Mental health encompasses emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Our mental health drives how we think and feel, handle stress, and relate to others. It’s also inextricably linked to our physical health. Mental illness can increase your risk for chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease and chronic conditions can increase your risk for mental illness. All that to say, maintaining strong mental health is essential for functioning well in our daily lives and staying physically healthy long-term.
Many factors that contribute to mental health are out of our control, such as genetic make-up, brain chemistry, and past traumas or abuse. Most of us, however, have the power to strengthen our mental health through daily habits, and we’re outlining a few of those habits below.
Mindfulness. Mindfulness means being fully present in a given moment. A consistent mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce depression, mitigate stress, lower inflammation, and boost the immune system. Try short meditations in the morning or at bedtime, or simply pause and become aware of your breath. Read our recent primer on mindfulness to learn more about incorporating this important habit into your daily routine.
Exercise. Physical activity increases serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine levels in the brain. Resulting benefits include improved energy, enhanced stress response, greater mental clarity, and higher self-esteem. With exercise, a little goes a long way! Just 30 minutes of physical activity can boost your mood — read our suggestions for fitting in exercise when you’re short on time here.
Sleep. Ample sleep facilitates the brain’s emotional processing. Research shows that there is a bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health — sleep challenges cause mental health challenges, and likewise mental health challenges cause sleep challenges. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Try your best to go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day.
Connection with others. Recent research has demonstrated a strong correlation between social connection and happiness. Evaluate your support network and spend time with friends and family members who make you feel valued and safe, who can help you solve problems. And when you can, show compassion to other people — acts of altruism are known to boost your mood and even lengthen your lifespan.
Fresh air. Spending time in nature is associated with cognitive and mood improvements, as well as emotional well-being. Research shows that you don’t have to be in a remote area to reap these benefits — even urban parks and green spaces can positively impact your mental health.
Gratitude. Implementing a gratitude practice can help you reset and gain perspective. Systematic gratitude rituals, such as keeping a gratitude journal, have been linked to higher levels of optimism and joy. Try reflecting on simple moments of joy throughout your day.
Nutrition. A healthy, nourishing diet and plenty of water will improve your energy level, clarity, and focus throughout the day. You’ll be happier, your physical health will be supported, and you’ll be well-equipped to handle any tough situations that may arise.
Professional help. If you’re having trouble sleeping, concentrating, getting out of bed in the morning, or if you’re experiencing appetite or mood changes, don’t wait until your symptoms become overwhelming to ask for help. Contact your primary care provider or a mental health professional today.
If you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, tell someone who can help right away or dial 911 in an emergency. You also can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and all calls are confidential.
Visit the Bene RESOURCES page for a list of mental health organizations.