6 Small Steps To Take For Better Mental Health This Year, According To Experts

by Carolyn de Lorenzo
Johannes Simon/Getty Images News/Getty Images

As we officially bid adieu to 2018 and ring in 2019, you might be thinking about ways to improve your health in the new year. If fitness goals are on your radar that’s great, but caring for your mental health is also important. The intersection between physical and mental health can be significant, and stress can compromise both of these if you’re not taking regular steps to manage its effects. These mental health boosts to try in 2019 are simpler (and more effective) than they might seem.

"The symptoms associated with stress can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior," Lisa Brateman, LCSW, an NYC-based psychotherapist and relationship specialist tells Bustle via email. "Prolonged stress can contribute to feeling overwhelmed, depression, irritability, and anger. It impairs one’s judgement and often interferes with interpersonal relationships."

Given that stress isn't really something you can avoid in life, it can be helpful to have a regular self-care plan in place for the sake of your mental health. Ongoing self-care and mental health maintenance can help boost your resilience over time, so you aren't left reeling as much when trouble hits. Here are six small ways to support your mental health in 2019, according to experts.


Release Perfectionism

Holding yourself to impossible standards can seriously harm your mental health, Medical News Today writes. The effects of perfectionism can include increased rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, among other health problems. Essentially, perfectionism can add *a lot* of stress to your life, and you don't need that.

Cultivating self-compassion can help heal the potentially harmful effects of perfectionism, Harvard Health writes. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help you examine your beliefs, while slowly (albeit imperfectly) reframing them over time.


Practice Being Present

"Anxiety is usually fear about the future," Brateman says, so focusing on the present via meditation or deep breathing may help ease your symptoms.

Whether through sitting meditation, walking meditation, or deep breathing exercises, taking time out each day to practice being present is a powerful way to lessen the effects of stress. While there are different techniques for practicing being present, research suggests that mindfulness — the state of deliberate, non-judgmental focus on the present moment — can improve mood and build stress resilience with practice.


Spend Time In Nature

"Despite many benefits of urbanization, studies show that the mental health of urban dwellers is negatively affected by their city environment, with greater prevalence of anxiety and mood disorders," Psych Central writes. Spending time in nature is one of the simplest ways to relieve stress and feel better overall, and some doctors now also prescribe nature walks for those living with chronic illness.

Whether you've got easy access to nature, a city park nearby, or a potted plant on your fire escape, finding ways to connect with nature is key when it comes to caring for your mental well-being.


Avoid Social Isolation

While solitude can be beneficial at times (especially for introverted people), social isolation means that you don't have enough in the way of community connections and emotional support. Social isolation can make mental illness symptoms worse, according to Good Therapy. "Isolation can increase the risks of mental health issues such as depression, dementia, social anxiety, and low self-esteem. Isolation and mental health issues can also interact with one another in a feedback loop. For example, a person might develop depression because of intense loneliness, then feel even more isolated because of their depression."

If you're feeling isolated and dealing with mental health issues, reach out. Finding a therapist, and/or a well facilitated support group, can be great places to start if you know that you need to connect more.


Find Ways To Relax

Meditation, hot baths, quality time with pets, and yoga, are just a handful of ways to relax on the regular. Verywell Health suggests that when you take some time to relax your mind, the body releases tension as well, and vice versa, so having relaxing techniques built into your self-care routine is a key way to bust up the potentially harmful effects of stress on mind and body.


Consider Therapy

"Therapy will help individuals learn how to reframe their experiences to achieve different results," Brateman says. "Therapy offers coping mechanisms which can lead to understanding one’s vulnerabilities, and address them in a healthy way in that moment rather than stress about the future. Asking oneself what would be more helpful in the moment, rather than escalating panic: Problem solving feels empowering while panic makes one feel out of control."

If in-office counseling isn't accessible for you right now, consider online therapy platforms that help lower costs, while getting you the support that you need.


Stress happens, and, let's face it, there's a lot about life that's not in your control. By taking care of your mental health *before* challenges arise, however, you'll be better equipped to deal with life's unavoidable ups and downs. So, arm yourself with a new self-care hack or two, and stay well in 2019, friends.