Almost half of all Americans know someone who goes to therapy or have been themselves, and 97% of Americans consider mental health care important. It is encouraging to see the stigma associated with mental healthcare decreasing, but there is still more we could be doing. Even if you are currently in therapy, it is likely once a week or less. Focusing daily on proactive aspects of mental health is equally as important as getting standard treatment. Here are some practical ideas to start your proactive mental health care routine.
Group therapy is an alternative or addition to one-on-one counseling and can be an additional layer of support. Participants gain social skills, support from others, a diverse perspective, and information that can help them navigate life. Many groups are also available on online platforms, including Dr. Nicole Cain’s exclusive free Facebook group for anxiety reduction.
Even if you are unable to attend a formal group therapy session in-person or online, connecting with others is a vital part of human life. Social connections are even correlated with longer lifespans and fewer health problems. Write down a list of people you want to connect with–family members, mentors, friends, or others–and commit to regularly communicating with them. If you are having trouble thinking of others to connect with, try volunteering or joining a local or online group.
Most people are aware that exercise is good for their physical health, but exercise like walking, swimming, or yoga is also good for your mental health! Some of the benefits are:
- Improved sleep
- Increased interest in sex
- Better endurance
- Stress relief
- Improvement in mood
- Increased energy and stamina
- Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
- Weight reduction
- Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness
Additionally, physical activity can reduce the effects of trauma and its symptoms. More individualized care such as physical therapy or massage therapy is also useful in treating trauma-related somatic symptoms such as pain.
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety, promote more restful sleep, and increase overall health and well-being. Making mindfulness part of your daily routine can have positive long-term effects. If you need help getting started, try out apps like MetaFi,
Insight Timer, or Headspace. You could also try out some of these suggestions throughout the day such as observing your breathing or eating consciously.
Positive psychology research has been expanding rapidly in the past decade. This specialty topic within the field of psychology focuses on what people think makes life worth living. It also explores satisfaction, optimism, and perceptions of happiness. Some of the research in this field shows that by doing things that cultivate positivity, you can enhance your emotional health as well as relationships with others and job productivity. While it is beneficial to simply “think positive,” there are some practical actions you can take to increase positivity:
- Start a daily gratitude journal
- Read books on positive psychology
- Watch some TED talks on positive psychology
- Listen to positive podcasts
- The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos
- Unlocking Us with Dr. Brené Brown
- Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris
- Take a free online class: The Science of Happiness with Dr. Dacher Keltner
- Using arts to express yourself can be great for your mental health. Music, visual arts, movement-based expression, and expressive writing have all been found to reduce anxiety and promote overall health.
Knowledge is Power
- Learn about the science and biology behind trauma and the brain to empower yourself. The Body Keeps The Score is a seminal work in this area. If you prefer audio resources, check out The Intentional Clinician podcast.
- Spirituality does not have to be found in a religion. Incorporating aspects of mindfulness and social connection are ways to practice connecting to something bigger than ourselves. Religion can also provide mental health benefits, but you do not have to join a specific religious group to enjoy the benefits of spirituality practices.