11 Tips for Mental Health & Well-being
The 11 tips below are general suggestions for wellness. If you need more help, reach out. It is a normal and courageous thing to do.
- Be Nice to Yourself: When you are feeling down, it is easy to be hard on yourself. While you might not be of the mind to congratulate or compliment yourself, try being compassionate. And here is a little bonus hint: If you really are struggling to be nice to yourself, do something nice for someone else. Then, compliment yourself on doing it!
- Exercise: Even taking a short walk or climbing a flight of stairs can reduce stress and increase alertness. A regular exercise routine can boost one's mood, increase concentration, and even help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Eat Healthy: Vegetables and fruits? Absolutely! Nutritious foods. Sure. Don't drink 10 cups of anything in a day, unless it's water. But healthy eating also means having a healthy attitude toward food. Enjoy meals with friends, try new foods and try not to obsess over food. If you do find that your relationship to food is affecting your mental or physical health, get the facts on eating disorders and take the important step of finding help.
- Sleep Well: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends between 8–10 hours of sleep per night for teenagers and over 7 hours for those ages 20 and up. But sleeping well also refers to when you sleep and the quality of that sleep. Sleep health expert, Dr. Eleanor McGlinchey recommends that you wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays. This simple trick will help you fight that feeling of jet lag on Monday morning (also known as "social jet lag") and ensure that you are functioning and feeling your best.
- Put the Screens to Sleep Before You Go to Bed: Studies have shown that looking at screens before bedtime can affect how quickly you fall asleep and the quality of that sleep. Blue light from your smartphone affects the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep/wake cycle. Reading, texting, posting, etc. keep your mind active when it should be winding down instead. Oh, and then there are those texts in the middle of the night….
- Breathe Deep: Just try it. Take in a nice slow breath. Start from your belly; expand through your ribs, chest, and lungs. Breathe out just as slowly. Counting can help ("1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ...") Repeat.
- Connect With Others: Friends, family, pets...even a casual friendly hello to a stranger can boost positive feelings, help ward off depression and anxiety, and make you feel that you are connected to others. Focus on the quality of your friendships and relationships, not the quantity. If someone helps you feel supported, happy, useful, liked or loved, or any other positive feelings, keep the connection going.
- Write Down Ways to Relax: Relaxing is one of those things that's easy to say and harder to do. Unwinding and staying calm can take practice. Write down a list of ideas for positive ways that you can de-stress. Try them out, one step at a time. When something works, try it again. Just remember that you're going for wellness. Those short-term fixes (we're talking pills, alcohol, and other forms of substance abuse) aren't going to help in the long-run. So cross them off the list. Add a mental image or a photo of a beautiful place that you'll visit someday.
- Find Support (and Be Supportive): If you or someone you know is struggling, find support. This might be a friend or a family member. Or it could be reaching out to a counselor, a primary care doctor, or a mental health professional. If the person you find isn't giving you the kind of support you need, look for another support option that is better for you and your needs. Likewise, if a friend, family member, or someone you know is feeling down, ask yourself if there is something you can do to be nice or supportive.
- Take Small Steps: If you try to do everything at once, you will probably get nowhere. Set goals, and then draw that dotted line from point A to B to C. Stop and rest along the way. You will thank yourself for it.
- Be Nice to Yourself: Yes, we already said that. But it is worth repeating.
Sue Rosenthal is a writer and web producer for the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry | Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. Her coping and wellness repertoire includes yoga, walks with friends, coffee, laughing, books, sleep, outdoor time, cooking, and a new-found addiction to crossword puzzles on her smartphone.