Healthy Habits for Mental Wellness
Mental wellness goes beyond the absence of mental illness. Additionally, it is the presence of healthy life principles demonstrated in healthy habits.
An awareness of why we do what we do in regard to mental wellness will help us keep focused on healthy choices.
Here are twenty suggestions for healthy habits we can practice in five different dimensions, which integrate to enhance mental health.
- Physical – nurturing healthy bodies
- Social – connecting with others, maintaining positive relationships
- Emotional – understanding ourselves, coping with our struggles, sharing love and empathy
- Intellectual – learning new skills and accepting new challenges
- Spiritual – establishing relationship with the Giver and Sustainer of life and health
- (1) Balanced Diet
“A balanced mood and feelings of wellbeing can be protected by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water” (Mental Health Foundation).
- (2) Regular Exercise
Not only does exercise promote blood flow to the brain; it encourages new brain cells; it also decreases risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
- (3) Fluid Intake
Our brains depend on proper hydration to function optimally. . . Dehydration can impair short-term memory function and the recall of long-term memory. The ability to perform mental arithmetic . . . is compromised when your fluids are low” (Joshua Gowin, Ph.D). Two liters per day is recommended.
- (4) Adequate Sleep
Irritability and moodiness are some of the first signs a person experiences from lack of sleep. Lack of adequate sleep after the initial signs can result in apathy, slowed speech, flattened emotional responses, impaired memory and an inability to be novel or multitask (Psychologist and Sleep Expert David F. Dinges Ph.D). The amount of recommended sleep each night is
- 7 to 8 hours for adults;
- 9 hours for teens;
- 10 hours for school-aged children.
- (5) Conversation
A face to face conversation (speaking and listening) every day helps to improve, or at least, maintain your vocabulary. If face to face is impossible, a telephone conversation can substitute. A sense of connectedness is vital to mental wellness.
- (6) Volunteering
“The experience of helping others can lead to a sense of greater self-worth and confidence. And volunteering can provide you with a sense of purpose, especially in tough times. . . It helps you build vital interpersonal ties and social networks that can combat depression and isolation” (United Healthcare).
- (7) Membership
Membership in a religious or community group promotes a sense of belonging, which is vital to mental wellness. Belong, not only because you benefit from the companionship, but also because you have something to offer. Sharing your talents make other people happy; in turn, that makes you happy.
- (8) Travel
According to Dr. Jack Bennet, life coach, being in a different place with different people make you more curious, more daring and more hungry for life. You see a new world every time you travel.
- (9) The Garden View
“Horticultural therapists say gardens produce the most positive effects on mental health, by providing a sense of control - the psychological counter to stress and anxiety. . . The science is now being used in hospitals and rehabilitation centres in the U.S., where "healing gardens" have been created for patients to look at and walk through” (George Gordon, Daily Mail).
- (10) Hugs
Studies show that regular hugs by relatives and friends result in increased nerve activity and upbeat moods. One recent study shows that an affectionate hug is more beneficial than regular church attendance in improving our frame of mind.
- (11) Laughter
“Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health” (Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D). Laughter strengthens the immune system and is an antidote to pain and conflict.
- (12) Love Letters
Letter writing is an old fashioned art, with bonding potential as strong today as ever. First, you open your heart wide in love and confidence, then you give away your feelings to someone special who alone has access to the evidence. The only thing that makes you feel better is receiving a love letter in response.
- (13) Memory Work
Memorize something new: one of the speeches of your favorite great orator, the lyrics of a tune you love, a new direction home from a place you visit occasionally. To help you remember, visualize appropriate sights, sounds and scents to accompany a difficult line in the speech or song, or the name of a street where you’re supposed to turn. Use the memory: use it or lose it.
- (14) Classical Music
Classical music increases brain activity more positively than other kinds of music. Two pieces of Mozart's music; Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K. 448) and Piano Concerto No. 23 (K. 488), were found to have this effect (Ben Rubenstein et al).
- (15) Reading
A study by neuroscientist, Stanislas Dehaene, revealed that people who do not read will struggle with processing verbal information, making a slow reader slow in every other academic area. Reading is a form of visual exercise. The visual stimulation of reading exercises the occipital lobe. This helps with the imagination, which will also help with creativity.
- (16) Games and Puzzles
No game is sufficient by itself, because each one targets specific brain functions. Scrabble helps you learn new words and definitions and enhances your language skills. Crosswords are especially for word finding. Sudoku enriches mental alertness, concentration and creative thinking. Healthy habits for mental wellness should include different types of games and puzzles.
- (17) Daily Devotionals
Every religious system promotes a time of prayer and meditation, preferably at the beginning of the day. The devotional session is a time to render worship and express gratitude for life, which you acknowledge that you have no ability to sustain. The sense of connection with God, the Supreme Being, boosts your mental awareness that supernatural support is available throughout the day. You worry less and praise more.
- (18) Gratitude Lists
Who has not experienced the positive mental boost which comes with counting your blessings? Your mind cannot accommodate negative thoughts like criticisms and complaints while it is hosting a session of thanksgiving. List your blessings at regular intervals and keep the record for repeated encouragement.
- (19) Sing-A-Longs
If folks tell you that you cannot carry a tune, turn up the music and sing softly, but sing anyway. Nothing lifts the spirits like inspirational lyrics sung to a tune which captures the mood of your choice—happy, comforting, hopeful or prayerful. YouTube has a great selection.
- (20) Praying for Others
Praying for others provides an opportunity for you to forget your own troubles. It is an exercise which helps you become interested in someone else, whether to request compassion on their behalf, or to share their expectations. Praying for others underscores your personal belief in a God who cares.
© 2013 Dora Isaac Weithers