Mental health is more than a mood. It’s a mix of our physical, psychological, and emotional makeup.
Whether you’re new to the United States or have been here many years, your mental health is of paramount importance. Immigrants face extraordinary challenges in adapting to a new culture, especially after an unprecedented year like 2020.
From boosting your physical activity to limiting time on social media, here are five fast tips to help improve your mental health.
Eat a Healthy Diet
We are what we eat. In fact, researchers at The University of Oxford have shown that our diets can even alter the composition of our DNA.
On a more immediate level, an unhealthy diet can wreak havoc on your mood, deprive you of sleep, and steal your energy.
With a little bit of research and experimentation, however, you can build a diet that boosts your mental health and vitality. Substitute sugary snacks with an occasional piece of dark chocolate (a proven “mood food”), or use nutrient-rich (and healthy fat) avocados instead of hydrogenated oils and butter.
Here’s a list of nine delicious foods proven to boost your outlook (and your overall health).
If you deal with anxiety and high-stress levels, consider limiting (or even eliminating) your caffeine intake. Here are some fresh alternatives for caffeine replacement.
There’s a popular misconception that “exercise” requires hours of grueling work.
It doesn’t! Physicians encourage approximately 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, and this can be achieved in a number of ways.
If running isn’t your thing, play basketball, go for a swim, or throw the frisbee with your dog. Even going for a nice walk in the sun will boost your mood. Or, if you prefer to stay at home, put on five of your favorite songs and dance like no one’s watching.
While breaking a sweat is great for your mental health, go a step further and add a mindfulness element to your exercise. Focus on the way your body breathes, the feeling of your feet hitting the pavement, or the way your muscles engage in the rhythm of the movement.
These are great ways to relax your mind while engaging your body.
Disconnect From Electronics
The coronavirus pandemic led to a global surge in digital engagement. Lockdowns and social distancing increased our use of smartphones, computers, video games and social media.
While it’s important to check in with friends and family, it’s equally important to take breaks from technology altogether. There’s a name for the countless, anxiety-ridden hours spent scrolling Instagram and Facebook. Experts call it “doomscrolling,” and it typically takes place when we should be sleeping.
Whether it’s Netflix or one of your social media accounts, consider taking a leave of absence from technology. The break could be for just five minutes every hour, one hour every day, or one day every week. You can also follow the “20-20-20” rule (as recommended by the American Optometric Association): after every twenty minutes looking at a screen, take twenty seconds to look at something twenty feet away.
By demonstrating to yourself that you can break from your habits (and from the larger digital world), you will boost both your confidence and your mental health.
Read More Books
There are numerous psychological benefits to reading books.
For starters, reading actually improves our ability to think logically. According to Professor Maja Djikic of the University of Toronto, “[reading leads] to better procedures for processing information, including those of creativity…when you can entertain multiple perspectives, it is easier to see new possibilities.”
This kind of openness fuels improved mental health and a greater sense of optimism.
In studying the effects of reading on the brain, American neuroscientist Gregory Berns scanned the brains of readers five days after finishing a book. The results were amazing.
According to Professor Berns, “even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity…almost like muscle memory.”
As for more direct benefits of reading? It helps you sleep better and is also proven to help prolong life expectancy.
What do the previous four tips all have in common? They will all help you sleep better!
An improved diet, regular exercise, less technology (especially before bed), and more reading will all help increase your quality of sleep.
While it’s easy to skimp on sleep (especially when life gets hectic), it’s one of the worst things you can do for your mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should aim to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
If you don’t typically get that much sleep, you’re not alone. According to Harvard Medical School, the majority of Americans are sleep deprived.
In the short term, a few hours of lost sleep can dramatically alter your mood and perspective.
Over time, however, chronic sleep loss can seriously damage your mental and physical health.
In addition to promoting extra exercise and limiting caffeine and alcohol, Harvard Medical School advises a diligent approach to “sleep hygiene.” In an effort to make sleep more of a meaningful ritual, consider some of their suggestions:
- Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Studies show bedrooms with even low levels of light can increase depression.
- Give yourself extra time (as much as two hours) to wind down, calm your mind, and get ready for bed.
- Do some light yoga or meditation before getting into bed. These are great ways to relax your body and calm your mind.
- Breathing exercises are especially helpful for diminishing anxiety and developing a sense of groundedness. Try breathing in for 5 seconds, holding your breath for 3 seconds, and then slowly exhaling for 7 seconds.
With higher quality sleep, you’ll have the energy you need to live more fully and accomplish your goals.
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