While getting in physical shape always leads the list of New Year’s Resolutions, working on our mental fitness doesn’t even make the Top 40. The problem is, you can’t achieve the one without the other. The mind is our body’s “check engine light.” Once it goes on, we can do our darndest to ignore it. We can put black tape over it, and the “car” will keep running for miles and miles.
But make no mistake, eventually, we’re going to break down.
Here are some easy adjustments you can make to your daily routine that may radically improve your psychological wellbeing:
Volunteer: “The positive emotional impact” of altruism is tangible. People who donate a part of their free time to the service of others (100-200 hours/year) report of feeling more socially connected, less lonely, have a higher self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Ideas: Big Brother/Sister, reading to sick children in hospitals, Project Open Hand, community gardens, soup kitchens, and on.
Gratitude journal: Shout out to Oprah! This tried-and-true activity is super easy. Just three times a week, jot down five things you’re grateful for. It can be as simple as “hot water,” to as profound as “the love of my children.” Don’t just write out of obligation, however, the experts warn. The key to its success is the intention behind the feeling of gratitude. Benefits include improved sleep, increased self-awareness, enhanced mood.
Exercise: You don’t have to run a marathon! Turns out, just 30 minutes of casual walking a day can reduce blood pressure, stress, and elevate mood.
Yoga: A study in Psychology Today lists the many benefits a regular yoga practice, such as “increased body awareness; relieves stress; reduces muscle tension, strain and inflammation; sharpens attention and concentration; and calms and centers the nervous system.”
Meditation: Turns out, the Buddha is always smiling for a reason. A 2015 Forbes article praises the countless advantages to meditation, first and foremost, it literally “changes the structure of the brain” for the better. Big-name corporations like Nike andGoogle have incorporated mediation rooms into the workplace for employees.
Benefits include increased memory and focus; slowing of the aging process; increases cardiovascular and immune functions; reduces anxiety and depression; and can aid in addiction recovery.
Acupuncture: It may sound out there, but this ancient practice has been integral to the treatment of countless psychological and physical maladies, including depression, anxiety, chronic migraines, inflammation, anger management, addiction, and on.
Light-box Therapy: A 2011 New York Times article explains how sitting under an artificial light for a set amount of time each day “activates the brain’s circadian ‘pacemaker’” the part responsible for sleep quality. Benefits: Reduces the negative fallout of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Social media diet: Last but certainly not least, limit your time online! From Huffington Post to Psychology Today, the experts are unanimous in their findings that heavy social media use has a direct correlation to feelings of negative self-worth, disconnectedness, and psychological distress, all the while amplifying existing mental health issues. Catch up with people in person.
There are so many small tweaks you can make on your own that will render huge, positive results on your overall mental health. Sometimes, though, recalibrating our negative thoughts and habits requires the guidance of a licensed professional therapist and /or psychiatrist.