The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. A very important campaign aiming to bring healthy conversation and awareness regarding a very serious issue.
Most of us don’t do nearly enough to protect our mental health. We jam-pack our schedules, say “yes!” when we should say “NO!”, spend far too much time looking at a screen, and engage in really negative self-talk.
We need to learn to take care of ourselves a little better, don’t you think? Now, I know that the term “self-care” has a bit of a bad rep, but just putting some simple strategies into play in your daily routine can be a really effective way to prioritize your mental health during your busy day-to-day routines. We’ve got 11 such strategies to share with you today. They’re not major, they’re not new, but they can and will make the world of to protecting and preserving your mental health.
1. Create a Workable Schedule
Setting up a workable schedule is a really effective way to balance your busy life and taking care of your mental health. But the keyword here is “workable.” Sometimes we overload our schedule with all of the things we want to get done in a day or a week, or even a month, but often this lofty to-do list is unrealistic.
We can then get super hard on ourselves if we don’t achieve all we planned to by the time the end of the week rolls around, and this can be detrimental to both our mental and emotional state.
But setting a workable schedule and breaking down bigger tasks into manageable to-do lists will mean we’re able to stay on top of things, consistently check items off our list (which is a great little endorphin boost!) and not feel overwhelmed by everything we need to get through. Because with our workable schedule, we have realistic ways to get everything done.
2. Get Quality Sleep
Notice that I didn’t say “enough sleep”…I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t know if there will ever come a time in your adult life when you will get that mystical entity that is “enough sleep.”
But you can get quality sleep! Scientifically speaking, one of the best ways to take care of your physical and mental well-being is simply to make sure you consistently get rejuvenating sleep.
Sleep is important as it’s the time when our bodies restore our energy levels, as well as giving our bodies the time to heal and repair, or simply process all that happens in a day. When we get enough sleep, we have the energy to accomplish our tasks and the emotional capacity to successfully navigate challenges.
But without proper planning, this elusive quality sleep just ain’t going to happen. You therefore need to make getting that great sleep a priority. Most mobile phones have bedtime functions (but there are also loads of apps) that allow you to set the amount of hours you would like to sleep each night. You will then be sent reminders of when you need to start getting ready for bed so that you get those quality zzz’s.
Related read: The Best Podcasts To Help You Sleep
3. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise is another must when it comes to taking care of your mental health and overall wellbeing. Exercise gives endorphins, known as the happy hormone, and a regular supply of these in our brains can help prevent our mental health from slipping.
But again, it comes down to prioritizing. Finding the time to fit in regular exercise amongst your other responsibilities can be a challenge, but if you draw up that workable weekly schedule, and work exercise into your daily routine, you’ll be surprised at just how much you can fit in!
With the extra energy and endorphins coursing through your body, you’ll begin to feel more energized and positive, which can then prevent you from feeling mentally fatigued and overwhelmed. So whether it’s yoga or rock climbing, trail running, or water aerobics, find something that brings you joy and makes you feel great.
4. Nourish Your Body with Good Fuel
If you want your car to run efficiently, you fill it with the best quality gas. The same is true for our bodies. Our bodies are, essentially, high-powered, intricate machines, which we need to take care of if we want them to endure and function at their optimal level. And there is also a whole lot of research that indicates a link between our mental health and our food choices!
Practically, nourishing your body simply starts with drinking plenty of water and eating well. It can be so easy to neglect beneficial eating habits while you’re busy, choosing “easy” snacks over what’s good fuel for your body. But there are some easy ways to ensure that you’re getting the good stuff to keep you going.
Keep a bottle of water at your desk, or in your bag, to sip on throughout the day to ensure you’re hitting your water quotient. And when it comes to making good food choices, one of the best ways to ensure you do this on the daily is to prepare healthy meals in advance. That way, when the munchies hit, or your energy levels are slipping, you’ve got some healthy options ready and waiting. Just be sure to prepare food that is good for your mood!
5. Feed Your Soul
Another way to protect your mental health is to incorporate activities into your routine that nourish your soul. You need to carve out some “me” time in your busy schedule – time where you can do something you love without worrying about “the next thing.”
This will look different for everyone, and it may even be different for you from week to week, month to month, or season to season, depending on your own needs.
In your day-to-day life, this could be simply taking the time to run a hot bath and relax for half an hour, or a time in your afternoon when you make a cup of tea or coffee and curl up with your favorite book. You could exercise, journal, or take the dog for a walk – basically anything that allows you that time your mind and body need to debrief, recharge, and build your energy levels up again.
But feeding your soul might also look like trying something you’ve always wanted to go, or learning something new. You might be at a place where a challenge is what you need to help your mind stay healthy. Whatever you choose to do is not as important as the doing of something that brings a sense of fulfillment.
6. Schedule In De-Stress Breaks
Sometimes you just need five minutes in an hour to take some time to de-stress. Just stepping away from your tasks for five minutes regularly can be all it takes to consistently take care of your mental health.
