Mental health and mental illness are not the same things. Unfortunately, some people confuse the two and overlook their mental well-being. Finding activities to improve mental health benefits us all because we all have mental health.
In addition, the sad reality is that in 2020, 21% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness, and 5.6% of U.S. adults experienced severe mental illness (1). Those numbers are likely less than the reality of the mental health crisis because many people go undiagnosed and untreated.
Also, the American Psychological Association (APA) defines stress as a “national mental health crisis” because stress causes lasting effects that “could yield serious health consequences for years to come” (2). Chronic stress puts your health at risk. So managing a solid level of self-care while maintaining healthy relationships with your loved ones is essential for good mental health. Moreover, these activities have tremendous stress-management benefits for anyone willing to commit and practice.
Identifying stressors in your life to achieve personal wellness is necessary. Stress has several negative effects, including chest pains, stomach and digestion issues, insomnia, and headaches. In addition, stress increases your risk for cardiovascular disease, exceptionally high blood pressure, and stroke.
Exercising Activities to Improve Mental Health
Research indicates that aerobic or gym exercises reduce anxiety and depression. However, it also suggests that exercise is often an intervention technique neglected in mental health care. That’s unacceptable hindsight that needs to be acknowledged.
1. Physical Exercises
These exercises include swimming, jogging, dancing, walking, and bicycling. In addition, the same study proved that gardening reduced depression and anxiety.
Exercise boosts improvements in mood, cognitive function, stress reduction, and self-esteem. Health benefits include a strengthened immune system, mental alertness, endurance, improved sleep, and increased energy. In addition, cholesterol reduction and enhanced cardiovascular fitness.
Exercising boosts serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, affecting the ability to focus and pay attention. Finally, exercising also reduces the symptoms of attention-deficit disorder (ADHD).
According to the CDC, people should be exercising ideally for 30-minutes a day, five times per week. However, exercise activities to improve mental health don’t need to be 30 consecutive minutes. Instead, you can break a half-hour up into 10-minute increments (3).
So, for example, you can briskly walk for 10-minutes, take a break, walk for another 10-minutes, and so forth. The goal is at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for optimal health. Brisk walking reduces blood pressure and improves overall cardiovascular health. So make time for regular exercise.
2. Breathing Exercises
Deep breathing exercises are people’s most accessible resource to calm themselves down and process their emotions. Breathing exercises are excellent coping skills and help people respond rather than react explosively. In addition, it provides a release of endorphins which naturally induce calmness.
So practicing deep breathing exercises to improve mental health. Breathing relieves stress, anxiety, PTSD, worrying, and feeling overwhelmed. So inhale with a deep breath and exhale to let go. Breathe through the stressors and worries.
Social Activities to Improve Mental Health
Social isolation and loneliness are detrimental to mental health. Conversely, engaging in social activities improves your mood and reduces the risks of anxiety and depression.
Hundreds of studies establish that social support benefits mental and physical health (Cohen 2004; Uchino 2004). Social support may have indirect effects on health through enhanced mental health, by reducing the impact of stress, or by fostering a sense of meaning and purpose in life (Cohen 2004; Thoits 1995).National Instutues of Health (NIH)
With that in mind, what social engagements are you putting on the calendar for effective stress management? First, spending time with someone else is necessary, no matter how introverted you may be. So, no excuses!
3. Real Relationships
Maintaining healthy relationships with loved ones is essential for good mental health. On the contrary, entertaining toxic relationships is terrible for your mental and physical health. So it’s vital that you disengage from toxic people and entertain genuine relationships with healthy people. Unfortunately, in today’s busy world, it is easy to disconnect. Phone calls became text messages, and luncheons became Zoom coffee dates overnight.
For many, social media is the only social connection they maintain, and that’s unhealthy. First, social media isn’t real life. So you’re voluntarily entertaining relationships without emotional substance. Second, research shows that social media damages mental health and can lead to depression, anxiety, and feelings of worthlessness (4). Third, in some instances, people have been bullied into suicide on social platforms.
So the longer you scroll, the more dangerous you’re to become part of that statistic. Instead, put your phone down and have lunch with a friend. Enjoy an actual telephone conversation with a loved one instead of those two-word texts and flooding of memes that many relationships have become. Having authentic relationships will provide emotional support and help you cope with stress.
4. Learn New Skills
Learning new skills can increase psychological well-being. Also, it can boost your self-esteem and self-confidence while giving you a sense of purpose. In addition, learning something new provides a great way to meet new people. Learn new calming activities such as Tai Chi, painting, yoga, or a class about healthy eating. Discovering how to prepare meals that are good for you and your family is a mindful way to feel better mentally and physically.
Volunteering stimulates the brain’s pleasure center, releasing dopamine, which naturally reduces stress and increases positivity. Volunteering activities to improve mental health includes volunteering services, time, money, and health. There are several ways to volunteer all of these things—however, research before donating because there are various scams.
Also, some charities aren’t doing what they represent themselves as doing. In addition to volunteering, performing random acts of kindness boosts mental health. Taking care of other people is rewarding in many ways.
6. Join or Host a Weekly Activity
Consider hosting or joining a weekly group or club. One idea is a church group. Many churches have home groups that are small groups to connect in. Additional ideas include:
- Recovery meetings.
- A book club.
- A cooking at-home group.
- Home painting class with your friends.
- Game Night.
It’s essential to feel connected. So who are your social connections? Spending quality time with friends and family members helps build and maintain a solid foundation with your support group.
