How to Protect Your Mental Health
If you’re not protecting your mental health right now, you’re either struggling or a superhero. Even before the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench in things, there was plenty to stress about.
Concerns about everything from dirty dishes to climate change can affect your mental health. Just remember: You control your mental state. You may not be able to solve all of life’s challenges, but you can keep them from getting to you.
Safeguarding your mental health isn’t just about keeping your stress levels in check, either. For yourself and others, it’s critical for a healthy, productive life.
How to Protect Your Mental Health
Protecting your mental health starts with a simple commitment: to separate your internal state from what’s going on around you. Here’s how to do it:
1. Talk it Out
The first and most important step to protecting your mental health? Speaking up.
Opening up to friends and family about your mental health challenges isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it proves you’re strong enough to show others the not-so-perfect parts of your life.
Need an easy way to start the conversation? You could say:
- A. “I want to share something with you.”
- B. “I’ve been thinking about…”
- C. “Can we talk about…?”
- D. “I’ve been struggling with…”
E. Any one of these will allow an easy in to a conversation you need to have.
2. Shrink Your Screen Time
Tempting as it is right now, spending hours each day on social media isn’t good for your mental health. At best, you’ll distract yourself from what matters; at worst, you’ll internalize all the bad news and anger online.
Young people are particularly prone to this, but they’re not alone. A friend of mine got her daughter a Gabb phone, which is a safe phone for kids that helps limit screen time. After I got my niece one, it made me think about how much I need to limit my own screen time.
I haven’t swapped out my smartphone, but I have put boundaries on how I use it. I limit myself to two hours of surfing per day, with a hard stop at 9 p.m. I don’t touch it again until I leave for work in the morning. Consider doing something similar to get yourself away from your screen.
3. Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
Another lesson I’ve learned about maintaining my mental health? Avoiding drugs and alcohol is key.
A few years ago, I got in the habit of pouring myself a glass of wine after a long day. It sure helped me unwind from the stresses of work, so I figured it was worth the health risks.
What nobody told me, though, is that alcohol makes anxiety worse. A few hours after having a drink, I noticed I’d get stressed out. Cutting back helped me get back to my normal self.
4. Don’t Neglect Your Diet
Have you ever heard medical experts call your gut “your second brain”? The reason is that the gastrointestinal tract has more nerve endings than anywhere in the body apart from the brain.
Every bite you take affects those gut nerves. Nutritious foods — the fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean meats your mother likes to talk about — nurture it, while unhealthy ones upset it.
Cook meals at home whenever you can, and keep an eye on your snack intake. Even if you’re eating salmon and broccoli for dinner, binging on processed snacks at night could be messing with your mental health.
5. Stay Active
Your physical and mental health are more connected than you might realize. Regular exercise can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety as effectively, in some cases, as medication.
What type of exercise is best for mental health? Opt for cardio, but realize that anything is better than nothing. Whether you like to swim, run, row, or lift, get some fresh blood to your brain.
Don’t let your current fitness level be a barrier. When I was looking at new ways to exercise, I was looking at what a lot of busy entrepreneurs do to work out. I randomly came upon a site where Mark Cuban got a new e-bike and figured I would try one out. Within a few weeks, I was cruising for miles while listening to my favorite podcasts. It’s become one of my favorite times to learn while staying active.
6. Give Yourself a Break
Although perseverance is admirable, you have to cut yourself some slack when times get tough. Taking breaks is critical if you want to keep going for the long term.
Because I struggle to take breaks, I use the Pomodoro Method: I buckle down for 25 minutes, after which I give myself a five-minute break. There’s no right or wrong approach, but you do need a system.
How should you spend your breaks? Do something that rejuvenates you, such as:
- A. Reading a book
- B. Calling up a friend
- C. Taking a bath or shower
- D. Taking a nap
- E. Going for a walk