Ten Ways to Boost Your Mental Health (Baby Steps)

This is the second post in a three-part series on how to slightly improve different areas of health: mental, physical, and spiritual. All three are crucial to overall wellness, but this one is the one I am most nervous about writing on. Mental health and wellness does not come easily to me; I feel things long and deeply (back when Twilight was popular, friends said I was like that idea of a vampire; emotionally, I get rather set in my ways). However, I've come to realize that this journey has given me skills where a lot of people have instinct - or, to put it another way, I have to be conscious of my mental health. I want to share a few tricks and tips I've learned along the way. 

(A couple of notes on this post)
 First: This is not the list that will tell you to forgive your parents (the lifelong struggle of half the people I know), to see a therapist, or visit a wellness retreat. All of those things matter. I recommend all three, but this is a baby steps post. These are things you can do immediately, for free. Second: Some of these things could justifiably be physical things. However, they also have immediate benefits for mental health, whereas the physical list is geared toward things that take time to improve the body. 

1. Smile at yourself in the mirror. 
It is common practice to smile at someone you recognize and are happy to see on the street. We all smile at former classmates, professors, coworkers, etc. The trick here is that, on the journey to self-love, you have to become excited about being YOU. One easy way to do this is to smile at your own reflection before looking away. (This is also a great way to increase your body confidence). 

2. Only wear the clothes you like.
There is a reason I rotate between a few outfits: I like the way I look in them, or at least, feel comfortable and confident when wearing those outfits. Life is too short to worry about the way you look, but it is also too short to not deeply enjoy the material vessel you've been given. If you get dressed and feel "bleh," and realize there is something really "You" in the closet, pull it out. You are alive. Today is a special occasion. 

3. Get rid of clothes you don't wear. 
You'd be amazed how much space clothing takes up in your mental energy, whether it is in the things you'll fit again someday or something that feels too expensive to get rid of. My rule: if the only reason I own something is because I bought it, it needs to go. 

4. Baths. 
If you have forgotten how wonderful baths are, this is your reminder: baths are wonderful. "Luxuriate" is a word you should be able to use to describe at least one thing every week. 

5. Cut back on caffeine. 
I am not saying you should stop drinking coffee, but if you feel anxious, the third cup may be to blame. Caffeine triggers adrenaline, which your body can misinterpret as a fear response; if your brain gets the "afraid" message from your body, it will try to fill in the blank with what you are afraid of. Slowly decrease the amount of caffeine you consume (and drink slowly) and you might notice a decrease in anxious thoughts. 

6. Stop and smell the flowers. 
I am serious. Look at pretty things as pretty. Imagine that you are a photographer looking for the ideal moment in your world. This place is beautiful; enjoy it. 

7. Create rewards. 
I have a running list of things to reward myself with. This might be a frappe after an exam (this is an actual reward I give myself after every major test) or a pair of shoes for a larger accomplishments. Having easily manageable goals with tangible rewards makes work feel less tedious, and puts meaning on things that might feel like busywork or "going through the motions." 

8. Find theme songs. 
The other day, I was feeling down and doubtful, and a dear mentor sent me two songs to serve as anthems. Songs are complete pieces of art, so if you are feeling a certain way, there is a song for that, and a song for how you WANT to feel. One of the songs I listen to on days when I feel totally unmotivated is "Best Day of My Life" by American Authors. Another is "Wild I Am" by Vocal Few. 

9. Do cardio immediately after meditating. 
The New York Times just released an article on this. Basically, when you meditate, and your emotions are flowing through you, exercise will help you sort through the endorphins and chemicals released, allowing your conscious and subconscious to sort through memories more clearly. Plus, meditation will help center you during exercise. 

10. Make ambitious to-do lists with a 50% passing grade.
I have around 20 to 25 things on my to-do list every day, but I only hold myself to a goal of finishing half of the items. This list includes self-care items, like meditating, prayer, and taking supplements, as well as ordinary tasks.  Most of the time, I finish 80% or so; it's rare that everything gets accomplished. The important thing is that time does not sit heavy on my hands more than it needs to - I have things I can do. Plus, everyone likes checking things off a list. 

What are your tips? Leave a comment!