Relaxation Activities to Improve Mental Health
Finding relaxation activities to improve mental health that works for you is crucial. Stress plays a significant factor in psychological and physical health decline. Finally, discovering how to manage stress to relax the mind and body is critical for overall well-being. So try a few different methods and make an informed decision on what works best for you and gets you to a relaxation response.
Massage is a therapeutic technique that provides soothing pain and stress relief with muscle relaxation. A good massage is healing when you’re feeling stressed and tense. Be sure to drink plenty of water afterward to flush toxins.
According to the National University of Health Services, research shows that massage has four mental benefits: improved relaxation, increased happiness, efficient rest, and alleviating some symptoms of chronic illnesses.
Meditation is a relaxation technique that people have benefited from for thousands of years. Meditation practices produce improved focus and concentration. In addition, it lowers stress levels and anxiety, improves pain tolerance, and benefits people with substance abuse disorders. Furthermore, long-term practices can lower your resting heart rate.
Mindfulness meditation induces a calm mental state by focusing your attention through training techniques. Also, according to the APA, “mindfulness meditation is a research-proven way to reduce stress” (5). So try to be mindful and meditate and see if you experience these benefits.
An active prayer life is not often scientifically examined, but research shows that people who view God as a loving deity experience health benefits. These benefits include stress reduction, reduced anxiety, lessened depression symptoms, and improved cognitive resources.
Also, from experience, prayer can significantly improve your mental health when faith is a part of your life. I’ve experienced several benefits through the power of prayer journaling and recommend that style of worship. Reflecting on old entries and seeing where you’ve grown or acknowledging your blessings is an incredible experience. Pray for yourself and the world around you.
In 2009, Dr. David Lewis conducted a study by the University of Sussex; researchers discovered that reading for as few as six minutes reduced stress by up to 68 percent (5). That’s a dramatic reduction and worth acknowledging and practicing. Moreover, the researchers believe that the concentration of reading a book assists with distracting the brain from stressful thinking. Which also relaxes muscle tension and reduces heart rate.
Mental Wellness Activities to Improve Mental Health
Implementing mental wellness activities to improve psychological health is most beneficial for long-term relief and healing. In addition, daily stress management activities are crucial when the APA has declared a mental health crisis. Some daily activities to consider are gratitude, journaling, and mindfulness.
11. Practicing Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a technique used to focus attention on the present time with full engagement without judgment. Strong research indicates mindfulness reduces stress and ruminating thoughts. In addition, it can reduce symptoms of mild to moderate depression, anxiety, and aid in substance abuse relapse (7).
Mindfulness blends modern psychology and the ancient wisdom of meditation to help us live more fully and with a greater sense of perspective. It is the awareness that arises from paying attention to our experience in the present moment, with curiosity, compassion and acceptance.The University of Oxford Mindfulness Centre
If mindfulness is new to you, you may benefit from a beginner’s guide to mindfulness book or audible. Alternatively, YouTube is your best friend for discovering new ways of inducing calm with mindfulness. Practice living in the present moment to navigate mental well-being.
12. Setting Goals and Intentions
Setting and achieving short-term goals generates a positive effect on a person’s motivation, making accomplishing long-term goals accessible. In addition, it’s an essential step in recovering from mental illness. For example, people with depression and anxiety disorders can use goal-setting as part of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to begin the process of building a healthier life (8).
Journaling is a healing process if you allow honesty and vulnerability with yourself. Mental wellness benefits include stress reduction, anxiety alleviation, and coping with depression. In addition, it helps you acknowledge and process emotions and discover who you are and what’s important to you in life.
14. Practicing Gratitude
Similarly to performing acts of kindness, practicing gratitude feeds the brain’s pleasure center. Essentially gratitude boosts serotonin, activating the brainstem to produce dopamine. So the more you indulge in gratitude practices and gracious thoughts, the happier you will feel. You can combine this practice with journaling and express what you’re grateful for there.
Alternatively, you can say gratitude affirmations and commit them to memory. Also, communicating to others about what you’re thankful for in knowing them is an act of gratitude.
Speaking with a therapist is the most significant of these activities to improve mental health because they are educated and licensed in the specialty field. In addition, therapy is life-changing if you have underlying issues causing substance abuse or trauma or need a professional ear to listen. Finally, taking care of yourself first is essential before taking care of someone else. So don’t neglect regular mental health care.
Thankfully, people are moving away from the negative stigma once attached to talking about mental health and receiving help with it. You can get a mental health specialist referral from your physician or speak with a virtual therapist. Here is a deal if you’re interested in exploring online therapy for 20% off.
Finding activities to improve mental health is vital for everyone. Explore many activities to find what works best for you and implement those practices. So, take deep breaths to change your emotional state, and exercise for endorphin boosts for immediate relief. Additionally, incorporate relaxation, social, and mental wellness activities to improve mental health into your daily schedule.
Learning new skills, such as relaxation techniques, improves mental health and depression symptoms. In addition, embracing mindfulness will relieve the body and mind of stress and anxiety. Reducing stress and replacing negative thoughts with positive ones is vital to improving mental health.
Finally, make time for your mental well-being. Don’t neglect yourself and your daily activities. Pay attention to stressful situations and apply these activities to cope with stress. Thank you for reading and spreading the love.
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Elizabeth Ervin is the owner of Sober Healing. She is a freelance writer passionate about opioid recovery and has celebrated breaking free since 09-27-2013. She advocates for mental health awareness and encourages others to embrace healing, recovery, and spirituality.