Mental health is not like a marathon; there’s no finish line and no amount of steps to take until you get a trophy or a blue ribbon. There is no destination at all. Instead, our mental wellbeing gradually shifts and changes as we go through life, which means we can always be improving it.
Since happiness doesn’t have a withdrawal limit, we can all be prioritizing mental health. “Be calmer,” “feel less stressed,” and “find contentment,” should be life goals more important than “get a raise,” or “get married.” To make steps towards these goals by the end of the week, here are 17 easy changes that will drastically improve your mental health and happiness.
1. Schedule meditation into your daily routine.
By now you know that meditation can help clear your mind. However, meditating is easier said than done because it’s never one-size-fits-all. Instead of vowing to “start meditating,” (because is a goal that vague ever going to happen?), actually schedule a few minutes of meditation into your daily routine. For example, during the time your coffee is brewing, sit down for five minutes of quiet meditation, or put in headphones on your morning train ride and listen to a meditation app like Headspace.
Once you get used to meditation without spending extra time or effort, you’ll start to crave more. Then you can schedule 20 or 30 minutes for a practice. However, if you start off thinking of meditation as something you need to set aside extra time and effort for, the practice might not stick (or even start), no matter how well-intentioned. Instead of checking another thing off the to-do list, think of fitting in meditation among small moments, in a routine you already have set.
2. Unfollow or mute social media accounts that aren’t serving you.
Spend a few minutes this week to completely detox your social media. Unfollow or mute all the accounts that do not make you feel inspired, happy, or confident. Crowd out the accounts that aren’t serving you with accounts that are. Follow other women whose careers you admire to network with and learn from, and find meditation or inspiration accounts that will serve as a reminder to be calm and happy whenever you get tempted to scroll.
Also, rethink whether bloggers and accounts you follow are providing you with inspiring content, or if their posts just make you feel bad about where you are in life. Likewise, it’s time to mute or unfollow that frenemy you had in high school or your sorority sister’s ex-boyfriend’s cousin that you met a few times. Instead of watching other people’s lives, go live your own.
3. Say “no” when you mean no.
How often do you avoid saying “no” when you want to? Do you find yourself doing favors for others when you’re already feeling stretched too thin? Do you pick up work for coworkers when you’re too busy, but feel the need to prove your work ethic? Do you say yes to plans you’re not excited about or hang out with friends to avoid FOMO, even though you want a chill night in? One of the most powerful things you can do for your mental health is to say what you mean and be true to what you need.
Master the art of saying “no.” Say, “I’d love to help you, but at the moment my schedule is too full to give as much time and effort to this task as it deserves” and “I need a night by myself tonight, but let’s get coffee this weekend” whenever you feel the need to please.
4. Diffuse essential oils based on your mood.
When you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or are just in a bad mood, sometimes it’s the small things you do to care for yourself that make the biggest difference. We love using essential oils for many purposes, but our favorite is for a little boost. If you want to destress or relax, diffuse lavender essential oil. If you need more energy or want to improve joy, try peppermint oil or citrus oil. For a mood-boost without a diffuser, tap essential oils on wrists and temples, or just inhale the scent from the bottle with a few deep breaths.
5. Make time for people who make you laugh.
“Laughter is the best medicine” is a worn-out cliché we’ve all heard way too many times, but there’s a lot of truth to it. Studies have been done on the therapeutic benefits of laughter. Laughter releases endorphins that can improve mental health and can also build community. Feeling a sense of belonging is crucial for mental health, so even if you prefer being alone, make some time to foster meaningful (and fun) relationships with people who bring out the goofy in you.
6. Dedicate at least 30 minutes before bed to relaxation.
Getting enough quality sleep is crucial for mental health, but we often expect to work vigorously on our laptops or scroll through Instagram until the minute our head hits the pillow. The problem with the modern lifestyle is that the body needs time to ease into sleep. Spend at least 30 minutes before bed without any screens, distractions, or stressors. Take a bath, do some light stretching, or sip a chamomile tea and read a book.
7. Try the “Choose Again Method” when negative thoughts come up.
I first read about the Choose Again Method while reading Super Attractor by Gabby Bernstein, but it’s essentially what my therapist has told me for years. It’s how you train your mindset to shift out of negative emotions and focus on the positive. The first step is to notice the negative thought. We all have an inner dialogue and a cycle of thoughts we hear in our minds every day that might be self-destructive (“I’m not good enough” and “I’m not as pretty as her”) or based in worry and stress (“my to-do list is so full, I won’t be able to get everything done”).
Once you notice your negativity, forgive the thought. Then choose a positive sentence or mantra to replace the negative one. We have the power to choose the thoughts we want to dominate our actions, beliefs, and mental health.
8. Declutter and clean your space.
Wellness expert and Love Wellness CEO, Lo Bosworth, gave me the motto I now hear in my head every single day when I’m tempted to throw dirty laundry on the floor: “tidy room, tidy mind!” Clutter in your space can translate into clutter in your mind, so dedicate extra time this week to go through junk drawers or reorganize your closet. Once your space feels tidy, make sure it stays that way by fitting cleaning into your daily routine, like making your bed every morning and cleaning all surfaces in the evenings.
