Today- October 10- is World Mental Health Day. The World Health Organization gives it “the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health,” while 2017’s theme is mental health in the workplace. I’m going a little off-topic from that theme, though: today I’m going to give you 20 general ways to improve your own mental health and improve the lives of those suffering from mental illnesses.
10 Ways to Help Yourself
- Practice meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness, simply defined, is a state of awareness or consciousness. Mindfulness meditation helps you to be aware of the present moment, which in turn increases your happiness and decreases your stress. If you don’t know where to start, download my personal favorite, the Smiling Mind app. It’s free, and it has hundreds of guided meditation programs for you to try.
- Get outside and exercise. Science has proven that getting some fresh air actually does increase your happiness. Taking a walk outside is an effective way to destress after a long day. Whether you do your workouts inside or outside, it’s important that you actually do them: working out releases endorphins, the happiness chemical, in your brain.
- Be curious. Read a little every day. Read about topics that don’t normally interest you. Take an active interest in the things you see around you. Try to notice something about your everyday routine that you’ve never noticed before. Learn about the world around you. This will help you practice your mindfulness, as well as allowing you to find small joys in everyday life that you wouldn’t have noticed before.
- Sleep! Everyone always says it, but not many people actually do it. Commit to a steady sleep schedule this week. Establish a bedtime routine. Go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time in the morning. If you’re having trouble sleeping, don’t be afraid to try medication. Melatonin is the simplest answer, and it does wonders for me. If you need something stronger, do your research or talk to your doctor. A good night’s sleep will improve your entire day.
- Unplug. Again, everyone says it, but nobody does it. The best time to turn your phone on airplane mode is an hour before your scheduled bedtime…and that’s also the exact time of day most people are scrolling through Twitter and Instagram. Switch up your social media routine so that you can unplug for at least an hour before bed. You can use that hour to read, meditate, or journal- just don’t look at a screen!
- Declutter. Clean up your the space that you spend most of your time. Try to take a minimalist approach: get rid of anything that distracts you from what you actually value. Set aside a spot to keep free of clutter 24/7, and let that spot be your destress zone. A cleaner, uncluttered environment will improve your mood and productivity.
- Make a plan for yourself. Understand the best self-care methods now, even if you’re in a good place emotionally. Start routines that can get you through the tough times, even if now you’re having a really good time. Be ready to act next time that anxiety hits.
- Understand what’s happening in your brain. Do some research! Understand why you experience the emotions you experience. Understand the chemistry behind what you’re going through. Trust me, this stuff can be explained. Once you understand it, you’ll feel a lot more confident about managing it.
- Accept what you’re feeling, and don’t judge yourself. I used an acronym that the Smiling Mind app taught me: RAIN. Recognize your emotions. Take a moment to find a word to describe what you’re feeling. Accept your emotions. Understand that you can’t be happy and bubbly all the time, and it’s okay to be not okay. Investigate. Sit in a quiet spot and really dive into yourself. Figure out why you’re feeling this way. Sometimes you may want to wait a few minutes before spending a lot of time on this; cool down a bit first. And finally, Not identify. Say to yourself, I feel angry; don’t say, I am angry. You are not the emotion you feel. Don’t judge yourself for not being happy.
- Above all, seek professional help, or join a support group. Never be afraid to set up an appointment with a therapist or psychologist. Find local support groups and plan to attend their next meeting. There are people out there that are going through the same things you are, and there are people out there who know how to help you. Don’t isolate yourself from them. Get help when you need it.
10 Ways to Help Others
- Check in on someone who is struggling. It can be hard to talk to someone who is going through a hard time in their life. Today, make a point to give someone a call, just to let them know you’re there for them. You may not feel like you’re doing much, but you’re giving them the support they need.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of depression. With 350 million people worldwide suffering from depression, it’s too prevalent to ignore. Do some research about it. Learn to recognize if someone close to you needs professional help. And remember that the signs and symptoms are typically different for men and women.
- Make a plan for others. Research and understand what to do if someone you care about needs you. Visit StopASuicide.org. This is an intense topic to research, but everyone should be prepared.
- Memorize the suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can call anytime for advice for yourself or for a friend.
- Share your own story. Being honest about your own mental health history helps erase stigma and makes it easier for others to talk about their problems. The more we talk about it, the easier it gets for other people; the less we talk about it, the more power stigma has.
- If you have children, talk about mental health with them! They’re never too young to understand. If you keep putting it off, they may be suffering in silence for years before they understand what’s happening inside their minds.
- Educate others with any platform you have. Tweet about World Mental Health Day. Blog about your own issues with mental health. Share some statistics that most people wouldn’t know. If you have a way to reach people, reach them.
- Learn about issues regarding mental health in politics- such as the health insurance debate raging currently- and get involved! Write to or call your local representatives. Make your voice heard.
- Donate. Give money to https://mentalhealthscreening.org/donate to raise awareness about mental health issues. Or donate to the National Alliance on Mental Illness at https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Donate to fight stigma about mental health. Then, share these donation opportunities with others!
- Take the StigmaFree Pledge on NAMI.org. One of NAMI’s major goals is to educate people about mental illnesses, erase misconceptions, and fight stigma. The StigmaFree Pledge is a simple way to remind yourself to watch your words. Read up on stigma on NAMI.org to educate yourself on ways to avoid falling for misconceptions.
I hope this list was helpful to you, and I hope you do at least a few of the things that I mentioned. Every tiny action you take makes a difference!