Although many of us do not suffer from diagnosed mental illnesses, we still suffer from symptoms of mental health issues such as low energy, mood changes, excessive worrying and more. While much of this has to do with our biological makeup, our environment and situation can also impact how we feel. As such, what we practice in our daily lives can help us improve our mental health and help us become happier people. Below are some little things we can do to make a big difference in our lives.
1) Get enough sleep
Sleep is very important for our mental health. It helps us recharge for the next day, and it has been shown to play a role in mood regulation. In addition, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep improves emotional health, and the deepest stage of quiet sleep helps improve immune functioning.
On the contrary, disturbed sleep negatively impacts our thinking and our emotional regulation. One study found that participants with insomnia had higher levels of anxiety and depression compared to participants without insomnia. The study also found that a higher frequency of awakenings during sleep was linked to increased levels of depression.
Thus, by going to bed at a decent time, and getting the amount of sleep our bodies need, we can improve our mental health, and we can become happier and healthier people! Those who suffer from sleep problems, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, should see a specialist for help!
2) Drink a lot of water
Our brains require a lot of water to function properly. Without enough water reaching our brains, we can develop a multitude of health problems (e.g., problems with sleep, problems with focus and memory, increased anger, depression). Running on a full supply of water can help prevent dehydration and improve our brain functioning; it can mean improved focus, clarity and speed of thinking! Drinking enough water can also minimize the negative effects of stress.
So… when in doubt, pour yourself a glass of water!
3) Build and maintain a support system
Having a support system can help reduce feelings of loneliness and give us a sense of belonging. One study found a link between social support and decreased anxiety, depression, and anger in prenatally depressed women, and another study found that family support had a protective effect on an individual's risk of developing depression.
Therefore, it is important to be open to new friendships and to spend time with our loved ones. Remember that it is never too late to reach out to someone. Often, just a few kind words can create a beautiful friendship.
4) Rely on in-person communication and social support
With social media being so prominent in our society, many people rely on sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, as the main form of social support and interaction in their lives. However, this may do the opposite of what we hope. One important study found that Facebook measures of social support – the emotional kind – were linked to worse symptoms of depression and a lesser quality of life. While social media is great for keeping in touch with people, it is important not to make it our primary means of communication. Seeking social support in person can be more beneficial (e.g., support groups, sport/recreation clubs, study groups)
5) Be organized and plan ahead
Being organized and planning ahead can help us feel less overwhelmed by our tasks and can help to reduce feelings of anxiety. We can become more organized by eliminating clutter from our living spaces and/or work environments and by frequently tidying up after ourselves. It can also help to designate an hour a day to tidying up! By doing this, we are less likely to feel overwhelmed with all that is going on around us, and we are more likely to have peaceful mornings.
Planning ahead can also help, as tasks seem more manageable when we have designated times to complete them! To-do lists and schedules can be helpful for this.
6) Make your bed in the morning
Something as little as making our beds in the morning can help us gain a sense of accomplishment upon waking up and beginning our day. This can help us feel like we have things together, and it can help us feel calm when returning home.
7) Be mindful of how you speak
As much as our thoughts impact what we say and do, what we say and do also impact our thoughts. As such, speaking more positively can help us become more positive people. For example, instead of saying “I am not a motivated person, so I can’t do it,” we can say “I am not feeling very motivated in this moment, but maybe I can do it later.”
When we label ourselves in a certain way, such as unmotivated, we begin to think of ourselves as this person, and - according to the self-fulfilling prophecy theory - we may act in respect to this. Whereas, if we highlight our positive traits and think of negative ‘traits’ as being temporary, we can become the best version of ourselves.
Moreover, the way we use verbs can also have an impact on our mood. One study revealed that when participants described a negative past experience as being ongoing, they also reported lower levels of happiness. The opposite occurred when participants labeled their negative experience as being complete. We can apply this finding by being selective of how we speak to others and to ourselves. For example, if/when describing a negative past experience, it can be helpful to emphasize that it is over.
The points above focus on small changes we can make to enhance our mental health and well-being. This makes change more manageable. While one little thing can make a small impact, many little things can make a great one!