5 Things to Do to Improve Your Mental Health

By Beatrice Calvin

May is Mental Health Month, the perfect time to learn about successful employer practices to promote good mental health among employees and assist those who may have mental health conditions. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Center for Workplace Mental Health, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), and the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) are just a few organizations that offer a range of resources to help, including providing programs for use in the workplace and case studies highlighting initiatives implemented by companies across America.

For individuals, the month of May is a good time to do a mental well-being self-check. You probably know that your feelings and general outlook can often affect your mental well-being. So, you should strive to keep a positive attitude and let go of negative emotions.  Here are some things to do if you want to improve your overall health—physical as well as mental well-being:

Focus on now and what’s happening in the present.

Do your best to let go of the past and not worry too much about the future. Holding on to past hurts and negative emotions related to those hurts can often affect your physical and mental health—causing you to experience signs of stress. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the following symptoms may be warning signs that you are experiencing stress:

  • Headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
  • Upset stomach
  • Dry mouth
  • Chest pains, rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or overeating “comfort foods”
  • Increased frequency of colds
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Memory problems or forgetfulness
  • Jitters
  • Irritability
  • Short temper
  • Anxiety

Everyone reacts to stress differently, and each body sends out its different set of red flags. Some people may not even feel the physical or emotional warning signs until hours or days of stressful activities. But when you do notice a stiff back or that you are snapping at your friends, pay attention to the signs and listen to what your body is telling you. The APA says that the warning signs of stress are not anything to take lightly or ignore. By noticing how you respond to stress, you can manage it in healthy ways, which may reduce the possibility of chronic, long-term health problems.

Get some outdoor exercise.

Now that spring has finally arrived, it could be a perfect time to go outside (unless, of course if you suffer with environmental allergies). In general, both exercise and nature are good for mental well-being. Sunshine has a way of making everything seem better. So, take a walk or ride a bike when you can. It doesn’t have to be very long. Take a break from your daily routine and go outside. Remember to protect your skin and eyes.

If you are one who suffers from seasonal allergies, LiveScience offers several suggestions to help, including:

  • Know exactly what you are allergic to and avoid peak times when specific allergens are present;
  • Pay attention to pollen counts. These numbers are usually part of the local weather report;
  • Take a shower to wash pollen off your skin and hair when you go inside; remove your shoes and change your clothes, since they can carry pollen inside your house.

Do things that make you feel good.

Spend time with close friends who have positive outlooks. Volunteer at your favorite community or charitable organization. Do things that make you laugh (i.e. watching a funny movie, play with a hoola hoop, etc.—whatever makes you laugh). A 2017 study found that social laughter releases endorphins (chemicals that make you feel happy) in the brain. Dance or sing out-loud with a good friend who will laugh with you and won’t judge. When you feel good emotionally, you are better able to handle the unexpected bumps in the road.

Commit to eating healthier.

A healthy diet can help you lose or maintain weight and prevent disease. You will feel better physically and mentally. Eating healthy does not mean that you have to stop enjoying your favorite foods. Just eat certain foods in moderation.

Start slow if eating healthy is not currently part of your daily routine. Begin by making just one change. Perhaps you can have a salad for lunch a couple of times a week. Or maybe you can replace soda with water. Just don’t try to make too many changes all at once, because you’ll overwhelm yourself and the changes probably won’t last.

If you’re not sure what’s healthy for you, talk to your physician or a nutrition specialist. If you do some investigation, you might find that the cost of these visits may be part of your health plan. Or, consider taking a beginning food and nutrition course. You can probably find an inexpensive course at your local community college. There are also many online classes (i.e. Coursera offers a free beginners nutrition course).

Understand that it is ok to get help if you struggle with your emotions.

Talk to a trusted friend or family member about your feelings. Don’t hold your emotions in. If you do, they will eventually manifest in unhealthy ways (i.e. blow-ups, illness, etc.). For many of us, talking about our problems may feel foreign.  But there is no shame in talking to a therapist. It’s just another way to help you manage your emotions effectively. The cost is usually covered by your health insurance.

Everyone goes through tough times. But sometimes, the negative way someone feels inside — depressed, anxious, wanting to avoid people, having trouble thinking — may be more than the ups and downs most people feel now and then. If symptoms like these keep you from getting through your daily routines and make it difficult for you to get through life, it’s important to take action. Research shows that getting help early can prevent symptoms from getting worse and make a full recovery more likely.

One more thing….

If you plan to attend the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans next month, consider attending the De-Stressing Your Job (& Life!) session, Saturday, June 23, 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. in the ALA JobLIST Placement & Career Development Center. Here’s the session description:

You won’t often see “librarian” noted on lists of stress-filled occupations. However, as much as we love working in a library, we know the job is not without stress. In this session, we’ll review some of the causes of stress and provide simple, yet effective ways to help reduce stress on the job (and in your personal life). Gain real-life examples and practical suggestions to manage stress.

Living a healthy lifestyle can have a positive impact on your state of mind. Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, stay active, and surround yourself with positive people as much as possible. Remember to laugh often.