Improving mental health is multifaceted and can be a lifelong journey, but many evidence-based strategies can more efficiently steer you in the right direction.
Discover science-backed lifestyle changes that you can make today to start on a mental health improvement journey:
Connecting with nature has numerous mental health benefits. Spending time outdoors, whether it's going for a walk in a park or taking a hike, can reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance mental clarity. It can even help buffer you against harsher reactions from stressful events.
Summary: In the UK, scientists analyzed data from 35,000 participants to see whether changes in the number of days going outdoors affected mental health. Their findings indicated that “an increase in the number of days spent outside was associated with decreases in depressive and anxiety symptoms and an increase in life satisfaction”. Results varied due to the walkability and amount of greenspaces available for each participant.
Consider Your Fuel
A well-balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can support brain function and improve mental health. Certain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and folate, have been linked to better mental well-being too!
Summary: A group of researchers in Universities in Poland compiled extant research that indicates a correlation between nutritional richness in calories consumed with mental health. They found indicators that nutrients, and the microbiota that accompany it may affect overall mental wellbeing. The study notes, however, that more research is necessary to draw specific conclusions.
Foster a Sense of Personal Belonging
Cultivating and maintaining meaningful relationships with others is vital for mental health. Spending time with friends and family, or participating in social activities can provide support, reduce feelings of loneliness, and enhance overall happiness. In addition, identifying with the locale one lives in, or within a group of like-minded individuals can have a positive effect on mental health.
Summary: A university in Ontario, Canada, used data from the Canadian Community Health Survey to compare the self-perceived sense of belonging with how individuals perceive their own mental health. The data revealed that there was a “strong and clear association between lower sense of belonging and lower self-perceived mental health”.
Explore your creative side through activities such as painting, writing, dancing, or playing a musical instrument. Engaging in creative expression can be therapeutic, reduce stress, and promote self-expression. In some cases, engaging in creative activities can even help treat trauma symptoms.
Summary: In Belgium, 3 schools (120 total students) of migrant children were randomly assigned to a control or creative intervention curriculum. The study found that “students with high baseline levels of posttraumatic stress reported less trauma symptoms at posttest in the intervention group than in the control group”. The scientists involved with the study suspect that the effect is more pronounced in groups that have recently experienced acute traumatic stress, but nonetheless were able to successfully improve the mental health of elementary school children.
Rescript Your Internal Monologue
Treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Self-compassion involves being gentle with yourself during difficult times, acknowledging your imperfections, practicing self-care, and making an effort to practice gratitude.
Summary: A study in Iran analyzed over 300 male soldiers using a series of questionnaires including the WHO Quality of Life Assessment and the Perceived Stress Scale test. The researchers found a strong correlation between mental health and expressions of gratitude. In addition, the study found that “perceived stress and mental health, together and uniquely, partially mediated the relationship between dispositional gratitude and quality of life.”
NOTE: Though these small changes have shown significant benefits in clinical studies, remember that everyone's mental health journey is unique, and it's important to find strategies that work best for you. If you're experiencing severe mental health issues, always consult with a qualified healthcare professional for personalized advice and support.
In addition, show compassion to those who are struggling with their mental health. Emotional and mental well-being aren’t fully understood (not even by scientists!). Just because a strategy works for you, doesn’t mean it will help your friend, neighbor, cousin, or internet random.
Above all, practice empathy - you never know the internal struggles others might be going through. Only through understanding can we truly support each other.