- Amy Morin is an author, psychotherapist, and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.
- She says it’s important to prioritize working on your mental health as much as your physical health.
- Small exercises, like planning a fun activity each week or performing an act of kindness, can make a big difference.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Many of us take steps to care for our physical health, like working out and eating a healthy diet. But when it comes to caring for our mental health, the strategies aren’t as clearly defined.
That’s not to say we don’t recognize the importance of caring for our mental health. Our study conducted at Verywell Mind found that most people value their physical health just as much as their mental health. Yet, 61% of respondents say they spend more time working on their physical health than mental health.
As a therapist, I know first-hand how important it is to care for your mental health. I see plenty of people experience problems because they’ve neglected their mental health for years. But I also see this in my own life: If I don’t make my mental health a top priority, I feel the difference. Here are three reasons why it’s important to prioritize your mental health:
- It’s easier to prevent mental health problems than treat them. Investing time into self-care now might prevent mental health problems down the road. When problems do arise, you’ll be able to intervene earlier when you’re paying close attention to your mental health.
- Your mental health and your physical health are linked. Poor mental health may put you at a higher risk for physical health issues, like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. So even if you care more about your physical health, neglecting your mental health may backfire.
- Your mental health impacts your quality of life, too. While being in good physical shape can help you live to the fullest, your psychological well-being matters just as much. Mental health problems affect your social life, your ability to complete your work, and your relationships.
Here are five exercises you can do to improve your mental health
1. Plan something fun every week
In therapy, we often talk about “pleasant activity scheduling.” Basically, it means identifying an activity you want to do and putting it in your calendar.
It could be as simple as choosing a time to watch a movie at home. Even if you live alone, put it on your calendar. The key is to schedule it in the future so you have something to look forward to.
You get a second boost in your mood when you do that fun thing and a third boost after it’s over because you’ve created a positive memory. Try scheduling at least one fun activity every week.
2. Practice relaxation strategies
It’s important to know how to relax both your mind and your body. And passively watching TV might not cut it. While you’re watching TV, your muscles might still be tense and you might never fully give your mind a break. Not to mention, a lot of people scroll through social media while watching TV and that can keep you in a heightened state of alert.
You may want to learn yoga or meditation practices to really reduce your stress. You could also learn and practice breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. No matter what you try, incorporate some form of regular stress relief into your schedule.
3. Establish a gratitude practice
You gain tons of benefits when you experience and express gratitude. Studies show gratitude has a direct link to your overall well-being. Grateful people tend to experience fewer mental health problems, higher levels of happiness, and long-lasting positive psychological well-being.
While writing a letter of gratitude to someone is one way to experience these benefits, you don’t necessarily even need to share your grateful feelings with anyone. Writing in a private journal can also increase your mental strength.
4. Foster your relationships
Social support is a key factor in good mental health. So it’s important to invest time into the important relationships in your life.
Whether that means taking time to have a date night with your partner or it means inviting your friends for a weekly dinner night, spend quality time with people you care about.
5. Perform acts of kindness
While the goal of an act of kindness shouldn’t necessarily be about your personal gain, the truth is, you gain a lot by doing kind things for other people. When you’re kind to someone, your brain releases feel good hormones, like endorphins and oxytocin. You’ll boost your own mood as well as the mood of the person you’re giving to.
You could choose to perform one act of kindness every day and choose a different person to show kindness to. Or, you might volunteer once a week with a specific organization.
Incorporating mental strength strategies into your daily routine
Choose mental strength building strategies that you enjoy. That will increase the chances that you’ll stick to them.
If you hate meditating, don’t try to force yourself to do it. Instead, look for another exercise you might like better. There’s plenty to choose from, and investing more time in your mental health is key to reaching your greatest potential.