6 Habits to Improve Mental Health

1. Exercise

Cardiovascular and strength training exercises help physical conditioning and also contribute to better mood and anxiety control.

man sleeping 8 hours a night

2. Sleep

Adults require as close to 8 hours of sleep per night as possible. Sleeping more than 9 hours can trigger depression in certain people, and less than 7 can contribute to mania in others. Sleep also is essential to learning. Instead of cramming for exams, students should pace their studying and invest in a good night’s rest before the big test.

3. Play

Social support is one of the best predictors of good mental health. Enjoying time with loved ones (face to face; not on your phone or the Internet) is the best medicine of all.

4. Eat well

Foods that sustain – rather than spike – blood sugar levels keep your energy and vitality going throughout the day. Avoid “empty” calories from foods that contain refined sugars (like soda or desserts) and choose snacks with lean proteins and healthy fats (like avocado, nuts, or fish).

5. Give

Looking beyond yourself and focusing on others yields the bonus of being good for the giver. Help a friend, volunteer for a worthy cause, or donate to community organizations making a difference in your community.

6. Manage stress

Engage in activities that help you develop skills to tolerate stress and give you confidence to set limits. Try meditation, or join a peer support group. Practice your skills, especially in times when you need to say “no” when others want you to say “yes”.

Remember that mental illnesses are medical problems that often require treatment led by a mental health professional. If you experience symptoms of a mood, thought, or anxiety disorder that significantly impact your day-to-day activities, consider making an appointment with a mental health professional for an assessment. If you currently are participating in outpatient therapy without an improvement in your symptoms, consider a higher level of voluntary care like day treatment or residential treatment.