Mental health issues seem to be on a rise, making it more important than ever to cherish and manage one’s well-being by learning how to improve your mental and emotional health. But what does that entail? For most people, mental health is an afterthought or a marker of overall well-being at best. And while the public is aware of the importance of mental health, many feel they can’t afford the time or resources needed to improve theirs.
Quitting a stressful job to pursue an opportunity or investing more time in yourself can help. Many people aren’t in a position where they can (even temporarily) give up their best source of income or take better care of themselves amid professional and personal responsibilities, from paying the bills to childcare.
In many cases, the only path to improving your mental health is to learn to manage those stressors to the best of your abilities and develop quick, effective, and healthy coping skills. Let’s explore what that means.
Defining Mental and Emotional Health
Your mental and emotional well-being is tied to what you think and how you’re treated. Internal and external factors help dictate these things, from more innate factors such as genetic predisposition and personality to things outside your mind and control, such as daily stressors (rude customers, a sick child, problems with your boss’ management), and traumatic events.
It’s one thing to empower a person to improve their circumstances. It is another to teach them to become resilient through coping with their circumstances. Good emotional and mental health requires both.
That means developing the self-awareness, confidence, and optimism needed to identify and pursue opportunities that might improve your life. But it also means learning to accept and live with immutable realities.
Poor Mental and Emotional Health Affects Outlook on Life
Poor mental and emotional health can affect a person’s outlook on life and lead to chronically low mood, sadness, and more anxious thinking. It can contribute to the development of a mental disorder, such as generalized anxiety or major depression. It can increase the likelihood of substance use.
Internal and external factors can wear down a person’s defenses, making it harder for them to resist intrusive and negative thoughts and find joy and pleasure in things that might once have been effective ways to cope with stress. Coming back from a place like that is more difficult and takes more time.
Building the Necessary Skills
Improving your mental and emotional health is as much about building skills as any other form of self-improvement. That means it can be difficult starting out and may not feel very effective.
Affirmations, positive reinforcement, support from a group, new coping mechanisms, journaling, sleep rituals, and even therapy – these methods take time to develop a full effect in improving your mental health.
Relying on Support and Building New Habits
In that time, you will want to rely on the support of others to keep you on the right path. Ask for help from friends and family to remind you to engage with your new hobbies or write in your journal.
You will build new habits that affect the way you think, behave, and feel. It will become easier to control and avoid episodes of sadness or anxiety. You will have an easier time identifying your limits at work or in your day-to-day. You will know how to appropriately cope with a stressor, whether it’s treating yourself to a long bath before calling it an early night or pouring your anxious thoughts and energy into your bike rides or long runs.
Work On Your Relationships
Going to a therapy program alone isn’t always the best or only way to address your mental and emotional wellbeing.
If there’s a lot of friction between you and your partner or you and your family, then perhaps joint therapy, such as relationship therapy, family therapy, or marriage counseling, may be more effective in identifying ways everyone can better contribute to the wellbeing of the others.
These aren’t attempts to deflect blame or avoid personal accountability. Neither is joint therapy the answer to a toxic relationship, especially if one party doesn’t want to consider therapy as an option.
But in cases where your relationship can be a source of conflict and personal distress from time to time, joint therapy can be an effective way for both of you (or all of you) to find out how to treat each other better.
Stress Management is Key
Effective stress management is an important part of improving and maintaining your mental well-being. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your day-to-day and cannot dial back on the amount of work you do or the responsibilities you face, stress management skills become even more important for avoiding burnout and maintaining your sanity. They may include:
Better Sleep Hygiene
Avoid caffeine in the afternoons (wean off through milder stimulants, such as tea), cut off screentime an hour before bed, use sounds (such as ASMR) or music to provide aural stimuli, or white noise for sleep, and keep your room cool and dark.
Healthier Eating Habits
You don’t need a radical shift to a plant-based diet or completely swear off eating out. Dedicate even more time to making your own meals – there are easier, quicker, more convenient ways to eat healthier and see the benefits.
Take Opportunities to Move
If your job does not involve some sort of manual labor, then you likely aren’t in a position to devote a lot of time and energy to moving around. But you don’t need to hit the gym after work to reap the mental benefits of physical movement. Use other ways to get your steps up, such as taking breaks to take the long way to the bathroom, getting more steps in throughout your commute, or consider biking to and from work if the distance is feasible.
Pick Self-Care Activities
A little bit of gaming on the weekends, movie night with your partner, a long hot tub session, a weekly pedicure at home – we all have our little rituals that help deal with the stress and give us something to look forward to at the end of the week. Find yours and be sure to make time for it every week, if possible.
These are just some examples. Sources of natural dopamine and oxytocin – like hugging your friends, enjoying a piece of dark chocolate, or setting up a little mini-garden by your window sill – can serve as effective forms of stress management.
How to Improve Your Mental and Emotional Health with a Professional
In the same way you might consult a dietitian about cleaning up your eating habits or seek out a respected trainer and physical therapist about your rehab and fitness goals, you may want to see a therapist about working on your mental health – even if you don’t feel depressed or anxious most days.