Optimizing Mental Health: Practical Tips and Techniques for a Balanced Mind

Our mental health impacts every aspect of our lives. When we're struggling with conditions like stress, anxiety, or depression, it can negatively affect our relationships, work performance, and overall well being. The good news is there are actionable steps we can take - both big and small - to better care for our mental health. This article provides practical techniques readers can start applying right away. 

Start a Gratitude Practice 

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude has been scientifically shown to improve mental health. When we intentionally focus on the people and things we are grateful for, it trains our brain to pay more attention to the positives in our lives. Begin by setting aside 5-10 minutes each day to write down a list of 3-5 things you feel grateful for. 

These could include a good conversation with a friend, the taste of a delicious meal, finishing an important project at work - anything that brought you joy or meaning. Over time, this daily act of focusing on blessings rather than burdens rewires the brain to be more optimistic.

Get Moving 

Regular exercise is one of the most effective natural mood boosters around. When we get our body moving, it releases feel-good neurochemicals like endorphins and serotonin. Going for a 30-minute walk, swim, dance session, or doing another form of cardio you enjoy 3-5 times per week gives your mental health an incredibly helpful boost. Strength training with weights 2-3 times a week has also been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. So, lace up your sneakers and unleash those endorphins!

Practice Mindfulness

The simple act of bringing full awareness to the present moment has remarkable mental health benefits. Mindfulness practices - which can include breathwork, body scans, meditation and more - activate relaxation pathways in the brain and turn down the intensity of our stress response. Set a goal to engage in 5-10 minutes of mindfulness first thing in the morning to start your day grounded and focused. 

You can also weave mini meditations into moments when you’re stuck waiting (in line at the store, in traffic). Over time, regularly dipping into mindful states reduces rumination (chronic rehashing of thoughts), calms emotional reactivity, and enhances focus. Popular mindfulness apps like Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer offer guided practices if you’re new to the concept.

Limit News Intake

While it’s important to stay informed, getting bombarded by a 24/7 news cycle can take a real toll on mental health. The onslaught of alarming headlines and negative stories activates our body’s threat response, making us feel anxious, overwhelmed, and helpless. 

Be mindful of only checking the news at specific times rather than having it run in the background all day. See if you can limit consumption to 30-60 minutes a day. For additional relief from the noise, try designating one day a week as a “news free” day. Use that time to engage in activities that nourish you like time in nature, catching up with a friend or working on a hobby.

Lean Into Social Support

Human beings are wired to connect. Though so much of our communication now happens through screens, research shows in-person quality time with people we care about has unparalleled mental health benefits. Make it a priority to regularly spend time with supporters who “get” you whether friends, relatives, colleagues, or neighbors. Share a coffee break together, meet up for a walk or enjoy a potluck dinner. 

Opening up about what you’re going through and receiving care, empathy and advice from people who know and trust you makes challenging times far less lonely. And don’t forget the mental health value of laughter – getting together with positive people who can share funny stories and make you belly laugh is true therapy!

Help Others

Truly one of the most powerful ways to give our own state of mind a boost is to be of service to someone else. Helping behaviors activate reward centers in the brain, reduce anxiety, increase self-esteem, and make us feel more connected to our community. Look for everyday opportunities to assist colleagues, surprise a friend with lunch, run an errand for a neighbor, donate to a cause you care about or volunteer at a local nonprofit. Even small acts of generosity get our focus off our own worries and make us feel we are part of something bigger.

Get Proper Sleep

Without adequate rest, every other area of wellbeing suffers. Ongoing sleep troubles take a major toll both physically and mentally. Prioritizing sufficient shut eye ensures our brain has downtime to regenerate and keeps critical functions like mood regulation, concentration and decision making running smoothly. Adults need between 7-9 hours per night, so take a look at your schedule and identify any adjustments needed to get to bed earlier. 

Also be diligent about powering down electronics well before bedtime, avoiding caffeinated beverages after 2 pm, establishing a calming pre-sleep routine and making your sleep environment as dark, quiet, and comfy as possible.

Seek Additional Support When Needed

For some, self-care strategies may not be enough, especially when dealing with traumatic events or more severe mental health concerns like major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. If you or someone you love experiences thoughts of self-harm, unmanageable feelings of hopelessness or any symptoms seriously interfering with daily functioning over an extended time, it is absolutely essential to reach out for professional support. 

Make an appointment with your doctor, connect to a therapist through online platforms like BetterHelp or Talkspace or call emergency services if you are in crisis. With compassionate guidance tailored to your unique situation, you CAN find relief and pathways to healing.

Caring for our mental fitness is just as important as caring for our physical fitness if we want to live healthy, balanced lives. Make these research-backed techniques part of your regular routine and be patient with yourself as you work to create positive changes. You have the power to grow towards greater emotional wellness one small step at a time.