Small Changes That Had a Huge Impact on My Mental Health
You may not realize it, but your mental health is just as important as your physical health. It can even affect it directly, from causing chronic fatigue due to lack of sleep to a variety of other ailments. Keeping your brain happy and healthy is just as important as doing so for your body.
We don’t all have the time or money for a three-week vacation to the Maldives to give our minds a break. Fortunately, there are some relatively small changes that you can make in your life which can help you improve your mental help. Here are a few to get you started.
1. Work Out to Change Your Brain Chemistry
Huh? You thought this post was supposed to be about mental health, not getting six-pack abs. Turns out that even doing a small amount of exercise every day not only makes you more fit, but also improves your mood. When you exercise, your body naturally releases endorphins, or chemicals that alter your brain chemistry and make you feel happier. That’s what runners are talking about when they rave about having a “runner’s high.” It’s a real feeling.
You don’t need to spend three hours at the gym every day to achieve this. Try exercising for 15 to 30 minutes at home before or after work. You could do yoga, Pilates, run on a treadmill or even a little bit of weightlifting. Bicycling to work counts too. In the end, exercising helps improve your mental state — and you’ll gain an extra boost when you look in the mirror at the end of the month.
2. Keep a Clean Living Space
I don’t know about you, but every time I look at a messy room, my mind goes a little bit crazy. A messy, chaotic apartment or house can be duplicated inside your brain. The key to cleaning out your stuff is making sure you don’t wait for the last minute. Even the most basic things like making your bed can make you feel more prepared for the day. As one helpful hint goes, if you can do it in less than a minute, do it! You’ll be thankful you did come bedtime when you feel accomplished instead of stressed from the mess.
3. Volunteer to Maintain Perspective
Helping others is a great way to help yourself. Volunteering at an animal shelter, soup kitchen or retirement home doesn’t only mean helping strangers and feeling good about it. It’s also a great way to make new friends and gain new life skills. You might even gain a little perspective. Your troubles may not seem so insurmountable when you chat with an elderly Holocaust survivor at a local retirement community.
4. Finish the Small Things First
I always have a mental list in the back of my mind of at least five or six things I’ve wanted to get done but haven’t summoned up the willpower to do. Getting rid of that list is a huge achievement — and getting those small things out of the way can be fun. How about organizing and digitizing all your old photos? Or finally putting the finishing touches on that painting you started? Doing these projects gives your brain a nice break from the daily stress in your life — and can help organize your home a bit too (see point #2).
5. Cook Nutritious Foods
When you’re stressed out, you often resort to quick fixes for your hunger in the form of sugar-and-salt laden processed foods. While satisfying at first, eating that late night bacon pizza often makes you feel terrible afterwards. Constantly eating unhealthy foods can make you feel bad or suffer with an overriding sense of shame.
The solution is to start cooking at home more — not only is it usually cheaper, it also leaves people far more mentally satisfied than they would have from eating another box of Chinese takeout. That doesn’t mean you need to have a five-course meal every dinner. There are plenty of simple, easy dinner dishes that take only 20 minutes to prepare and will leave you much happier than munching on a cheeseburger over your keyboard.
Mental health is a hugely important — and often overlooked — aspect of your life. You need to take care of your brain just as much as your body, as the two are interlinked. Whatever you do, though, remember that your long-term mental health can’t be entirely dependent on quick fixes. Focusing only on those could come at the expense of your long-term life goals.