Simple ways to focus on your mental health

Your mental health influences how you think, feel, and behave in daily life. It also affects your ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, build relationships, and recover from life’s setbacks and hardships.

Strong mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics.

People who are mentally healthy have:

A sense of contentment.
A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.
The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.
A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships.
The flexibility to learn new skills and adapt to change.
A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
Self-confidence and high self-esteem.

mental health

Taking care of yourself emotionally starts first thing in the day — preferably before your feet hit the floor. In lieu of checking social media or starting work, draw in a few deep breaths, and consider three things you find yourself grateful for. These can be grand, like your spouse, job or health, or modest, like the weather, the view from your window, or even the luxury of those first breaths.

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When we are anxious or depressed, our symptoms tend to occupy our minds. We scan for severity or for new mental difficulties, and the more we scan, the more we tend to find. Further, our depression, anxieties and other emotional concerns tend to amplify when they remain our sole focus. If we get out and attend to serving others, we find that our own worries diminish.
We also feel better when we serve others, coming away with a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and contribution — a win-win for mental health. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or your child’s school. Work a phone helpline for others struggling with emotional difficulties.

People with strong family or social connections are generally healthier than those who lack a support network. Make plans with supportive family members and friends, or seek out activities where you can meet new people, such as a club, class or support group. Like it or not, stress is a part of life. Practice good coping skills: Try One-Minute Stress Strategies, do Tai Chi, exercise, take a nature walk, play with your pet or try journal writing as a stress reducer. Also, remember to smile and see the humor in life. Research shows that laughter can boost your immune system, ease pain, relax your body and reduce stress.

Try meditating, Mindfulness and/or prayer. Relaxation exercises and prayer can improve your state of mind and outlook on life. In fact, research shows that meditation may help you feel calm and enhance the effects of therapy. To get connected, see spiritual resources on Personal Well-being for Students. Decide what you want to achieve academically, professionally and personally, and write down the steps you need to realize your goals. Aim high, but be realistic and don’t over-schedule. You’ll enjoy a tremendous sense of accomplishment and self-worth as you progress toward your goal. Wellness Coaching, free to U-M students, can help you develop goals and stay on track.

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