We all know the importance of maintaining good physical health — we’re bombarded daily with ads for exercise programs, diet plans, and blog posts on what to eat and drink and what vitamin supplements to take or avoid. What’s not as frequently addressed, however, is mental health — but it’s just as important.

Household budgets are strained all across America, but even if times are tight there are plenty of ways to improve your mental outlook — and they don’t have to take a lot of time or effort.

1. Mind Your Body

A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Studies have shown that exercise and proper diet actually improve mental capacity and longevity. Being overweight can lead to self-esteem issues and eventually depression, and a salt- and fat-heavy diet makes for a lethargic body and mind. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, then join a gym or create your own home workout program and start addressing your physical health today.

2. Volunteer

Volunteering your time can be a major boost to your self-esteem, plus you get that “feel good” emotion by helping out those in need. If you’re looking for opportunities to volunteer in your local community, use the website VolunteerMatch for guidance. There are many concrete benefits of giving back to the community, one of the least celebrated is the emotional health of the giver.

3. Relax More

Do you lead a busy professional life? How about at home — do you have kids? In today’s day and age it’s easy to feel like you’ve got no time to yourself, but it’s there — you just have to commit to it. Even if you can squeeze in just 30 minutes of alone time in which you listen to music or watch TV at the end of the day, your mind can benefit a great deal.

4. Associate With Positive People

Associating with the right people can do worlds of good for your mental health. If your friends or family members tend to be negative and simply don’t see the glass as half-full, find yourself some better people to spend time with. Of course, you don’t have to ditch important folks just because they have negative attitudes some of the time, just bolster your network of friends with those who don’t. Otherwise, those damaging mindsets may seep into your thinking.

5. Eliminate Bad Habits

Are you still smoking cigarettes? What about consuming alcohol? If you are, do what you have to do to quit. Either of these vices can give you short-term pleasure, but they do serious damage to your overall mental health. Excessive drinking can actually boost stress and may lead to depression, and smoking can increase tension.

You can achieve a much better frame of mind, and live a lot longer, by changing your ways. If that’s not motivation enough to quit, you can also save quite a bit of money by ridding yourself of these vices.

6. Ask for Help When Needed

There’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you’re worried about your mental health, and it doesn’t necessarily have to involve a professional service — although that might be a good idea if you believe your condition is serious. Reach out to friends or family members and simply tell them you haven’t been feeling well. Open up an honest line of communication and you’re sure to find ways to alleviate the problems.

7. Do More of What Makes You Happy

If you like playing golf, do more of it. Enjoy crossword puzzles? Schedule more time for them. Whatever it is in life that makes you happy — as long as it doesn’t have consequences detrimental to your health — commit to doing it more often.

It’s way too easy to get caught up in the hustle of professional life, or get overwhelmed by stress, but stress cannot cure any problems. Identify the activities that bring you happiness and find more time for them.

8. Set Life Goals

If you don’t have a clear direction in life, chances are your mind is constantly wading through the possibilities and stressing about the future. Whether it’s on a personal or professional level, try to set long-term goals. That way, you know what you’re working toward and it’s going to be easier to ward off career or personal life dissatisfaction. When you reach a goal your notion of self-worth improves.

9. Keep a Diary

Keeping a diary can do worlds of good for your mental wellbeing. Sometimes the simple process of writing out your feelings and reactions to life’s events can crystallize issues you didn’t consciously recognize.

Pick up an inexpensive diary at your local office supply retailer and start writing down a few notes each day — reactions to things that happened, aspirations, or even just free association. This exercise can help you manage stress and reduce anxiety.

10. Communicate More

No matter who you’ve got in your life — whether it’s a huge family or just one best friend — communicate often. The more you talk about your feelings and emotions, the easier it is to identify any potentially troubling signs. Keep your personal relationships intact and use them to your best advantage.

Personal finance is a huge factor in mental health. If you’ve been struggling of late to make ends meet, it can be all too easy to fall into a state of depression, dissatisfaction or general discontent.

Do everything you can to strengthen your financial picture. Get yourself on a budget, control and reduce your expenses, and try to earn extra money on the side. Being proactive about your finances can have a huge impact on your mental health, so get started today.

What ways can you think of to improve your mental health?

Paul Jenkins writes about career development, health and fitness, and work/life balance.