Mental well-being is an essential part of creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is just as important as your physical health. Mental well-being affects your ability to handle everyday stressors in all areas of life. Because it affects all areas of life, it depends on factors such as self-acceptance, quality of relationships, autonomy, capacity for personal growth and self-development, and overall life satisfaction.
But always remember you are not alone on your journey. We’re here with you to bring mindfulness and intention to everything you do. We’ll help you examine what is holding you back and so you can push through it to a healthy mental state. The joy is in the journey, and the journey is the destination. Let’s begin.
An Introduction to Mental Health
We hear and write a lot about mental health at GR8NESS, but what is mental health really? While we tend to think that mental health is related only to the brain, in fact, it includes our emotional, psychological, physical, and social well-being. One thing is certain, taking care of your mental health is a key component of self-care. There are many different pieces to the puzzle that is mental health, each of which we will discuss in-depth.
What Is Mental Health?
Everyone is different, and that means that how you manage your mental health is unique to you. What works for you may not work for someone else. Likewise, what works for someone else may not work for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t take inspiration from someone and mold it to your needs. You absolutely can. As you work on developing a mental health self-care plan for yourself, it can help to understand the pillars of brain health and why they are important to mental health.
Our brains are the most crucial organ in our bodies. Not only does the brain oversee automatic functions like breathing, but it also regulates our quality of life and personal wellness. Caring for our brains is one of the most important things we can do to ensure both mental and physical wellness throughout our lives. And yet, there is still so much about the brain and the mind that is unknown and, in some ways, unknowable.
Here we will not only examine what is mental health, but we’ll also help you to discover what mental health is for you.
The Pillars of Brain Health
While some parts of the brain and mind are still uncharted territory, we have identified four pillars of brain health that support mental wellness. Making sure you care for each of these pillars of brain health will help ensure that your brain and mind are functioning together to enhance mental wellness.
The Nourished Mind
Nutrition plays a key role in brain health, that’s why you hear so much about improving your diet to improve your mental health. Foods that support brain health include whole grains, leafy greens, healthy fats, fish, and nuts. A diet that centers around these foods can help keep the brain healthy. In addition, food high in saturated fats can cause the development of neurodegenerative diseases to progress.
Fruits and vegetables are essential for both mental and physical health. Berries and leafy greens are rich in brain health nutrients and may slow down aging. Dark chocolate can increase blood flow to the brain and decrease inflammation. Spices like turmeric and ginger can also reduce inflammation.
The Mentally Engaged Mind
Staying actively engaged in life can keep your mind sharp and fight mental decline through all life stages. This means learning a new hobby, language, or skill, listening to music, playing an instrument, or creating art. You don’t have to be good at it, you just have to be challenged by and enjoy it. Chess, card games, crossword puzzles, online brain games, and even video games can help keep your mind active. Be sure to mix it up, so your brain gets different types of stimuli and is always working.
The Socially Connected Mind
Ties that build trust, connection, and participation — social connection — have known health benefits. They are a source of support, can combat depression, reduce stress, and slow age-related cognitive issues. Pets can also help keep you connected and improve your social life. They also boost immunity and keep you active.
The Physically Active Mind
Regular physical exercise not only helps keep your bones strong and reduces the risk of heart disease, but it also keeps your brain healthy. And some exercise is better than no exercise. Exercising regularly can generate brain cell growth and make important changes to the brain.
Research shows that regular exercise significantly increases the size of the hippocampus. This is significant because the hippocampus plays a role in verbal memory, thinking, and learning. Therefore, exercise plays a role in the health of brain cells, the production of new blood vessels in the brain, and keeps brain cells healthy.
How Does Brain Health Factor into Mental Health?
Our brains are amazingly complex — they control memory, learning, the five senses, and emotion as well as other parts of the body, such as organs, blood vessels, and muscles. The brain contains billions of nerve cells — neurons — that communicate and work together so that our bodies can function. The neurons communicate through electrical signals, and special chemicals called neurotransmitters help the electrical messages move from neuron to neuron.
Different neurons transmit different types of information from the receptor in our bodies to our brains. The brain decides what to do with the information and tells the body how to respond. Another type of neuron called interneurons connects the brain and spinal cord, which make up the central nervous system.
Remember the brain chemicals — neurotransmitters — mentioned above? Just as there are different types of neurons, there are different types of neurotransmitters. Imbalances in certain neurotransmitters can affect the communication between neurons, which can then affect your mental health.
How Do People Practice Psychological Well-Being?
