6 Daily Habits That Will Improve Your Mental Health, According to Experts
These practices only take a few minutes each day, but they can make a world of difference.
Mental health is complex. Some days you may feel like complete garbage, while other days, you’re smiling from morning until night. But scientists and therapists have discovered small things you can do every day to knock out the majority of those garbage days.
If someone told you that it would just take a few minutes each day to make yourself happier, would you try it? Especially if everything you had to do was free? We spoke with therapists who offered their best habits for improving your mental health STAT, no pills required.
Plus, they’re all backed by science, so they really do work. Try these daily (or as often as possible) to improve your mental health.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Sleep is critical for mental health, says Lloyd Glauberman, a clinical psychologist in New York and creator of the app Lifestyle Intelligence.
“We now know that when we sleep, our brain cleans itself,” Glauberman says. “The brain takes out the garbage to prepare for the next day.” It’s crucial to sleep at least seven hours each night. Otherwise, your brain will be clogged with the anxieties and traumas from previous days.
Gratitude shifts your attention from negative emotions to positive ones, improving your mental health, says Erin Dierickx, a licensed marriage and family therapist associate at Erin D Therapy in Seattle. It also improves your immune system, lowers blood pressure, lessens feelings of loneliness and makes you feel happier overall. Dierickx suggests writing a weekly letter of gratitude to yourself or to someone else. Alternatively, make it a daily habit to write down three things you’re grateful for.
Several studies have linked an increase in positive thoughts, decreased anxiety and lower levels of fatigue when individuals exercise outside versus inside on a treadmill, Dierickx says. Views of nature fire up specific parts of your brain that have opioid receptors and are tied to the dopamine reward center, initiating feelings of wellness and motivation required for behavioral change. But strolling through the park on your phone or with other distractions can actually have the opposite effect, causing more stress.
“When you do choose to step outside, try to dedicate that time to literally stopping and smelling the roses, or focusing on your senses as you stroll,” Dierickx says.
Exercising is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health, says Boston-based psychotherapist Angela Ficken. She suggests making it a priority, scheduling it into your day as you would with any other appointment. Just walking quickly for 30 minutes a day will help with your mental well-being.
This is best done when you wake first thing in the morning, but they can be done at any time, says Katie Wenger, a psychotherapist in Philadelphia. Writing down your own positive affirmations or listening to positive affirmations can be a way to give yourself a positive and affirming message about who you are and how you want to experience life, according to Wenger.
“It sets the tone for successful inner dialogue for the day and confidence,” she says.
Set a Personal Intention
Decide each morning what quality or energy you want to invite into your day, says Celeste Labadie, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Colorado and creator of The Anxiety Relief Method.
“For instance you could decide that, ‘This week, every morning, I give myself grace to make mistakes. I give myself grace to say no to others when I feel overwhelmed. I give myself grace to pause more throughout my day when I feel stressed,’” Labadie says. This technique is a powerful decision that helps rewire your neural pathways to put your mental health at the forefront of importance. Since many people have been conditioned to take care of others first, this prioritizing will be empowering to claim what you need in your day, Labadie says.