Now more than ever, it is important to prioritize your mental health. Before the pandemic, a shocking number of Americans reported worsening mental health. In fact, 1.5 million more people suffered from symptoms of anxiety or depression in 2017 and 2018 than in 2016.
COVID-19 is only making matters worse. According to Mental Health America (MHA), “Over eight in 10 people who took a depression screen have scored with symptoms of moderate to severe depression consistently since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.” Anxiety is increasing at a similar rate.
These statistics may seem bleak, but these facts and figures are only part of the story. It is more than possible to take careful steps to prioritize your mental health and reverse this trend. Science backs it up.
Learn what you can do to put your mental health first and evidence-based ways you can improve your life.
Why Prioritize Your Mental Health?
First, understand that there are things you can do to successfully manage your mental health. Taking action to proactively improve your mental health isn’t easy, but it is well worth the effort. Why?
No matter what, all of us will, at some point, experience significant challenges. Whether it is the death of a loved one, a serious illness, a debilitating, life-changing injury, a financial crisis, or a divorce, these things happen and, without careful action, they have the potential to cause lasting — sometimes even life-long — depression and anxiety. True, working with child custody lawyers to determine whether you will have full or partial custody of your child and working with them to stipulate where your children will spend the holidays is an extremely emotional experience.
There are steps you can take to ensure you process difficult emotions with as little baggage as possible. Using this approach, there will be emotionally difficult times, there will be hard times, but there will be happy times, too.
Prioritize your mental health so you can fully appreciate life. These skills build resilience and help you enjoy the moment rather than stay irreparably stuck in the past.
Think About Your Diet
When you are taking steps to prioritize your mental health, you may not realize that many aspects of your physical health — nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle — can play a large role in your mental health. In fact, you can significantly curb the symptoms of anxiety and depression by paying attention to what you eat.
“Reduce your intake of foods that can adversely affect your brain and mood, such as caffeine, alcohol, trans fats, and foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones (such as certain meats),” HealthGuide recommends.
Increase your intake of healthy, nutritious foods that boost your mood and your overall well-being. Choose foods with lots of vitamin B and vitamin D and foods rich in selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. Eat dark green, leafy vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seafood, canola and soybean oils, and healthy seeds, like flaxseed.
Take it a step further. Do what you can to make nutritious foods as mouth-watering and crave-worthy as a cheeseburger and fries. Take cooking lessons and learn how to cook fruits, vegetables, and whole foods in ways that make them pleasant and enticing. For example, recipes like primavera broccoli crust pizzas sound decadent, but they pack a lot of nutrition as well.
Take Care Of Your Health
Once again, studies show that if you want to prioritize your mental health, your physical health matters, too. To optimize your mental health, pick up an exercise regime, and go to the doctor and dentist regularly.
Start by getting in the habit of exercising. “Active people are less depressed than inactive people. And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program,” Psychologist James Blumenthal tells the American Psychological Association (APA). Exercise increases blood flow in the brain, releases the feel-good hormone endorphins, fights chronic inflammation, and significantly decreases the likelihood of serious physical ailments, like certain types of cancer.
The key is to find an exercise you genuinely enjoy. If you do not enjoy running on the treadmill, for example, take it outside. Try running or hiking along scenic trails. Try dancing, Zumba, lifting weights, or yoga instead. Explore your options until you find something that sticks — something that you look forward to doing instead of something that you feel like you have to do.
Another important pointer is to do what you can when you can. If setting aside an hour or more for exercise seems daunting and unachievable… don’t. Instead, do short, effective workouts if that is what fits in best with your schedule. Look up 10- or 15-minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises online.
Make sure your newly found active lifestyle isn’t for naught. Get a checkup at least once per year. Remember that preventative healthcare is much more effective and amenable than treating serious conditions once they take hold.
See your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings. Maintaining good oral hygiene will have a positive impact on other areas of your health, and professionally cleaned teeth will give you an extra boost of confidence.
Feel Confident In Your Own Skin
Speaking of confidence, taking care of your skin can go a long way to improve your self-esteem. “If you have low self-esteem or confidence, you may hide yourself away from social situations, stop trying new things, and avoid things you find challenging,” the National Health Service (NHS) writes. Do what you can to improve your confidence — things like seeing a dermatologist about your skin — to properly prioritize your mental health.
For example, the skin condition rosacea causes raised, pus-filled bumps on the face. The bumps are red, plentiful, and inflamed. Unfortunately, it is not a condition that you can easily mask from others, and that can often lead to low self-esteem. If you are able, explore your options. Options like rosacea therapy can make an incredible difference — sometimes making your condition all but invisible.
Address any other hangups that may be contributing to your low self-esteem. Look into adult braces or Invisalign, adopt a healthy lifestyle to drop those last 10-20 pounds, and/or go shopping for new clothes that flatter you and fit well.