Psychological well-being refers to your emotional health and overall functioning. People with high levels of psychological well-being generally feel happy, capable, supported, and satisfied. They are more likely to live healthier and longer lives and enjoy a better quality of life. There are four ways you can practice psychological well-being and improve your overall well-being.
Creating purpose — this can be as simple as deciding to be kind every day or trying to see the good in everyone. Begin by thinking about the legacy you’d like to leave behind, then choose some actions that will take you closer to that goal.
Positive thinking — this does not mean just hoping for the best, it means actively trying to make the best happen. Perform acts of kindness, practice mindfulness and gratitude, and remind yourself of your strengths. All of these actions will help you cultivate a positive outlook.
Connect with people — create relationships and an emotional support system. Quality matters more than quantity, and even though staying in touch through social media helps when you can’t visit someone in person, face to face interaction gives you real benefits.
What Are the Benefits of a Healthy Mental State?
If your first thought was happiness, you are on the right track. When we are mentally healthy, we enjoy life and the people we create healthy relationships with. We can be creative, productive, learn and try new things, and take risks that help us grow.
Being mentally healthy doesn’t mean we never have bad times, but we are better able to cope with them. Caring for your mental health gives you a well of resilience that can help you handle difficult times, sadness, and the frustrations that are a part of life. Nurturing our mental health can also help us prevent or fight off mental and physical illnesses. For example, managing stress can help us avoid heart disease.
Why Is Mental Health Important?
In today’s world, mental health is just as important as physical health. We can’t live balanced lives if we only pay attention to our physical health. This is especially important if you want to be your best self and live your best life.
Mental health encompasses emotional, physical, and social well-being. It affects how we feel, think, and act in our daily lives. How we handle emotions, stress, socialize and make decisions are determined by the state of our mental health. Here are some reasons why our mental health is just as important as our physical health.
Your mental health can affect:
Happiness in life
How to Improve Mental Health
Just like self-care, what makes you happy and contributes to your mental health is unique and personal. However, there are things you can do to bolster and maintain your mental health, such as learning to value yourself, taking care of your body, surrounding yourself with good people, setting goals, and more. It takes practice and constant fine-tuning to take care of your mental health in the same way you take care of your body.
Sometimes achieving better mental health requires the help of a therapist, and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do on your own, in fact, a therapist is likely to give you “homework” to complete. And we can all use a little brain tune-up. There are many things we can do to keep our brains functioning at their best. When we think about how to improve mental health, we look at the four pillars and how to balance them.
Getting Started with Psychological Well-Being
Sometimes the hardest part of creating any kind of change is getting started. Once you get there, everything else falls into place. If you are just starting your journey, welcome. If you’ve been on this journey, we value your experience. Remember that you may go in starts and stops, and that’s okay. You may stay in place for a while, and that’s okay, too. It’s your journey, so make it your own.
But, you don’t have to go it alone. We’re here to help, as we are also on our own journeys. We’ll offer ways to get started and tips to stay motivated. No judgment, you are where you are.
Tips for Beginners
Starting something new can be intimidating. Some people like to jump right in, and some like to dip their toes in to test the waters. Whatever your style, we’ve got you.
How to Ease In
Start with something manageable. Maybe you’ve always wanted to meditate but can’t seem to sit still for 20 minutes. Try starting with five minutes. Or whatever amount seems manageable yet still a bit challenging. Journaling is another excellent activity for mental wellness. But that doesn’t mean you have to write pages every day. Start with a sentence. Choose an activity that you feel drawn to, but don’t worry if you start with just a few minutes a day. Once you get comfortable, you can add more time.
How to Develop a Habit
It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to develop a new habit. That’s quite a range. However, this research also revealed that missing once does not affect the habit formation process. As with most things, most people were neither at the low end or the high end of the range of the spectrum. The average time to turn a new behavior into a habit is 66 days. So, keep that in mind and don’t get discouraged if you miss a day or take longer than you think you should.
Choose Something You Like
There are many things you can do to improve your mental health, from meditation and yoga to brain games and learning new skills. While it’s good to do as many as you can, start with something you like or that calls to you in some way. This makes it easier to start and keep going. Once you have a solid foundation, you can increase or add to your list.
How to Get Back on Track
If you miss one or two, or even more, of your chosen activities, that doesn’t mean you are off track. Don’t fall into the all-or-nothing mindset. Every step you take counts. Stopping even counts, if that’s what you need in the moment.
