Medically reviewed by Susan Vachon, PA-C on February 4, 2022
Keeping yourself mentally sharp isn’t always easy. If you’re looking for proven ways to optimize your mental health, we have you covered. Some of the below methods might sound familiar, but others might be a bit surprising. By trying them all out, you’ll have a better chance of improving your mental health in the long term.
1. Stay Physically Active
Working out your body may seem like a strange way to keep your mind in shape, but trust us — it works. Numerous studies have linked physical activity to things like staving off the signs of aging and treating post-traumatic stress disorder.
So what types of things should you do to keep your mental health in tip-top shape? Small things, like taking a walk around the block or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, are a great start. But if you’re worried about conditions like depression, one study found that aerobic exercise (like running or swimming), resistance exercise (like weightlifting), and mixed exercises were the best options.
That same study found that working out three to four times a week had the best results for improving depressive symptoms. And perhaps most importantly was the duration of the workout program. Participants needed to stick to a routine for at least 10 weeks to see the best results.
2. Keep Your Diet Healthy
What you eat is how you fuel your brain, so it makes total sense that you’ll want to be mindful of your nutrition. However, some foods have been scientifically proven to benefit mental health more than others.
One study has linked eating a modified Mediterranean diet to a decrease in depressive symptoms. This means eating more things like fresh fruit and vegetables, fats like extra virgin olive oil, high-quality protein like fish, and whole grains. It also means cutting back on processed and overly sweet foods like refined cereals, fried food, and desserts.
What that looks like in a daily diet is five to eight servings of whole grains, three servings of fruit, and six servings of vegetables. Then, on a weekly basis, you can have three to four servings of legumes, three to four servings of lean red meat, and additional servings of fish, poultry, and eggs.
This study in particular was a three-month trial, so you’ll likely need to continue on this diet for at least that long to see results. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water as well!
3. Limit Social Media
Today, you might have profiles on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and more, all of which try to draw you in and keep you scrolling all day long. While scrolling, you may find yourself feeling inadequate when you compare yourself to others. You might start to feel envious or dissatisfied with your own life. It’s possible you could even develop a fear of missing out.
Obviously, these are not great emotions for your mental health. That’s why scientists recommend limiting your social media usage to just 30 minutes a day. They determined this by conducting a study where half of the participants used social media as usual and the other half were restricted.
The restricted group found that they were less lonely and depressed over the three-week study. Participants in both groups also had a decrease in fear of missing out, which scientists attribute to increased self-monitoring of their social media habits.
4. Schedule Your Worrying
All of us worry about things from time to time. But if you feel like your anxiety is taking over your life, one study may have a way to help with that.
Research has found that scheduling a designated 30-minute “worry period” might be the right way to combat anxiety. Scientists have dubbed this stimulus control, and it works by limiting the time your brain spends thinking about problems.
During this 30-minute period, you have free rein to go over all of your pending issues. This time can also be spent thinking of solutions to your anxieties. Then, when the 30 minutes is over, you go back to your daily life and actively avoid thinking about what is stressing you out.
This may sound like a weird way to do things, but the study did confirm that participants in the study had decreased stress, depressive, and anxiety symptoms compared to people who were only using standard anxiety treatments.
5. Go to Therapy
Talking with a therapist is still a bit stigmatized in American culture. People think it makes you weak or means you’re crazy. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Going to therapy is hard, and it takes someone strong and resilient to open up to a stranger. And while therapists do treat a wide spectrum of mental illnesses, they’re also there for anyone who needs a little extra support.
Therapy is highly effective at helping with mental disorders and has been studied extensively through the years. A resolution by the American Psychological Association has compiled evidence from over 50 peer-reviewed studies to prove this point. Their findings show that psychotherapy can treat a variety of mental and behavioral issues, reduce disability, and improve work functioning.
Many therapists recommend starting with one session a week. This gives you time between sessions to gather your thoughts and work on some of the changes your therapist may recommend.
Don’t Be Ashamed if You Need More Help
If you’ve already tried all these things to no avail, this doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Rather, it means you might just need to try another approach. When lifestyle changes on their own aren’t providing the proper results, adding medication to the mix can help you feel better overall. Medications like antidepressants can help rebalance your brain chemistry and improve your mood.
To know if medication is right for you, talk with a medical professional. They’ll be able to further assess your symptoms, learn about the lifestyle changes you’ve already made, and provide a personalized treatment plan to help you combat your mental issues.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes.