7 simple habits to improve your mental health and well-being
By Loren M. Blinde, PhD May 13, 2022 • 8 min
If you’ve been feeling more stress than usual, you aren’t alone. According to a recent American Psychological Association survey, a wide variety of stressors, from economic uncertainty to the COVID-19 pandemic, have increased Americans’ stress levels and worsened our mental health overall. Even if you’re not among the 1 in 5 American adults diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders, you may find it challenging to maintain a calm and positive outlook. But here’s the good news: Adopting a few simple habits may give your day-to-day emotional well-being a boost.
Here are a few ideas to try. Adding any one of these habits may have a positive effect on your everyday emotional wellness.
Reset your sleep
There’s a strong link between good sleep and good mental health. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, a good sleep may help. To set yourself up for better sleep and reap the mental health benefits, give yourself time to wind down. One hour before bed, dim the lights, engage in a quiet or relaxing activity and, most importantly, turn off your screens—TV, tablets and smartphones.
Go out for a walk
If you’re feeling worried or down, get outside and add some steps to your daily count. Walking outside and generally being outdoors is associated with a raft of mental health benefits, from improved focus and a more positive outlook to lower stress and greater energy. Taking a walk outside combines the mental well-being effects of spending time in nature with the proven positive impact of exercise on mood. To make a daily walk a habit, connect it to something you already do each day, like commuting to work or eating lunch.
Eat and drink well
When we’re stressed or anxious, it’s tempting to reach for chips or ice cream. But a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains may help you maintain a positive outlook. Meals that include complex carbohydrates, lean protein and colorful fruits and vegetables offer a mix of nutrients that can have positive effects on your mood. On the other hand, flour-based foods (like bread or pasta) and sugar-sweetened foods and drinks can leave you feeling down after the initial “sugar high” wears off. You can begin to make healthy eating a habit by choosing a few simple changes to try. Keep in mind that it may take a couple of weeks of consistent changes in your diet to see an effect on your mood.
Do something fun
Taking some time to enjoy a hobby or fun activity is a great way to boost your everyday emotional well-being. From practicing the guitar or shooting a few hoops to reading or crafting, taking a break improves overall well-being. It may also be a good way to connect with others who share your interest. To help this habit stick, try scheduling some time for fun on your calendar each week so you make it a priority.
Take a breath
Even better, take a few deep breaths. Mindfulness is a strategy that can increase everyday emotional health, and deep breathing (also called “belly breathing” or “diaphragmatic breathing”) is a key part of it. Deep breathing has been shown to help lower your blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormone levels while increasing focus and promoting feelings of calm and well-being.
Here’s one easy way to practice mindfulness using deep breathing:
- Breathe in through your nose while you count to four
- Hold your breath for a count of one
- Breathe out through your mouth while you count to five
- Repeat the series often throughout the day
What we focus our attention on helps shape how we think and feel about ourselves and the world around us. When we’re mindful of the things we’re grateful for—both big things, like our health, and small things, like the flower we see on our way to work—we set the stage for more good feelings throughout the day.
A few simple ways to do this are:
- Keep a one-sentence gratitude journal, where you jot down one thing you’re grateful for today
- Have a “gratitude moment” each day, while you’re brewing coffee or before you turn off the light at night, to think about and feel grateful for one small thing about your life
- Express your gratitude by reaching out to someone else with a thank-you note or a quick call to share your appreciation
Do something for someone else
While most of these mental well-being tips focus on self-care, helping others may help you. We can gain profound life satisfaction and meaning from forging connections with others. Whether you choose to volunteer in your community or perform a “random act of kindness” for a person you don’t know, try taking a simple action each day, or each week, to improve the life of someone else. Showing others that they’re not alone helps us remember that we’re all connected—a valuable reminder of what’s most important in life.
For additional mental health services and resources, including online therapy and counseling, visit Walgreens Find Care®.*
This article is meant for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified healthcare professional.
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