Lifestyle Changes to Improve Mental Health
The concept of lifestyle change has been somewhat of a buzzword the past few years. People have realized that fad diets and intermittent seasons of exercise do not often lend to long-term results. Often individuals are unable to maintain big changes like extreme diets and long hours at the gym, and end up back where they started their health journey not too long after. Thus, the concept of making healthy lifestyle changes came forward. The idea is to maintain health through daily and weekly routines and rituals built into your schedule. These changes may not be extreme, and the change might feel slower, but the long-term effects are proven.
Typically, when thinking of lifestyle changes, the focus is on physical health. However, this same concept can be applied to our mental health. If you’ve been to therapy before, you may have heard suggestions of journaling, meditation or mindfulness, taking time for yourself, etc. All of these are very helpful things for your mental health. However, many individuals don’t follow through with these suggestions because it’s hard to see how they can fit into busy schedules. But here’s the good news about the concept of a lifestyle change to improve our mental health – we don’t have to take hours of time out of our days to journal or meditate; we can build mental and emotional health into our daily rhythms.
Below are some helpful tips for creating lifestyle change through routines and habits beneficial for your mental health:
- Make the most of the time in between: whether it’s driving to and from work, time in the shower, or while you’re running on the treadmill. Instead of letting your mind wander, ask yourself what truth you need to hear that day and listen to a song that focuses on this truth, repeat a scripture to yourself about this, speak affirmations of this truth to yourself, or pray about this truth.
- Pay attention to your thoughts. So frequently our minds are racing about things that are not beneficial for our mental health (anxious thoughts, negative self-talk, replaying past regrets). As Christians, we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Philippians 4:8 says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Become aware of where your mind wanders and begin to speak true and lovely thoughts to yourself instead. This can be difficult at first, but over time, you’ll notice that your automatic thoughts will begin to shift as well.
- Check in with yourself throughout the day. Try taking a deep breath and scanning your body intermittently throughout the day. If you notice stress, anxiety, or sadness building, take a few deep breaths. Breathe into your stomach deeply and slowly out through your mouth. You can picture yourself breathing in peace and breathing out tension or breathing in positive thoughts and breathing out negative thoughts. This also might be a good time to meditate on the truth you noticed you needed to hear earlier that day. To help yourself remember to do this, think of something that happens regularly thought the day like the bell ringing in between classes, playing with your favorite necklace that you’re wearing, or being at a stop light. Any time you notice this thing, let it remind you to check in with yourself.
- Practice gratitude. It’s easy for the negative to feel so big in our lives that it seems to drown out the positive. In order to counter this, make a point to name three things you’re grateful for each day. This might be something you think about on your way home from work or school or something you take some time to journal about each night before you go to sleep.
- Be intentional about how you’re setting yourself up for sleep. Instead of working up to the last minute before bed or falling asleep scrolling through social media, set aside a few minutes right before you fall asleep to help your body and mind relax. You can do this by using the deep breathing explained above, by closing your eyes and meditating on a peaceful song, or by using a sleep practice on a mindfulness app. Smiling Mind, Headspace, and Calm are all apps that can be useful for this. By doing this right before you fall asleep, you can help your body and mind sleep deeper and feel more rested in the morning.
For further information on this topic healthy habits you can build into your life, I’d highly recommend the book Rhythms of Renewal by Rebekah Lyons. She categorizes these rhythms into four categories: rest, restore, connect, and create. You can also take a quiz to see which area you are strongest at https://rebekahlyons.com/.
– Jessica Winebarger, LPC