet. Take a walk or sit in a beautiful spot and notice the beauty in what you see, hear, smell, and touch.
9. Community Connections
Humans are social beings. It’s important to connect with others and belong to a community.
There are many different ways to find community:
- Activities like sports, arts or recreation
- Schools or neighbourhoods
- Work or volunteering
10. Stay curious
Always seek out new ideas and activities with an open mind.
- Read well-rated books.
- Seek the help of experts including mental health professionals.
- Try a new activity. Be a student for life.
As Marie’s grandfather used to say “Only a fool learns from experience, a wise person learns from others’ experiences.”
Marie realizes that he was misquoting Otto von Bismarck. But we both agreed that we liked her grandfather’s version better.