9. Ask more questions.
The best advice I’ve ever received when feeling stressed, helpless, or sad, is to get outside myself. It has truly made the biggest difference in my life. Focusing on the happiness of other people immediately makes your problem seem unimportant or small. Though venting might feel good, it will likely feel better to instead ask someone else how they’re doing (and actually listen to the answer).
Besides when you’re feeling bad or having a hard time, asking more questions can improve your overall mental health. Be curious about everything, always keep learning, and look to learn more about other people than you talk about yourself.
10. Take a walk outside.
An energy or mood boost can be as easy as stepping outside. Going outdoors (even when it’s cold outside) can improve mood and health. One study found that even just 20 minutes outside can make you happier. Overall, there is a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, so grab your spring jacket and take your lunch break outside or go on a hike instead of going to the gym. If you can, fit in outdoor walks into your daily routine, which will improve both mental and physical health.
11. Say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry.”
I have a terrible habit of saying “sorry” all the time. I say “sorry” when I need someone to repeat what they said or I bump into a stranger, and I apologize profusely for being late or making a mistake (two things that happen a lot). While “sorry” is just a word, language can affect the way we think and feel about ourselves, and women in particular are taught to be polite by putting themselves down. Instead of “sorry,” I’ve been making a conscious effort to say “thank you” instead. Saying “thank you for being patient!” instead of “sorry for being late!” is another way to practice gratitude, but it’s also a consistent way to be kinder to yourself.
12. Wear something you would normally save for special occasions.
Many of us are taught to “save” for special occasions. We only wear our expensive dresses to fancy events (not happy hour drinks on a Thursday), and we only light the nice candles when we have people over instead of a solo night in. But why wait for specific events to do, wear, and have the things that make us feel special? Let go of delaying the things that bring you joy. Pop a bottle of champagne on a Tuesday, wear your brightest red lipstick to work on a Wednesday, and stop waiting for special occasions to wear your favorite shoes.
13. Practice forgiveness.
Forgiveness is thought of as beneficial for the person who has messed up, which is often what prevents us from giving forgiveness in the first place (because maybe not everyone deserves it). But forgiveness is actually more beneficial for the person giving forgiveness than receiving it. Forgiveness means letting go of the bad feelings that are affecting you in more ways than you probably realize. Work on accepting people for who they are, realizing it is often your expectations, not other people’s actions, that disappoint you.
14. Move your body for 30 minutes every day.
The mind-body connection is powerful, and movement not only boosts physical health, but it boosts mental health as well. Even if you don’t have time to go to hot yoga or a HIIT class, aim to move your body for just 30 minutes a day. You can go for a walk on your lunch break, do a yoga flow at home, or have a mini dance party while you cook dinner. No matter how much time you have, make sure you’re doing physical activity that you look forward to, and not a workout you dread.
15. Start a mindfulness practice when eating.
Mindfulness has taken the mental health world by storm, and while it can be a complex subject, mindfulness is actually fairly simple. Being “mindful” means having open attention to the present moment. To live mindfully means focusing on what you’re experiencing in the present, without anticipating the future or reflecting on the past.
While mindfulness is used in certain kinds of therapy and meditation, I challenge you to practice mindfulness in the regular, average moments of your day, like eating meals. Similar to intuitive eating, mindful eating can help you not only take control of your eating habits, but is a practice that helps improve your overall mental health. Step away from your desk, turn off the TV, and start by noticing the smells and tastes of your food. Take time to thoroughly chew and enjoy, feeling thankful for the nourishment you’re receiving. Notice how your body is feeling and stop when you’re no longer hungry.
16. Be grateful for something new every day.
Maybe you’ve heard of gratitude journaling where you write down what you’re grateful for as a meditation practice, or maybe you just know how good gratitude is for your relationships and psychological health. You might even mentally make a gratitude list rather than counting sheep when you get into bed at night (a practice made popular by Bing Crosby).
While any feelings of gratitude spark positivity, challenge yourself to be grateful for something new every single day. Hold yourself accountable by recording it each night, and see how many things you’ll find to be grateful for besides your family or getting eight hours of sleep (my two gratitude go-tos). Not only is this a practice of gratitude that can improve happiness, but it requires you to be conscious throughout the entire day of new things to be grateful for.
17. Practice your purpose.
Having and experiencing a life purpose is one of the most important factors of mental health. In fact, one study found that people who feel a sense of purpose recover better after experiencing negative situations, and another study suggests that people with a sense of purpose can actually live longer. Your “purpose” does not have to be your career, and it’s not something you have to wait until the end of your life to achieve. Your purpose is what you understand to be the reason you exist or the thing you feel most fulfilled by. It could be caring for your children, fighting for a good cause, or even creating meaningful artwork.
No matter what your purpose is, work for it every day. Do something that makes you feel fulfilled or like you’re working towards a goal (that’s not a goal driven by money or success). If you’re not sure of your “purpose” (as many people are not), know that purpose is a practice, not a destination. Schedule time daily or weekly to explore the things you love to do the most, whether it’s to play a sport, watercolor a portrait, or take care of animals at the shelter. Do something daily that makes hours feel like minutes.