Whatever you can do to feel more confident, do it. Confidence will help improve your relationships, work, and life circumstances.
Schedule Appointments For Yourself
“Good looks not only open doors but also guarantee a long, healthy life — from the age of 30, the more attractive you are, the better your health,” The Independent reveals. For that reason, to prioritize your mental health, prioritize your looks.
Of course, looks are subjective and fleeting. Doing what you can to feel better about your looks makes sense but within reason. For the best results, keep it simple and achievable. In other words, opt for professional tooth whitening and waxing instead of plastic surgery.
Professional teeth whitening can do wonders. According to Hello! magazine, 25% of people do not feel good about their teeth and two-thirds admit it negatively affects their confidence. Teeth whitening can go a long way to correct this, particularly if you are a big coffee drinker. To keep teeth white between dentist visits, limit your consumption of beverages that stain your teeth, like coffee, black tea, and red wine or drink them through a straw and brush your teeth shortly after. Eat foods that stimulate saliva production and naturally whiten your teeth — foods like apples, pears, celery, and carrots. Sugarless gum also stimulates saliva production and combats acids that lead to cavities and tooth decay.
Complement dazzling white teeth with an eyebrow wax. As with your teeth, your eyes and eyebrows are among the first features strangers notice. “When people meet you, they assess your emotional expressions based on certain features, like your eyebrows and mouth,” Did You Know? writes. An eyebrow wax can ensure that your eyebrows are neat and well-groomed — and conveying only the messages you want them to. Other ways to keep your eyes looking their best is to get plenty of sleep and to moisturize regularly.
In order to feel good, start by looking good. Being able to smile freely in pictures and meet strangers without worrying about bushy, unruly eyebrows takes a lot off your plate. Small, accessible steps can make an incredible difference.
Take Time For Yourself
After cleaning up your diet, establishing an exercise routine, and taking small steps to improve your confidence and appearance, it is time to get down to work. To prioritize your mental health, set aside time just for you. For some, that is and of itself a challenge.
First, remember that in order to best serve others, you need to take care of yourself. That may very well entail spending more time doing something that simply makes you happy. Psychology Today recommends spending no fewer than 20 minutes per day prioritizing self-care or doing anything that brings you joy.
That may include taking 20 minutes to leisurely drink your coffee and read a book, going on a short walk, listening to music, or even finally splurging on that necklace or bracelet that caught your eye at one of your local jewelry stores.
Relax Your Way
When you begin to prioritize your mental health, you may start by following tips and tricks you pick up from friends and family or tips you find on the web. While these can be a valuable starting point, ultimately whatever works best for you is likely to be the most effective. You are more likely to stick to new habits you truly enjoy and benefit from, and these new, healthy habits can make an incredible difference to your mental health over time.
You may have to experiment to find what works best to relax you. Try drinking hot tea, taking bubble baths, soaking in a hot tub, doing breathing exercises, practicing meditation, or even testing out CBD infused oils.
Drinking hot tea improves your cardiovascular system, reduces stress, combats depression, and makes you more alert.
Explore the benefits of hydrotherapy in an official or not-so-official capacity with a physiotherapist and/or your very own hot tub and hot tub accessories. A soak in a hot tub eases muscle tension, significantly decreases aches and pains, lowers blood pressure, improves sleep, and reduces feelings of anxiety. Use soothing jets if you are in a jacuzzi. If you prefer to enjoy a hot bath in a traditional tub, use Epsom salts and aromatherapy-based bubble baths to enhance your experience.
Finally, CBD oils can help relieve pain, clear acne, improve heart health, and combat anxiety and depression. To experience the benefits of CBD oils, purchase CBD oil-infused treats, purchase CBD oil with a dropper to place a few drops under your tongue, or keep an eye out for CBD infused creams, lotions, and balms.
It is impossible to definitively say which one of these relaxing pastimes is best. Instead, try them out on your own and determine which ones help you truly relax and which ones you truly benefit from.
Don’t Go It Alone
Any time that you are taking actions to prioritize your mental health — large and small — consider working with a professional for the maximum benefits. A mental health professional can help you as you through the process and help you overcome any obstacles along the way. Further, a psychiatrist may be able to prescribe medications that help you along the way.
Anxiety and depression are extraordinarily prevalent and normal. Do not suffer needlessly because you are too afraid to reach out for help. A mental health professional can help validate your feelings and process them. Medication makes up for naturally occurring insufficiencies of feel-good hormones in the brain, like serotonin.
Left untreated, mental health problems only get worse. Depressive symptoms can easily pave the way for anxiety or even substance abuse disorders. Do not let your mental health get out of hand.
According to Healthline, “Sometimes, overcoming worry and nervousness is simply a matter of modifying your behavior, thoughts, and lifestyle.” Prioritize your mental health. Exercise, eat right, whiten your teeth, set aside time just for you, and work with a professional for optimal results.
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