While we often think of our bodies when we think about getting healthy, our mental health is just as important as our physical health. Mental health includes your emotional, psychological and social well-being and can affect your physical health, how you think and feel, how you cope with stress, how you relate to others and how you deal with life’s curveballs.
What Can You Do to Improve Your Mental Health?
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to improve your mental health, there are several techniques that you can try to boost how you feel.
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to improve your mental health, there are several techniques that you can try to boost how you feel. It’s important to find the ones that work best for you. Here are some suggestions:
- Stay positive. This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever feel sad or anxious or mad; it’s more of a reminder not to dwell on the negative, things you can’t change or things that are in the past.
- Be mindful of what you take in. The news cycle can often be one tragic story after another, so it’s important to know when to take a break and focus on other things. In addition, what you see on social media has the potential to make you feel “less than” if you constantly compare your own life to that of the smiling faces on other feeds.
- Practice gratitude. Set aside the first five to ten minutes of the day to think of two or three things you’re grateful for. Keep a journal if it helps to write them down.
- Take care of yourself. Your physical health is deeply connected to your mental health, and the stress and anxiety you feel can impact your body in negative ways.
- Be physically active. Exercise may seem like just one more thing to do, but it’s actually a great way to improve your mood, reduce stress and help with depression. Aim for 30 minutes a few days a week—even a ten-minute walk can boost your mood and reduce your stress levels.
- Get enough sleep. If you aren’t getting enough sleep night after night, it can make you feel irritable, stressed and less able to deal with things you might otherwise handle well. The blue light from your phone or other screens can make it difficult to fall asleep, so a good goal is to eliminate screen time before you try to fall asleep.
- Eat well. Many of us have the tendency to eat poorly or drink more if we feel down or anxious, but healthy eating can improve your mood, help you focus and decrease your stress.
- Develop meaningful relationships. This might mean working on the relationships you already have, taking a break from a toxic relationship you’re in or building new ones through work, new activities or online.
- Discover helpful coping techniques for when you’re confronted with challenging situations. This could be developing a breathing strategy, incorporating yoga, learning when to take a “break” from certain people or situations, or building in time for meditation.
- Challenge yourself to find meaning and purpose in life. Once you have transitioned from the military, it can be difficult to find something to take its place. This is where you can dive into learning a new skill, volunteering, finding a job you love or getting closer to family.
- Value yourself. Avoid constant self-criticism and negative talk. Instead, try to remember to give yourself grace and treat yourself how you would a friend who is struggling.
These are all small actions that can lead to a big impact on your mental health.
What If I Have Negative Feelings That Persist?
The techniques above are great ways to deal with day-to-day pressures you may be facing, but if your negative feelings persist for more than two weeks or you feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to get back on track, reach out for support. You may want to reach out if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Appetite changes
- Problems getting out of bed in the morning because of mood
- Loss of interest in things you normally find enjoyable
- Inability or desire to perform typical daily responsibilities
If this sounds like what you are going through, you’re not alone. There are a lot of resources available to help.
- Talk to your primary care provider. If needed, you can get a referral to a mental health specialist.
- Find support day and night through the Veterans Crisis Line. Call 988 and press 1, or text 838255.
- Visit the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to find a VA facility near you, learn about treatment options, explore information by topic including depression, sexual trauma, anxiety and much more.
- Reach out to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.
- Check out the wellness toolkits from the National Institutes of Health to find ways to improve your well-being in a wide range of areas.
Seeking help for any health issue is a sign of strength — not a weakness. People who get appropriate care can tackle mental health issues and lead fulfilling and rewarding lives.