Mental health is complex. Some days you may feel like complete trash, while other days you’re smiling from morning till night. But scientists and therapists have discovered little things you can do every day to knock out the majority of those waste days.
If someone told you that it only took a few minutes each day to make you happier, would you try it? Especially if all you had to do was free? We spoke with therapists who offered their best habits for improving your STAT mental health, with no pills needed.
Plus, they’re all backed by science, so they really do work. Try them daily (or as often as possible) to improve your mental health.
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Adopt good sleep hygiene
Sleep is essential for mental health, says Lloyd Glauberman, clinical psychologist in New York and creator of the app Lifestyle Intelligence.
“We now know that when we sleep, our brain cleans itself,” says Glauberman. “The brain takes out the trash to prepare for the next day.” It is crucial to sleep at least seven hours a night. Otherwise, your brain will be clogged with the anxieties and traumas of the previous days.
Gratitude shifts your focus from negative to positive emotions, improving your mental health, says Erin Dierickx, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Erin D Therapy in Seattle. It also improves your immune system, lowers blood pressure, eases feelings of loneliness, and makes you happier overall. Dierickx suggests writing a weekly letter of gratitude to yourself or someone else. Alternatively, get into the habit of writing down three things you’re grateful for.
Several studies have linked increased positive thoughts, decreased anxiety, and lower levels of fatigue when individuals exercise outdoors rather than indoors on a treadmill, says Dierickx. . Views of nature activate specific parts of your brain that have opioid receptors and are linked to the dopamine reward center, initiating feelings of well-being and motivation necessary for behavior change. But walking around the park with your phone or other distractions can actually have the opposite effect, causing more stress.
“When you choose to go out, try to dedicate that time to literally stopping and smelling the roses, or focusing on your senses as you walk around,” says Dierickx.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health, says Boston-based psychotherapist Angela Ficken. She suggests making it a priority, scheduling it into your day like you would any other appointment. Simply walking briskly for 30 minutes a day will help your mental well-being.
It’s best done when you wake up in the morning, but it can be done anytime, says Katie Wenger, a psychotherapist in Philadelphia. Writing your own positive affirmations or listening to positive affirmations can be a way to give yourself a positive, affirming message about who you are and how you want to live life, according to Wenger.
“It sets the tone for a successful inner dialogue for the day and confidence,” she says.
Set a personal intention
Decide each morning what quality or energy you want to invite into your day, says Celeste Labadie, a Colorado-certified marriage and family therapist and creator of The Anxiety Relief Method.
“For example, you might decide, ‘This week, every morning, I give myself the grace to make mistakes. I give myself the grace to say no to others when I feel overwhelmed. I give myself the grace to take more breaks throughout my day when I feel stressed,” says Labadie. This technique is a powerful move that helps rewire your neural pathways to put your mental health first. Since many people have been conditioned to take care of others first, this prioritization will allow you to claim what you need in your day, Labadie says.