For far too long, mental health lagged behind physical health in terms of prioritization and importance. For decades, even centuries, we’ve empathized with physical struggles and praised strength, fitness level and endurance while regarding mental health issues as signs of weakness. Luckily, the tides have turned, especially in recent years. This is, in part, due to the overwhelming number of Americans struggling with mental health conditions. In fact, in the year 2020 alone, nearly 53 percent of all U.S. adults suffer from a mental illness—more than half of the adult population!
One reason for this spike in mental health conditions is the COVID-19 pandemic, which upended nearly everyone’s life as they knew it prior to March 2020. “COVID-19 truly uncovered how many people were struggling while attempting to mask their struggles,” says Amy Robbins, Psy.D., L.C.P., Licensed Clinical Psychologist and BIAN Chicago‘s Director of Mental Health. “When you are home alone for hours on end and no longer have many of the devices that were used as cover ups for one’s true feelings, those feelings begin to surface as symptoms, just as with the physical body.”
Recently, many high-profile individuals, including Demi Lovato and Shawn Mendes, have been outspoken about their mental health struggles as well as their need for mental health support. “This transparency about mental health is new and has the power to normalize addressing mental health needs,” says Saba Harouni Lurie, L.M.F.T., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner and founder of Take Root Therapy in Los Angeles.
With the increasing awareness of mental health struggles has come a wider acceptance and encouragement for mental health enhancement—and doing so can enrich a person’s life significantly. In fact, when we are mentally healthy, we are generally more physically healthy, notes Dr. Robbins. “Typically, optimized mental health equates to having better lifestyle habits because it allows for better coping and stress management,” she says. “This extends to a lesser need for drug and alcohol use, increased value on exercise and eating right, greater connection with others, and a generally higher level of enjoyment of life.”
If you’re looking to boost your mental health, here are five habits to adopt.
It might sound simple, but the act of jotting down your thoughts and feelings can go a long way towards improving your mental health. “Because your journal is your safe space, you are able to let out all your hopes, dreams, fears, and desires truthfully and this provides you with the opportunity to really be in touch with your wants and needs,” says says Kiara Luna, L.M.H.C., owner of Knew You Psychotherapy and author of Becoming a Knew You. “This can bring so much clarity to what some of your underlying beliefs might be which would help in identifying the cognitive distortions you may have to challenge them.”
Another great habit that Luna recommends to bolster your mental health is to indulge in guided meditations. “I typically ask my clients to begin with 5 minute videos as I know it can be very challenging to begin meditating for longer periods of time when it has never been practiced before,” she says. “There are many different types of guided meditations and I always recommend them based on what my clients are working towards—for example; if I am having a hard time with self-love, I would listen to a guided meditation on self-love.”
Move your body
When you exercise, your body releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins that quite literally lift your mood and have been shown to help combat depression and anxiety. “Moving your body doesn’t need to mean going to the gym or going for a run (although it could if that works for you),” says Lurie. “It could also mean dancing in your living room or playing with your children.” She recommends finding what works for you, and engaging in it in a manageable way.
Confide in a trusted friend
Friendships can be a wonderful way to enrich our lives. In fact, we all crave human connection—and yearn for it. “If you have one or two people in your life with whom you can speak openly, share your feelings, and just be yourself around, that is extremely powerful,” says Dr. Robbins. “The more connected we are with others in our lives, the less lonely and isolated we feel.” She recommends picking up the phone and asking that certain friend to meet you for coffee or a walk. “Pay attention to how your mood lifts from this alone,” she says. “If it feels safe, be a little vulnerable with them too, and let them know how you are truly feeling.”
Spend time outside
Being in nature is a great way to focus on your mental health. “Nature has always been used as a form of medicine,” says Dr. Robbins. “The sights and sounds of nature are typically very calming, so rather than popping in your ear buds and finding an app with the sounds of nature, get out and experience it.”
Seek out a therapist
So many of us have sought out the help of a physical therapist at some point in our lives—and this is looked at as a great way to heal outwardly. Mental health therapy is also important and can help you process your thoughts and emotions and make wiser decisions in your life. “Therapy provides you with the opportunity to organize your thoughts and establish a healing relationship where you will be able to become aware of your strengths and challenges,” says Luna. “It is okay to not feel ready for therapy and explore through free consultations until you feel you have found the right fit for you.”