Experts Say These 7 Small Changes Can Help Improve Your Mental Health

by Kristine Fellizar
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There are so many different things that contribute to your sense of well-being from your career, to your social life, to the food you're eating each day. Adopting good lifestyle habits can help you feel better mentally. While exercising and eating foods that are rich in nutrients are good ways to maintain your health, according to studies and experts, there's a lot more you can be doing. There are small changes you can make that will help to improve your mental health today.

For instance, a 2019 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that cutting back on alcohol can improve mental health in women. Researchers from the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong conducted a study of over 40,000 people from the United States and Hong Kong. Those who never drank alcohol had the "highest levels of mental well-being," while women who quit drinking over the course of the study saw improvements in their mental health.

You don't have to quit drinking altogether if you don't want to. But a small change like limiting your alcohol intake can be really beneficial to your mental health.

So here are some other small changes you can make today that can help to improve your mental health, according to experts.


Spend More Time Outdoors

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“Several researchers have looked into the health benefits connected to spending time out in nature," Niels Eék, psychologist and co-founder of mental wellbeing and self-development platform, Remente, tells Bustle. For instance, a 2019 study published in the journal Nature found that spending just two hours a week in nature can benefit your health and sense of well-being. "Daily exposure to nature can, among other things, help reduce feelings of stress and even improve your self-esteem, for up to seven hours," Eék says. "Reconnecting with nature can also help you become more mindful and present in the moment.”


Schedule Time Each Day To Unplug

It's seemingly impossible to live without a smartphone today. But all the texts, emails, and social media notifications, are not only distracting but they can also increase your stress levels. As Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed clinical psychologist and board certified neurotherapist, tells Bustle, "They also lead to distractions that take attention away from the present moment." So we become less social in face-to-face situations. Research has also found that frequent social media use contributes to poor mental health, especially in young adults. You don't need to give up technology or social media completely. But Jackson suggests scheduling times when you leave your devices off or in another room. That way you can focus on the people around you or on other activities that you love.


Practice Gratitude

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Practicing gratitude is something many health and wellness experts say you should do. But according to Jackson, it's still very under-used in our society. "Too often we focus on the negative and not on what's happening in our lives," she says. "But the brain and our subsequent behaviors change as a result of our thinking." In fact, several studies found that giving thanks can make you feel happier. Jackson suggests writing down three things that you are grateful for each day for optimal benefits. At the end of each month, or whenever you're feeling down, you can look at your lists and reflect on all the good things that's happened in your life.


Get Between Seven To Nine Hours Of Sleep Each Night

"A lack of sleep can throw off all functions of the brain," Jackson says. For instance, it can impact attention and your ability to think clearly. It can even affect your mood and behaviors. So it's important to get enough sleep for "optimal brain functioning" and good mental health, she says. You want to aim for about seven to nine hours of sleep each night to be in good shape.


Manage Stress Through Meditation

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Chronic stress can lead to inflammation, which can then lead to health issues like depression, anxiety, and hormone imbalances. One way to deal with stress is to practice meditation and mindfulness. According to Jackson, practicing this on a regular and consistent basis "increases cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory." It can also help your brain self-regulate, and manage your concentration, mood ,and anxiety. Because of this, your overall well-being can improve.


Practice An Inclusive Approach To Eating

"As a dietitian, I often explain to clients the mental health benefits of a less-restrictive diet," Rachel Fine, registered dietitian and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition, tells Bustle. Having an “eat less” mindset can set you up for a cycle of guilt when unfair expectations are not met. So Fine suggests prcticing an "inclusive approach" to eating. "Instead of making rules, make choices," she says. "Psychologically, an inclusive approach allows for enjoyment of all foods. Once we grant ourselves unconditional permission to eat our favorite foods, we relieve the weight of responsibility that these foods hold over us."


Stand By Your Decisions

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One super easy way to stay mentally healthy is to stand by your initial decisions. "Many of us with high-functioning anxiety waste so much time worrying about our decisions," Christine Scott-Hudson, licensed psychotherapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. But once you’ve made a decision, simply believe that you made the right choice. "This simple habit of radically accepting your own decisions frees up so much bandwidth in your mind, it’s absolutely liberating," she says.

There are so many little things you can do each day to stay mentally healthy. These are just a few small changes experts say you can start with.