Mental health is a pretty broad term – it refers to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being – but there are likely specific areas relevant to you that spring to mind when you read those two words. The state of our mental health impacts how we process and react to external events and others, affecting how we handle stress, make decisions and relate to the people around us. Improving our mental health can have a drastic impact on how we experience life.
We don’t take enough time to check in with our inner world and evaluate what being mentally healthy means to us. Are you generally positive and content? Are there things that you find yourself struggling with, and are you able to ask for help when you need it? What things can you change right now to improve your mental health, and what things can you accept as they are?
There are a number of simple activities that we can incorporate into our lives that are proven to improve mental health. For example, studies have shown that just a few weeks of practicing gratitude can lead to physical changes in the brain and positive effects in people’s lives. Having a regular and intentional gratitude practice is shown to boost mood, optimism and overall life satisfaction. Spending a few minutes journaling each day is a great way to incorporate this.
If journaling isn’t your thing, consider meditation. Research shows that mindfulness meditation also measurably changes the brains of practitioners. Mindfulness is an open, non-judgmental awareness of what you’re experiencing in each moment. There are a plethora of habit-building apps that can teach you how to meditate and practice mindfulness.
What happens to the meditative brain over time – even after just 4 days of regular practice? Increased gray matter in the auditory, sensory and frontal cortices, the latter being associated with working memory and executive decision making. Emotional regulation, perspective, empathy and compassion improve. The amygdala (responsible for anxiety and fear) shrinks, reducing stress levels.
Anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles are more common than we like to admit, but the more openly we talk about it, the less shame and fear will be associated with doing so. Incorporating daily practices to support your mental health can do wonders for yourself, and by extension, those around you.