General Research Therapies — 09 November 2018

Busy professionals are well aware of the value of keeping their bodies physically healthy. But if you’re serious about keeping yourself as productive as possible, taking care of your mental wellness should be a top priority, too.  

The good news is that mental health challenges are largely treatable, and specialists say that proactively managing them is the best approach. Getty  

But mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are common, and not treating them can seriously slow you down.

The good news is that mental health challenges are largely treatable, and specialists say that proactively managing them is the best approach.

While it’s no surprise that good sleep, exercise and healthy eating are the foundations of mental wellness, there’s a lot more you can do to keep your mind in its best shape.

Here are six everyday habits that can improve your mental wellness.

1. Spend Time With Pets

Sure, pets require time and energy, but science says the effort is worth it: Spending time with pets benefits mental health. A survey performed by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute found 74 percent of pet owners said time with their pets improved their mental health.

“Petting your animals is amazing,” said marriage and family therapist Katie Ziskind. “It increases serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine, your feel-good brain chemicals.”

 

Sure, pets require time and energy, but science says the effort is worth it: Spending time with pets benefits mental health.

Sure, pets require time and energy, but science says the effort is worth it: Spending time with pets benefits mental health.Getty

As a pet parent herself, Ziskind can attest to this firsthand: “After a long day at work, I take some time to hang out with my ferret and pet my cat, which makes me feel really good about my day, even if it was a long one.”

2. Subscribe To A Meal Service

Cooking is an excellent way to de-stress at the end of the day, but planning a meal, shopping and prep can be overwhelming. Enter meal services, the subscription services that deliver everything you need to make a healthy meal in just a few steps right to your door.

“Consider subscribing to a meal service,” suggested Christine Gutierrez, a licensed therapist and emotional health and wellness advocate. “This is great for busy, young professionals.”

These days, there are no shortage of services from which to choose, from well-known companies like Blue Apron to lesser-known ones like Hungryroot or Nomiku Meals, which sends prepared meals packaged for cooking sous vide. In some cities, you can find local companies and farmers markets that offer similar services.

3. Volunteer, Formally Or Informally

Donating your time and talents to worthy causes can help you while you help others. Experts believe volunteering can improve self-confidence and help with depression. And volunteering also has physical benefits, including lowering blood pressure and even helping you live longer.

But you don’t have to sign up with a nonprofit to get the mental health benefits of being charitable. According to Mental Health America, even small, informal acts of kindness — such as calling friends to see how they’re doing, helping an elderly neighbor unpack groceries or serving your spouse breakfast in bed — can boost your mental wellness. 

“When you feel overwhelmed, reach out and do something nice for someone else,” advised family and relationship psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish.

“Being generous in words and actions creates positive feelings for the doer and gets your endorphins flowing.”

— Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist 
4. Set Small Goals To Reach Big Goals

Accomplishing goals makes us feel good. But if your goal is to retire early as a millionaire, you may have a long time to go until the big payoff, which can be discouraging. Instead of waiting around, set small goals like getting a complete picture of your finances, developing a new stream of revenue and increasing contributions to retirement plans. They may lead up to a larger goal. Or, they may just help you get through a mundane task; either way, your brain will like it.

When you accomplish a small goal, you get a dose of dopamine, which makes your brain feel good. The more goals you reach each day, the better you feel. And when your eye is on that big, long-term goal, those small victories can help keep you motivated.

Instead of waiting around, set small goals like getting a complete picture of your finances, developing a new stream of revenue and increasing contributions to retirement plans.

Instead of waiting around, set small goals like getting a complete picture of your finances, developing a new stream of revenue and increasing contributions to retirement plans.Getty

5. Socialize IRL

Digital socializing and media consumption are so pervasive that it’s easy to assume you’ve met your need for human contact — even when you haven’t spoken to another person all day. But it’s not the same. While research on online relationships is limited, a 2015 study found that people who met regularly with family and friends are less likely to be depressed than those who connected via email or phone. 

“We all need to put technology down and just be present with our lives and connect,” said Leann Romitti, a private practice therapist. “When you are out with friends, make sure that you turn your phone off.”

Experts have also connected socializing to lower levels of anxiety and better mental and physical health.

“We are social creatures and not the social media kind,” Romitti explained. “Our mental health thrives off personal connections, and when we deprive ourselves of that, we do ourselves a major disservice.”

That doesn’t mean your smartphone is all bad for your social life. You can use apps like Nextdoor or Meetup to find events near you and people who are also looking for real-life connections. 

6. Start Your Day With Coffee

Great news for coffee lovers: Studies suggest there are mental health benefits to drinking coffee. According to the American Psychological Association, in addition to keeping us awake, caffeine allows dopamine to flow more freely. One study also found that coffee lowered instances of depression among women.  

So go ahead and pour yourself a cup or two — but consider stopping there: Having more than three or four cups a day is associated with negative mental health effects. And people with a tendency toward anxiety may want to stay away from coffee altogether, as it can aggravate symptoms.

Living Mindfully

As with physical wellness, maintaining mental wellness is a daily commitment. But those efforts pay off in tangible ways: People who prioritize their mental wellness tend to be happier and more productive versions of themselves.

When you incorporate these habits into your life, good mental health becomes a whole lot easier to achieve — and that’ll keep you in the best position to pursue your dreams. 

A former downtown development professional, Natalie Burg is a freelancer who writes about entrepreneurialism and innovation.

This piece Natalie Burg was first seen on ‘Forbes’, 6 November 2018. 

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