It’s said that the best form of medicine is the preventative kind. So often we allow ourselves to get into a position where we’re fighting off a state of dis-ease in the reactionary sense. But true health isn’t the absence of dis-ease. It’s a state in which we’re truly thriving instead of simply surviving. The good news is there is a lot we can do for ourselves in our spare time to both maintain and improve our mental health. And many of these things provide a genuine fulfillment as well as making deposits in our mental and emotional bank balance to be drawn down in the future. Here are some of the most common ideas to get you started.
1. Play Games
The trend in playing intellectual games such as sudoku, crosswords and other memory-based challenges has been going for a while, now. It may seem like obvious and perhaps ‘old-hat’ advice. But the reason why they’ve endured for so long is that they’re so engaging and effective in promoting a sense of attainment. But this isn’t simply true of old-fashioned games. The same is equally applicable and in some cases even more so to video games. Despite the bad press they sometimes receive, when engaged within moderation, video games can provide an effective form of mental stimulation with the problem-solving that’s required in many of today’s modern titles as well as proving to be an effective form of stress relief.
Daily meditation practice is one of the core elements that is often suggested to maintain your sense of wellbeing. And not to fall too much into the realms of hyperbole, but it is one of the best things you can do for mental and emotional health. There have been countless studies at this point, all indicating that an ability to consistently go inside and quieten the mind can have a dramatic effect on lessening the symptoms of anxiety and depression to name but a few mental health conditions. So effective, in fact, is meditation that it has now beginning to be taken up in corporate settings and in some schools as part of their curriculum.
3. Eat for Foods That Nourish the Brain
The maxim of let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food is quite literally ancient. But it still holds great relevance today. And one of the most critical areas that require adequate sustenance is your brain. You cannot be at your maximum unless you are feeding your brain with a healthy amount of fats – specifically omega-3 fatty acids. It doesn’t matter whether they’re obtained from plant or animal sources, just as long as you’re getting a sufficient amount of them into your diet.
4. Do a Digital Detox
The average person watches an average of around 4 hours of television per day, spends 2hrs and 25 minutes on the internet, and lives in a perpetual state of constantly having to check our phone. That’s not to say that we each spend that amount of time with our devices every day. But it is indicative of the culture we live in. To unplug ourselves for an extended amount of time can be extremely liberating. It allows us to get off the dopamine roller coaster and turn our attention to other – more rewarding – pursuits.
5. Get an Adequate Amount of Exercise
Moving your body may not be the most popular option on this list to improve your mental health, given the exertion it requires. But it has long been known that consistent exercise promotes improved cognition and over mental wellbeing. Aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming, cycling, walking and even gardening have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. And in some cases, the relief can be felt almost immediately. By increasing the circulation of blood to the brain, it has a positive impact on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and thus has an effect in the physiologic reactivity to stress.
6. Challenge Yourself to Learn a New Skill
Continuing to challenge yourself to learn new skills is takes on increased importance as we reach the autumn of our years. So often, especially in the elderly, the will to live – which is closely intertwined with mental acuity – is governed by the drive to learn something new. By keeping yourself in a state of continued curiosity, you remain in a state of discovery. You’re keeping the brain active, which is sometimes forgotten as being one of the primary muscles within the body. Hence, the more you exercise it, the better your mental health will be.
7. Make Small Changes in Your Routine
Having a routine is good. It provides stability and something for us to hold onto when times get rough. However, the more familiar we are with a process, the more it becomes like second nature to us – the less we have to think. And that, over time, can lead to cognitive decline and the setting in of apathy. By challenging yourself to make small adjustments to your routine like taking a different route to work, mixing up your schedule and trying different methods to complete the same tasks, you’re increasing your mental fitness and thus your overall mental health.
8. Adopt a Service to Others Mentality
Altruism is an often overlooked form of self-care. By doing for others, it brings with it a sense of deep fulfilment and can be the antidote to many of life’s maladies, both those that are self-inflicted and beyond our control. By looking outside of ourselves, it causes us to be less preoccupied with our needs in any given moment. It provides respite. But more so than that, if approached in the right manner – in a mindful sense – it can provide some much-needed perspective on life. Doing for others, especially those who’re in a less fortunate position than ourselves can give you a sense of purpose and gratification that can’t be replicated any other way. Giving becomes its own reward.