You can always begin again. Take a few steps back if that makes it easier. Maybe you went too far too fast. Don’t worry about it. Reassess and move forward. It’s okay to learn from what caused your roadblock, but don’t dwell on it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Accept and move forward.
Steps to a Better Mental State
Nourishing your body and getting regular exercise are great ways to improve your mental health, but there are more things you can do. Mental wellness is associated with balance, understanding, acceptance, and personal development. Here are 10 steps to a better mental state.
1) Focus on the positive
How you think about yourself has a powerful effect on how you feel. It’s sometimes too easy to focus on what is wrong or what we think is wrong about ourselves and our lives. To combat this, practice self-talk that promotes a sense of self-worth and personal power.
2) Jot down something you are grateful for
Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is linked to psychological well-being and happiness. Writing a daily gratitude list is one way to bring your attention to things you are grateful for. Generally, thinking about gratitude can be effective, but you need consistent practice to make it a habit. Find something in your life to be grateful for, let it fill your heart, and let the feeling stay with you.
3) Focus on one thing
Staying in the present allows us to let go of difficult or negative emotions from past experiences that can weigh us down. It also keeps us from worrying too much about the future. Bring your attention to routine activities and notice sounds, smells, or tastes. If your mind wanders, just bring it back to what you are doing without judgment.
4) Move your body
Your body releases mood-boosting and stress-busting chemicals called endorphins before and after you exercise, which is why it is a powerful antidote to stress, depression, and anxiety. Find small ways to add activity to your day. Take the stairs or go on a short walk. Walking outdoors is good for us both mentally and physically.
5) Eat a balanced diet
The food you eat nourishes your brain and your body. Carbohydrates increase the brain chemical serotonin, which has a calming effect on your mood. Protein-rich foods increase norepinephrine, tyrosine, and dopamine, brain chemicals that keep you alert. And fruits and vegetables provide the nutrients that feed every cell in your body. This is why eating a balanced diet is an important part of taking care of your mind.
6) Open up to friends and family
Knowing that others value you can help you think more positively and overcome the negative aspects of your life. Being more trusting can increase your mental well-being as you get better at seeing the positive in others as well as yourself.
7) Do something for someone else
Helping someone else makes you feel better about yourself. Being kind and helpful is a great way to build self-esteem. It can also enrich and expand your life.
8) Take breaks
Sometimes, things seem like too much, even working on your mental welfare. Take a step away if you need to. Not from everything, just from whatever is causing you stress. A simple breathing exercise may help, just close your eyes and take ten deep breaths.
9) Get enough sleep
Sleep refreshes your mind and restores your body. While you are sleeping, your brain rests, recharges, and creates memories from the day. And your immune system repairs itself. Sleep deprivation also has a negative effect on mood. Try to go to sleep at the same time every day, turn off all screens at least an hour before bed, and limit caffeine intake.
10) Start today
Most importantly, start today. You don’t have to do everything all at once, just choose what you want to focus on and do that. Then build on it and add as you feel able. Slowly building your routine, regular patterns, and habits will help you feel better as you take care of your mind.
Developing Mental Welfare
Fostering mental welfare requires a well-rounded action plan. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, no amount of stress relief exercises will help. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, meditation isn’t likely to do you any good. And going to the gym every once in a while won’t help you if you aren’t feeding your body right.
Developing mental welfare is essential for building resilience to the stressors in life that you can’t avoid. When you’ve taken the steps required to take care of your mind and your body, you’ll be better able to live your best life.
Your plan should include those things that keep your mind sharp, such as puzzles, games, and learning. It should also include things that promote a healthy mental state, such as practicing self-compassion and acceptance.
Mind Care Activities for Beginners
If you are new to mind care, don’t worry. Everyone is a beginner at some point. GR8 mind care activities for beginners include:
Develop a regular routine
Take lunch breaks at work
Go for a walk at lunchtime
Start a non-work hobby
Make time for relaxation
Develop supportive friendships
Write down three good things you did each day
Play a sport and socialize after training
Start a meditation practice
Resources for Beginners
If you are looking for more information about things you can do to take care of your mind, check out the ideas below and see if any of them resonate with you.
Once you’ve built your foundation, it’s time to go deeper into your mind care experience. This means really homing in on things like adding brain food to your diet, creating a routine of brain exercises, and scheduling time to de-stress.
This can look like whatever you want it to look like. Maybe you create a special place for your meditation practice, or maybe you learn to do a quick meditation at work when things get stressful. Making time for de-stressing is key, and you can do that however you like.
