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18 Ways to Build Mental Wellness

Tips to boost happiness and keep stress and anxiety levels low.

CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons
Tree of Happiness, Denis Barsukov, 2002, oil on canvas
Source: CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

1. Exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Anything that you enjoy and gets your heart pumping will do wonders for your mental health.

2. Eat healthy. Limit simple sugars and processed foods and eat more fruits, veggies, and healthy fats, like avocados, nuts, and olive oils. Make sure you are getting enough water.

If you struggle with anxiety, eat several small meals or snacks rather than just a few big meals, as drastic changes in blood sugar can make you feel more nervous.

3. Avoid mind-altering substances. Limit caffeine and alcohol and avoid illicit drugs.

While people respond differently, in general, these substances alter the way your mind works and can increase anxiety and depression. These effects can build up over the long term, so even if you don't feel an immediate increase in anxiety and depression when you use these substances, they may still be impacting your mood.

4. Prioritize sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene and aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you have trouble sleeping, see your doctor.

There are also workbooks and self-help strategies that can help improve your sleep. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is an especially well studied and effective tool for beating insomnia.

5. Build an internal locus of control. People who see themselves in control of their own destiny tend to be happier and more resilient. Practice taking responsibility for things that happen in your day-to-day life and focusing only on the things you can control.

6. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Building mindfulness can be as simple as repeatedly bringing yourself back to the present throughout the day. You can also consider starting a formal meditation practice centered on mindfulness, where you focus on bringing your attention back to your breath or another anchor.

7. Pray or meditate. Connecting with something bigger than yourself can help protect your mental health. You do not have to be religious to benefit from the positive effects of prayer or meditation.

8. Unload. Is there something that you can ask for help with? Can you decrease your responsibilities in some way? Work on setting boundaries at work and at home.

9. Surround yourself with positivity. Limit your exposure to toxic people and things, if possible. If you use social media, make sure that it is a positive experience, and only follow people who boost your mood or add value to your life in some way.

10. Practice gratitude. Gratitude can help lower stress, depression, and anxiety. This works especially well if you write it down.

Try writing down three things every night that you are grateful for. These can be tiny things, like the feeling of soft bed sheets or the warmth of a sunny day.

11. Connect with others. Isolation is both a cause and a symptom of mental illness. Join a club of like-minded people or try a new hobby. Engage with others daily, even if you just call someone you haven't spoken to in a while.

12. Give. Do something for someone else. Give a compliment, offer to help a family member, start volunteering. Do something to broaden your perspective and focus on someone else's needs.

13. Set one small goal every day. The point of this is not to increase your productivity or accomplish an incredible feat. Instead, you want to work on building up your confidence by making a small promise to yourself and keeping it.

14. Challenge negative thoughts. Thoughts are not facts. You can challenge a thought by asking yourself two questions: "Is it true?" and "Will believing it help me become a better version of myself?" If the answer to either of these is no, ditch it, and choose to believe the alternative.

15. Fake it. We often think of our thoughts and feelings as guiding our behaviors, but the reverse can be true as well. Act the way you want to feel by forcing yourself to smile, standing up tall, and dressing in a way that makes you feel confident; you may start to feel better from the outside in.

16. Use affirmations and reminders. Set a reminder or alarm to go off on your phone with an uplifting quote. Change your computer passwords to an inspiring word. Put post-it notes up to encourage yourself.

17. Practice self-compassion. Work on forgiving yourself and acknowledging that you are doing your best at any given moment. Speak to yourself as you would a friend or loved one.

18. Know when to get help. It is never wrong to seek professional help from your doctor or therapist. You should seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts or psychosis (seeing/hearing things others cannot see or hear), cannot function or fulfill obligations, have a history of serious mental illness, or if you have tried to improve on your own without success.

Many mental illnesses are brought on by biology that may not change despite good self-care. It doesn't mean that you are a failure; it just means you need a little help.

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