Schedule in these breaks throughout your day. (Note: I know it sounds counterproductive, but trust me, you will more than likely find that you’re more productive in the time set for working if you take these short breaks – a double win!) And as you close your eyes, focus on your breathing, or utilize any of the de-stress techniques that work for you, allow your anxieties to quieten, and peace to fill your mind. Just doing these little exercises consistently throughout the day, even when you’re not feeling particularly down or stressed, can ensure your mind is kept in a calm, focused state, and you’re better able to dispel your fears and anxieties.
7. Set Up Boundaries
You’re already busy. Rushing from work to home, taking the kids to wherever they all need to be all at once! So one of the ways you can prioritise your mental health, even amongst all the busyness, is to put healthy boundaries in place. This is also just a fancy way of saying, “Learn to say no.”
Understanding your personality and temperament is a great asset when it comes to setting up healthy boundaries. If you know that three late nights in a row over a weekend leaves you with a heavy case of the Monday blues, with little to no energy to start the week off strong, you may need to learn to balance your weekend activities. If you’ve been out late on Friday and Saturday night, perhaps you need to say ”no” to plans being made for Sunday so that you have a space to mentally recharge, and the time to do some of the activities that you’ve been neglecting.
Remember, you’re not letting anyone down when you put healthy boundaries in place. If anything, prioritizing your mental health in this way can mean you can actually help others better, because your own cup is full, and you’re not giving out from a place of lack.
8. Have Designated Device Down-Time
It’s no real shocker that screen time has greatly increased over the years. I know I don’t even need statistics to back up this claim. But I’ve got some facts and figures ready in any case! Firstly, according to the site HRnews, over the course of 2020, screen time increased by 76%. Couple that with the information found by a study of 11k RescueTime that found that adults on average spent around 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones each day! That is a lot of time!
Besides not being at all good for our eyesight or our productivity levels, too much screen time can have serious effects on our mental health. Take, for instance, the results concluded by researchers in a 2017 study that states that adults who watched TV or used a computer for more than 6 hours per day were more likely to experience moderate to severe depression.
So a simple but super effective way to conserve your mental health and wellbeing is to have designated device downtime during the day. Put your phones down, close the laptops, and get outside, breath some fresh air, or just have a good laugh with people you love.
9. Spend Quality Time with Loved Ones
Isn’t it great news that spending time with loved ones is good for us?! Spending quality time with those people we love not only strengthens our bonds, helping us feel grounded and connected, but there’s some happy hormones that get released when we spend time with those we care deeply for, and the right balance of those feel-good hormones are key to us experiencing good mental and emotional health.
Whether it’s ensuring that you spend dedicated time with your family each day, or making specific time to call or video chat if your loved ones are far away, it’s so important that dedicated time with your loved ones becomes part of your schedule. Not only will this give you that much-needed dose of happy hormones, but feeling connected and supported gives us a sense of security and confidence, which is particularly important when we go through stressful or difficult times.
10. Clock Off
Studies show that experiencing stress over long periods of time greatly increases the risk of developing mental health problems. So it follows that destressing our lives should be one of our top priorities where our mental health is concerned.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, your own boss, or an employee, the business world is competitive. We’re all constantly trying to “win” or “get ahead,” or “be the best.” But this can be mentally exhausting! That’s why a healthy work/play life is important. And one way to do this is to “clock off” at the end of the day. And while you may physically clock off when you leave the office, mentally clocking off is also really important.
You need to create the space to debrief, decompress, spend time with your family, or do the other activities you enjoy, come the end of the work day or weekend. Otherwise, the possibility of burnout is incredibly high.
Related read: The Top 10 Work From Home Productivity Tips
11. Be Kind To Yourself
Lastly, prioritizing your mental health means learning to be kind to yourself. This is particularly important when it comes to our self-talk. Somedays, you’re going to feel really good about yourself – you’re feeling good about yourself, you’re hitting all your goals, or you’re just getting on really well with your colleagues, family, or friends.
But then there are days where you’re feeling really negative about the aspects of your life, there’s conflict between you and your loved ones, or you’re feeling like a failure because you’re not getting to all your goals.
But that is okay! These hurdles happen – they are all part of the human experience, and often, we have little to no control over the circumstances that bring them on. But what we do have control over is how we talk to ourselves about it. Rather than calling yourself all the not-so-nice names under the sun when you feel like you’re falling short, learn to be kind to yourself. Think of what you would say to a close friend or family member when they’re down, and learn to say those encouraging things to yourself.
Words are powerful! And too often, we’re breaking ourselves down with our negative self-talk. But by learning to speak positively to ourselves about ourselves, we’ll begin to cultivate a positive mindset which is better able to help us through tough times.
We all lead busy lives. We know this. And while there’s nothing wrong with being busy perse, if we are not careful, our stressful, busy, high-adrenaline-requiring lifestyles can take a serious toll on our mental health. It is therefore imperative that we learn to build healthy habits and techniques into our everyday routines to help us avoid burnout, or even to better manage diagnosed mental illnesses.
And while it can take a little time to find the balance that works for you, and making the time for your mental health care within the ever-growing to-do lists, work and personal responsibilities, and the busyness of life, the improved quality of life, improved mental health, and consequent inner peace and joy, will make these small daily changes worth it for the long haul.