It’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves when we have so many responsibilities. Although unintentional, this can have disastrous effects on our physical and mental health. Even the smallest of actions can have huge consequences when it comes to our overall well-being, so try to make self-care a priority in your life. Here are the most important self-care acts to practice if you want to improve your mental health.
1. Exercise for Greater Happiness
Everyone knows exercise is good for the body. But, did you know it’s also good for the brain? Exercise plays a particularly interesting role in the brain’s ability to control stress and experience pleasure. For example, you may have experienced a euphoric “runner’s high” after a long bout of aerobic exercise. According to the Self.com, this is caused by the release of various chemicals in the brain which are responsible for reducing anxiety and pain while triggering feelings of elation. In the long-term, regular exercise also helps your body control the release of serotonin and dopamine—hormones that play a key role in mood regulation, sleep quality, and motivation. Plus, moving your body improves blood flow to the brain, speeding healing and encouraging the generation of new neural pathways.
2. Eat to Boost Brain Functions
Just like your bones, muscles, and organs, your brain runs on whatever you put into your body. If you’re feeling a bit foggy in the head, your diet may be the culprit. Everything from a vitamin B12 deficiency to a specific food allergy can contribute to memory problems, poor concentration, and an inability to focus. Try removing common allergens from your diet, such as MSG, gluten, or dairy and see if that makes a difference. Then, ramp up your consumption of brain-friendly foods such as whole grains, oily fish, eggs, blueberries, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. These foods are full of the nutrients our brains require for optimal memory function, concentration, mood control, and toxin removal.
3. Sleep to Improve Your Emotional Control
Sleep deprivation has negative cognitive consequences across the board. But, one that you may be the most familiar with is its effect on mood. According to The Sleep Doctor, lack of sleep increases our emotional reactivity, causing us to be more impulsive and experience more intense emotions. This is because sleep plays a very important role in keeping our brain’s emotional and decision-making centers operating and communicating smoothly. So, if you’re feeling unusually depressed, irritable, anxious, or upset during the day, try to improve your sleep by following some simple sleep hygiene tips. These are actions you can take to promote better quality sleep, such as avoiding naps during the day and making your bedroom more comfortable. If you are having trouble sleeping no matter what you do, check out these behavioral changes recommended by Harvard Medical School.
4. Relax to Eliminate Stress
Chronic stress can have lasting effects on your mental health, increasing your risk of developing depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Although it sounds simple, relaxing is one of those things that’s easier said than done. It’s hard to put your mind to rest and release tension in your body when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, especially if you’ve become accustomed to feeling this way. Instead of just sitting still and trying to relax, try some of these research-based relaxation activities:
- Take a 20-minute walk through nature
- Write down your negative thoughts or journal about a positive memory
- Sit and think about the things you’re grateful for
- Meditate while relaxing your muscles one at a time
- Actively breathe deeply into your stomach
- Focus on a calming hobby that you enjoy
- Listen to relaxing music
The everyday stressors we put our minds and bodies through can certainly take a toll on us. Although we mean well, spending too much time tending to others and forgetting our obligations to ourselves can put our long-term physical and mental health at risk. Start making improvements to your daily routine today so you can start feeling better as soon as possible