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Dealing with mental health issues can be overwhelming. And it’s especially challenging to build health-boosting habits while your motivation is lagging. So how do you know where to start or what to focus on?
Thankfully, there are several science-backed habits you can build for improved mental health, including a few lesser-known options that really work.
We dove into the research and consulted the experts, and put together a list of eight of the highest impact habits you can do for your mental health today — self-compassion guaranteed.
8 Proven Habits That Can Improve Your Mental Health
1. Move Your Body (Accessibly!)
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We all know that regular movement can boost our physical health, but what about our mental health? It turns out, exercise is scientifically proven to be a powerful mood-booster, while also reducing depression and anxiety.
And before you start thinking that you need to run marathons to improve your mental health, we’re happy to report that a little movement goes a long way.
“People have an idea that if they exercise, it needs to be an hour. And they think back to the last time they tried exercising, and it was really tiring and difficult, and they think it has to feel like that,” shares Dr. Sandip Buch, psychiatrist and founder at Skypiatrist.
“The main thing is, it doesn’t have to be an hour. It doesn’t have to be super intense. I think 20 minutes of aerobic [exercise] has shown a lot of benefit.”
But what if even a 20-minute workout feels like too much? Dr. Buch recommends starting where you are.
“Can you walk for five minutes? Would that sound daunting? Whatever doesn’t sound daunting, start there, and just keep doing it. Establish a habit. And then you can start increasing or doing something that’s a little more intense,” he says.
Remember: Exercise doesn’t have to be intense to improve your mental health. Moderate intensity workouts, like brisk walking, riding a bike, or even mowing the lawn, totally count!
2. Prioritize Sleep
If you’re struggling with mental health, getting enough quality sleep is one of the most impactful areas you can focus your attention.
In fact, one recent meta-analysis found that improved sleep leads to significant improvements in mental health, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, rumination, and stress. Even better? The more you improve your sleep, the more your mental health improves.
That’s a pretty great reason to prioritize shuteye, if you ask us.
So how much sleep do you need each night? Ideal sleep needs can vary for each individual, but Dr. Buch recommends at least seven hours per day to support mental health. And parents of young children can breathe a sigh of relief, because that sleep can be broken up and accumulated during naps, too.
Just make sure you’re focusing on the quality of the sleep as much as the quantity.
3. Nurture Social Bonds
Did you know that maintaining healthy relationships can save your life, not to mention improve your mental health?
Research finds that having quality relationships can help us regulate stress, improve mood and motivation, and even strengthen our coping skills. And on the flip side, social disconnection can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
The bottom line? Sometimes, you just need a little TLC from your community, so don’t be afraid to lean on your connections