Integrate Brain-Power Foods into Your Diet
Adding brain power foods to your diet is one of the best ways to keep your mind healthy. When it comes to boosting brain power, there are some foods and nutrients known to keep your mind sharp. Create a balanced diet centered around the foods below:
DHA and EPA, two omega-3-fatty acids, are crucial to brain health. They are found mainly in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and in walnuts.
Starting your day with a healthy breakfast helps you think, learn, and focus. Slower burning, low-glycemic carbohydrates such as oatmeal, bran cereals, and whole wheat bagels are good foods to start your day.
Even mild iron deficiency affects memory, learning, and attention. Add these iron-rich foods to your diet: beans, lean meats, fish, and dark leafy greens.
Water and Water-Filled Foods
Staying hydrated keeps your memory sharp, your motivation level up, and your mood stable, so make sure you drink at least 8 glasses of water daily. But hydration is about more than how much you drink, it’s about how much you retain. Add these water-filled foods to your diet to make sure your body stays hydrated: cucumbers, strawberries, watermelon, and salad greens.
Create a Routine for Brain Exercises
Brain training helps your memory and makes your mind sharper. Using apps is one of the best ways to train your brain and keep it sharp. And you can take them with you anywhere you take your phone.
Brain Training Apps:
Calm — the number one app for meditation and sleep includes hundreds of programs for intermediate and advanced users.
Peak — one of the most popular brain training apps, and it’s free. It includes 30 mini-games that test different aspects of your brain, such as attention, language, memory, and memory agility.
Elevate — this app customizes a brain training program just for you and includes more than 40 games to keep it entertaining.
Mensa Brain Training — challenging puzzles help you train five important areas of your brain.
Happier — this app helps you feel grateful for the things you have in your life.
Brain.fm — listening to music 15 minutes a day guides your brain into being more focused and productive.
Streaks — this self-directed app helps you achieve goals that you determine. Tap the app when you complete your goal, and you gain a streak. Miss and the timer sets back to zero.
BrainHQ — train, improve, and repeat your way to better brain health and improved self-confidence.
Elevate — build your analytical and communication skills with expertly designed games that improve cognition.
Schedule Time to De-stress on a Regular Basis
From early aging to heart problems, stress can damage your health in ways you may not realize. Long workdays and commutes, not enough sleep or exercise, and trying to find time for everything causes stress in our daily lives. Some people think that stress makes them perform better, but that is hardly ever true. More often, it causes us to make mistakes.
Stress can also make it difficult to control your emotions, promote disease, and even affect your love life. It can also make you gain weight and hurt your heart. Despite what people think, there is nothing good about stress. I’m not talking about normal stress, we all have some stress in our lives. It’s how we deal with it that determines whether or not it is damaging to us.
Scheduling time to de-stress is one way to keep stress at bay, however you like to relax, whether it is walking your dog, meditating, gardening, or any other activity that calms your mind. Make it a point to wake up ten minutes early to do deep breathing exercises, take a brisk walk, or write down your positive statements. Whatever de-stressing looks like for you, be sure to put it on your schedule.
Mind-Care Activities for the Practiced
Now that you’ve built a foundation of activities, it’s time to level up. Increase the duration of ones you are already doing, or add some others to your list. As always, choose the ones that resonate with you and that you enjoy.
Extend your meditation time to 20 minutes
Check-in with yourself
Incorporate self-care into your routine
Ask for help when you need it
Learn how to deal with stress
Body scan exercises
Do things upside down or backward
Resources for Enthusiasts
A big part of creating mental stability is to continue learning and working on your self-development. We know that you’re on your journey, and we continue to support that. We’ve put together a list of resources to help get you ready to become a master of mind care.
The journey looks different for everyone, we know that. We also know that you continue to examine the question “Why is mind care important?” When we say the joy is in the journey, we mean it. The deeper you go, the more value you find.
As you become a mind-care master, you will find more to learn and more to share. Although the journey is deeply personal, it can also be shared and enjoyed with others. When you started on this journey, you probably relied on the experiences and advice of others. Now it is your turn to be that support. Sharing your experiences can not only help others but help you grow as well. In this section, you will find suggestions and activities to do just that.
Study Psychology and Well-being
Everyone learns differently. Some find value in reading books, some prefer listening to podcasts, some prefer online courses. And some prefer a mixture of all three. That’s why we present information in different ways.
Even luminaries like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet read books to further their mental stability. They often share what books they are currently reading and what books have helped them the most during their careers. We like these six motivational books and these self-development books for every age.
