How to Improve Mental Health: 3 Strategies

Your mental health is the sum total of your emotional, cognitive, psychological, and social well-being. 

How well or otherwise your mental health is developed may determine how you manage stress, your mood, and your attitude to life's issues.

Because your mental health is an important part of your welfare, it's important to maintain and improve it, much as you would your physical health and wellness.

Drawing from this — in certain circles, mental health is viewed as the absence of a mental health condition.

We'll be looking at ways to improve your mental health and early signs that could signal a need for professional help with managing it.

As an important part of your well-being, it's necessary to keep your mental health in the best shape.

Simple changes and new behaviors may help to enhance your emotional and psychological health. These include:

1. Lifestyle Changes

Engaging in regular exercise

There's a long list of benefits associated with exercise, but right at the top, are its benefits for your mental health.

There's a reason your effort in going for a run, swim, jog, or a  cycle around your neighborhood usually leaves you with an improved mood. 

Engaging in physical activity causes an increase in blood circulation to the brain, as well as the release of feel-good hormones like endorphins.

Exercise may also be useful in treating conditions like depression. 

It shows promise in improving immune imbalances and can help the brain adjust to changes in the environment, an important attribute for improving depressive symptoms. 

Pregnant women and even children who suffer from this condition may find exercise to be a safer treatment option.

Working out may also improve anxiety by regulating the body’s response to stress. It does this by increasing serotonin and internal opioids.

Routinely engaging in physical exercise may also improve self esteem, as well as cognitive function.

Eating the right food for your mental health 

Despite being the size of two combined fists, your brain has high nutrient needs. 

It produces neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine whose imbalance in the body can cause mental illnesses. 

To produce these messengers — folate and B-vitamins are required, which your brain sources from 20 percent of your daily calorie intake. 

It can use up to 400 calories a day for its usual running.

Brain food like omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, seafood and flax seed are also important for mental health. 

A combination of omega-3 fatty acids and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids may treat mild cases of ADHD. 

Fatty acids also show promise as a treatment for bipolar disorder and may be useful in managing depression and PTSD

Because inflammation may cause mental illness, you may be doing your health a favor by avoiding inflammatory foods like sweetened soft drinks, refined grains, red meat etc. 

Stick to rich sources of folate, B-vitamins and Omega 3 fatty acids for improved brain health.

Getting enough sleep

Your sleep and mental health are directly linked. 

On one hand, being consistently deprived of sleep can lead to psychiatric conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and ADHD. 

On the other hand, these mental conditions make it increasingly difficult to enjoy a good night's rest.

There is however a chance that improving your sleep and sleep habits could positively impact your mental health.

A large study carried out on 3755 students suffering from insomnia looked to discover if treating insomnia could reduce paranoia and hallucinations.

The students were to receive random sessions of digital cognitive behavioral therapy to improve sleep over a number of weeks. 

At the end of the study, improvements in insomnia were observed.

However, while only small reductions were observed in hallucination and paranoia episodes, the students reported positive outcomes for their depression, anxiety, nightmares and overall psychological well-being.

To improve your mental well-being, simple changes like maintaining a bedtime, doing away with electronic devices before bed, sleeping in a dark room, and having active days can produce positive results.

2. Relaxation Techniques

Deep-breathing techniques

Many of us face constant stressors in our everyday lives. They're in the deadlines at work, financial difficulties, an uncertain future in a pandemic etc, all of which can negatively impact our health.

An easy way to manage everyday stress is through deep breathing or diaphragmatic techniques.

These involve the contraction of the diaphragm and expansion of the belly while inhaling, this is usually followed by exhaling deeply. 

It is in an effort to train the mind in dealing with physical and mental stressors. 

This method may be effective in reducing the body’s stress hormone, cortisol. It may also improve attention.

Mindfulness meditation

A good way to manage and improve your mental health is to tune out all the craziness happening around you, and focus on what's unfolding in the present moment.

Mindfulness meditation is a way to achieve this. By centering your awareness to your breath, thoughts, the feelings you are experiencing, and any physical sensations, you may find that your anxiety, stress and depression are less potent.

Mindfulness may improve your mental health by regulating your body's response to stress. It can also influence your attention and emotions, leaving you less likely to think negative thoughts or react poorly in stressful circumstances.

Yoga

While downward dogs and the many other asanas may appear geared towards improving flexibility, these yoga poses may hold positive benefits on your physical as well as mental health.

Yoga exercises can range from gentle to strenuous, and it has been known to improve anxiety and depressive symptoms. It may achieve this by managing your stress responses through a reduced heart rate, blood pressure and easing respiration. 

3. Therapy

A proven way to improve your mental health is to talk through it. For decades, therapy has been the top recommendation to deal with matters affecting emotional and psychological health. 

It has also been useful in managing mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD etc.

There are various forms of therapy you can to improve mental health: cognitive behavioral therapy which teaches positive thinking to promote healthier behaviors and beliefs. 

Dialectical behavior therapy which emphasizes the acceptance of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, usually adopted for suicidal individuals or people with borderline personality disorder. 

Exposure therapy also helps to identify anxiety triggers for people with OCD, PTSD and traumas. This helps them confront their fears in a controlled environment. 

Other forms of therapy include interpersonal therapy, mentalization-based therapy and psychodynamic therapy to name a few.

Signs of a Mental Health Issue

Taking steps to improve your mental health is always a step in the right direction. However, there are times when this may not be enough, and your mental health goes beyond your control.

Around one in five people over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder. 

Despite being widespread, it isn't always apparent that a person is suffering from a mental health condition. This is because early symptoms can easily be confused for harmless conditions. Some of these signs include:

  • A distinct personality change
  • An inability to cope with daily challenges and problems
  • Holding strange and overly-ambitious ideas
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Exhibiting apathy or depression over an extended period
  • A definitive change in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Extreme hostility or anger
  • Volatile mood swings
  • Sharing or holding ideas of suicide or self-harm

When an individual begins to exhibit these symptoms, it's important to visit a mental health professional for help.

The Bottom Line on Improving Your Mental Health

Your mental is deserving of constant care and improvement, much like you would cater to your physical well being. 

There are many ways to go about this: lifestyle changes, relaxation techniques or speaking to a mental health professional about any emotional or psychological challenges you may be facing.

While steps to improve your mental health are always laudable, it’s also important to keep an eye out for any signs that you may be dealing with a mental health condition. 

Where you notice that this may be the case, be sure to reach out to a mental health professional for assistance.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.