Taking better care of your body boosts your well-being fairly fast. “[Exercising and eating well] provide nearly instant benefits, helping the body and the mind to manage most any difficulties, including anxiety and depression,” according to clinical psychologist and certified life coach John Duffy, PsyD. In fact, this is the first thing Duffy discusses with new therapy clients.
In addition to nourishing your body and participating in physical activities you enjoy, there are many other ways you can improve your mental health.
According to clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D, “well-being is associated with balance, understanding, acceptance and constant growth.” Below you’ll find 15 ways to help you flourish and bolster your well-being.
1. Accept your emotions. “Some would argue that most of our physical, mental and relational problems come from our inability to adequately experience emotions,” Howes said. “We deny, bury, project, rationalize, medicate, drink away, smother in comfort food, sleep off, sweat out, suck (it) up and sweep under the rug our sadness, anger and fear.”
Some people spend more energy on avoiding their emotions than others do on actually feeling them, he said. So the key is to give yourself unconditional permission to feel your feelings. “When you feel safe enough to let your guard down, whether that’s alone or with someone you trust, you can focus on the situation, fully experience the feelings and may then be able to better understand why it hurts and what you want to do about the situation,” Howes said.
Writing about negative emotions also helps. According to clinical psychologist Darlene Mininni, research has shown that people who write about their deepest emotions are less depressed and more positive about life than before they started writing. To reap the benefits, it’s important to follow a few guidelines. Here’s Mininni’s emotional writing guide.
2. Take daily risks. Structure and routine are important. But you also might get stuck in a rut. And that means you’re not growing, Howes said. Taking certain risks can be healthy and rewarding, he said.
“Challenge yourself to take a risk each day, whether it’s talking to someone new, asserting yourself, trusting someone, dancing, setting a tough workout goal or anything that pushes you out of your comfort zone.”
3. Live in the present. “Mental health tends to become challenged when we get sucked into what used to happen or what people ‘did to me’ rather than taking responsibility in what I am doing or creating today, right now,” according to psychotherapist Jeffrey Sumber. He encouraged readers to live in the present without hyperfocusing on the future or the past.
4. Be introspective. Avoid coasting through life without assessing yourself, Sumber said. For instance, he periodically asks himself questions such as “Am I in denial about anything or resisting anything anywhere in my life?”
Duffy also suggested stepping back and considering where your thoughts, feelings and behaviors are coming from. You might ask: Is that thought helpful? It that behavior necessary? Is there a better option?
5. Laugh. “Sometimes, we take life far too seriously,” Duffy said. Need proof? Duffy ran across information that revealed that kids laugh about 200 times per day; adults laugh an average of 15 times per day. He suggested everything from seeing a funny movie to playing games like Charades or Apples to Apples.
6. Determine and live your personal values. “[Your values] serve as an ‘inner GPS system’ that guides you through life, helping you make the right decisions and keeping you on track,” said Megan Walls, CPC, PCC, ELI-MP, a certified executive and life coach and owner of Conscious Connection. “Knowing and living your values will lead to a sense of balance, confidence and fulfillment.”
7. Identify and use your individual strengths. Using your strengths, Walls said, helps you feel energized and empowered. Not sure what your strengths are? Walls recommended Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinders 2.0, which features 34 strength themes and an assessment.
8. Keep tabs on your thoughts. Without even knowing it, you might be caught in a vicious cycle of negative thoughts, which seem to sprout naturally. Not only do these thoughts sink our mood but we also start to see them as truths.
Fortunately, we can work through these thoughts and see them for what they are: untrue and changeable. Walls suggested monitoring your thoughts and challenging and replacing negative ones. (Here are four questions to ask to reduce automatic negative thoughts.)
9. Practice gratitude. “You’ll find you shift your overall outlook on life when you come form a perspective of gratitude,” Duffy said. He suggested readers make a list of three things they’re thankful for every morning.
Another idea is to recite at least 10 reasons why you’re grateful for your job, according to Master Certified life and career coach Kristin Taliaferro. “Look for unexpected surprises such as ‘my sunny office window’ or ‘cool work friends to have lunch with.’”
For inspiration, you might check out Living Life as a Thank You by Mary Beth Sammons and Nina Lesowitz. It’s filled with inspiring stories of gratitude, according to Duffy.
10. Discover or rediscover a passion. Take the time to consider your passions. For instance, Duffy’s wife recently tried painting, and found that she loves it and is really talented. “Without a doubt, it has done great things for her overall sense of well-being,” he said.
11. Do what makes you happy first thing. Sometimes it can feel like you’re going through your days on autopilot, and that can get tedious and depressing. Start your day off on a positive note by engaging in an enjoyable activity every morning.
One of Taliaferro’s clients started swimming at a YMCA pool in the a.m. She told Taliaferro that it’s completely shifted her outlook and lifted her mood.
12. Get rid of rotten eggs. “There’s usually at least one rotten egg in your life that’s dragging down your mental outlook,” Taliaferro said. For example, some of Taliaferro’s clients are especially affected by the news. One of her clients decided that if it’s not on the AOL homepage then she doesn’t need to know about it.
Identify your rotten eggs and figure out how to remove them. Your rotten eggs might seem small. But even annoyances can add up and chip away at your mood and well-being.
13. Surround yourself with positive scents and sounds. Our surroundings can affect our well-being. “You can create a positive feeling at home with lemon, peppermint or other essential oils you love,” Taliaferro said. She plays different kinds of music regularly depending on what she’s in the mood for.
14. Get inspired. Find inspiration in everything from subscribing to a daily quote to listening to uplifting audio books on the way to work to reading magazines with exciting ideas, Taliaferro said. Duffy also suggested reading Inspiration by Wayne Dyer, which is one of his favorites.
15. Carve out time to meditate. “Protect a few minutes each day to sit, relax and breathe,” Duffy said. People tend to think that meditation is complicated. But you don’t need much time or effort to meditate, and it’s quite soothing. Try this super simple meditation from Mininni.