You may choose to follow self-development gurus (here’s seven we like) but there are many more out there. Choose one, or more, who’s style and message inspire you. If you prefer more structured learning, there are many online personal development courses you can take on platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, YouTube, and more.
These platforms also offer courses in psychology, nutrition, well-being, and more – everything you need to become a master of mind care.
Engage in Mind-Care with Others
Although mind-care involves looking inward and working on yourself, there comes a time when it may no longer be a solitary activity. Attending seminars and retreats to focus on specific issues can help you in your quest for mastery. Learning from the experiences of others and finding validation lets you know that, although your inner work is personal, you are not alone.
In addition, as you gain mastery, you begin to look outward. Helping others in their journey, offering them support, and sharing your experiences is another step on your own journey. There are so many retreats and weekend seminars out there focusing on mindfulness, meditation, nutrition, psychology, life coaching, and almost anything else you can imagine.
Having a support group, whether it be online or local, can help you get through difficult challenges. A trusted support group can also help you check yourself when needed and keep things in proportion. Just because you are mastering mind care doesn’t mean you won’t stumble or come across roadblocks, so support is just as necessary now as it was when you first began.
Therapy is another great tool for mind care. Whether you have regular or occasional one-on-one sessions or drop into group sessions, having an unbiased look at what you are going through can help you look at things differently. A therapist or group can also give you suggestions on how to deal with any roadblocks. You’ll learn that they are normal, that mind care is continuous, and you may find value in helping others.
Make a Multi-Pillar Plan for Mental Health
Having a multi-pillar plan for mental health ensures that you are working on all aspects of mind care. It is not unusual to work more on one area than another, so if you find that happening, refer back to your plan and make sure you’re covering everything. Let’s go back to the four pillars for a moment.
Keeping Your Mind Nourished
Are you eating right most of the time? There’s nothing wrong with a treat now and then, but make sure it is a treat and not a regular occurrence. Pack your balanced diet with brain power foods.
Keeping Your Mind Engaged
Make sure you take time to learn something new, use your brain exercise apps, or read a book. Checking these things off your list will help keep you on track.
Keeping Your Mind Socially Connected
Make time to connect with your support group, family, and friends. Have real, honest, open, and authentic conversations. It’s a give and take, so offer support when needed as you get the support you need.
Keeping Your Mind Physically Active
Whether you run or walk outside every day or mix it up with cardio, weight training, and yoga, be sure to stick to your exercise plan to benefit your mind. Missing a day here and there won’t hurt, but if you find you missed more than a few, rededicate yourself to following the plan.
Mind-Care Activities for Masters
While you don’t have to stop doing any of the activities you enjoy, you can also add an extra layer as you work toward mind-care mastery. As you will see, these activities focus on both inner and outer work you can do.
Accept who you are
Forgive the toxic people in your life
Build a self-accountability plan
Offer help to others
Mentor a co-worker
Volunteer for a cause you believe in
Remember to take care of yourself
Take risks outside your comfort zone
Check-in with your emotions
Identify your signature strength
Resources for Masters
Even mind-care masters need support. While we encourage you to explore and take what you need when you need it, we’ve put together some resources to use as a starting point. Check out the list below and go exploring.
The mind-care journey is a life-long quest for mental stability and health. This may sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. It may sound like work, and yes, there is some work involved, but there is also joy and laughter in between sometimes painful self-knowledge. Learning often happens outside your comfort zone, but there’s nothing wrong with having a comfort zone when you need one.
The work doesn’t always have to be heavy, so be sure to include activities you enjoy, such as:
Visiting with friends and family
Playing with your pets
Exercise of your choice
Reading books for fun
Binge-watching your favorite shows
But sometimes it may need to be heavy, so be sure to add activities such as:
Listing what you are grateful for
Creating a support network
Taking personal development courses
Removing toxic people from your life
Editing your social media
Scheduling time to de-stress
At GR8NESS, we’re here to support you on your mind-care journey in a judgment-free zone. We supply information for you to digest and use if you find it useful. We’re constantly looking for new information and ways to help you achieve your goals. Our goal is to create a community where you feel comfortable and where you can take what you need and give back when you can. We welcome your feedback and participation at whatever level is best for you.
For more inspiration, check out the resources below to evolve on your mind-care journey:
Stephany is a GR8NESS Contributing Editor who writes about pet care, CBD, stress, self care, meditation, time management, brain training, and natural remedies with a focus on the science behind it all. She has three dogs, three cats, walks half marathons, and practices yoga and powerlifting. You can often find her training her dogs or experimenting with new flavors in the kitchen.
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