Celebrating Mental Health Month: Top 10 Ways To Strengthen Your Mental Health
Every May in the United States, we celebrate National Mental Health Month. It’s a yearly opportunity to discuss the importance of mental health, tell stories and education, and combat the stigma of mental illness.
While May is officially recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, this work continues year-round. Along with this, we also celebrate World Mental Health Day in October, and other important days for mental health awareness all throughout the year. Both within and outside the U.S., mental health professionals and activists are committed to improving the availability of mental health care.
Whether you’re working for a therapist or just beginning your journey, small changes can have long-term impacts on your mental health. Learn how to strengthen your mental well-being with these 10 at-home strategies. But first, let’s brush up on the history of Mental Health Month: a yearly reminder to care for ourselves and our communities.
The History Of Mental Health Month
Mental Health Month, also called Mental Health Awareness Month, was first launched in 1949 by Mental Health America (MHA) to raise awareness about mental health and illness. Every year, the organizers announce a different theme: in May 2022, the theme was "Together for Mental Health."
The primary goals of Mental Heath Month include:
Improve attitudes toward mental illness and people living with mental health conditions
Advance the quality and availability of mental health services
Work toward the prevention of mental illnesses and the promotion of strong mental health
Every year, the MHA also creates online “toolkits” with various strategies and resources to improve mental health.
Why Does Mental Health Matter?
As we navigate the pandemic and other global crises, more people are openly discussing the importance of mental health in our communities. Mental health – which includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being – determines how we respond to stress, form relationships, and make choices that impact our long-term health.
By investing in your mental health, research indicates that you’re more likely to enjoy the following four benefits, which promote lasting improvements in your overall health and happiness.
1. Better Physical Health
Your brain and body are intertwined. Studies repeatedly find a strong link between mental and physical health; and oftentimes, mental health conditions lead to physical symptoms, such as sleep disturbances or weakened immunity.
By focusing on stress management and attending to other mental health concerns, patients often notice improvements in their physical well-being. Over time, this could decrease the risk of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
2. Stronger Relationships
When you’re feeling mentally healthy, you tend to have more energy to sustain your current relationships and make new connections. Even when you’re experiencing a mental illness or another challenge, your preexisting social network can help you manage stress and ward off loneliness.
Both platonic and romantic relationships can offer a sense of companionship, connection, and life purpose. Over time, these connections can have significant, positive impacts on our mental health as well as our immune function, nervous system activity, and susceptibility to disease, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
3. Sharper Focus and Concentration
Mental health challenges can negatively impact your focus and concentration, which may lower your performance at work, school, and daily social settings. Difficulty focusing often accompanies depression; and in general, when you’re experiencing any kind of mental health challenge, you may find it difficult to concentrate on your work and relationships.
4. Improved Quality Of Life
When researchers study the lives of people with strong mental health, they often use a questionnaire to assess their overall quality of life. In their responses, people with better mental health tend to report greater satisfaction with their employment, leisure time, living situations, and relationships.
10 Ways To Strengthen Your Mental Health
In honor of Mental Health Month, we’re highlighting 10 at-home strategies to improve your mental health. Making any of these small adjustments can transform your mental health over the course of a month, year, and lifetime.
1. Make A Plan For Stress Management
Stress is an inevitable part of life, but there are several science-backed ways to manage daily stressors. Some of the best techniques for reducing stress and boosting your mental health include:
Finding a form of physical activity that you truly enjoy. As long as it gets you moving, it counts! You can try dancing, playing a favorite sport, a group yoga class, or simply a long walk with a friend. Exercise promotes the release of endorphins, which are natural mood elevators, while reducing levels of stress hormones.
Meditation and deep breathing exercises. During stressful moments or periods of life, many people find it helpful to practice deep breathing and mindfulness. These simple techniques can help you slow down, notice your thoughts, and learn to accept the things you can’t control.
Of course, stress management looks different for everyone, so these stress-reduction techniques may not resonate with you. Take time to identify activities and even physical places that promote a sense of calm, relaxation, or connection to other people.
2. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is essential for our mental health and overall functioning. According to the APA, benefits of high-quality sleep include improved muscle repair, memory consolidation, and better judgment and mood.
Health experts recommend that adults aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night. However, U.S. adults report sleeping an average of 6.7 hours a night, and 42% report that their sleep quality is fair or poor.
To clean up your sleep hygiene, try tweaking your routine with the following habits:
Sleep in a quiet, dark, relaxing space at a comfortable temperature
Limit alcohol, caffeine, and eating large meals before bedtime
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including the weekends
Practice breathing exercises, meditation, and other calming techniques, which can reduce feelings of stress that may keep you up at night
If you’re living with a sleep disorder or regularly experiencing sleep issues, always consult with a medical professional.
3. Prioritize Your Self-Care Routine
Adequate sleep, nutrition, and stress management techniques are all aspects of lifelong self-care. But in addition to these basic pillars, therapists suggest finding self-care activities that are uniquely tailored to your interests, needs, and temperament.
While self-care can take many forms, the following activities may help you rest and restore, especially after a challenging day or week:
Reading a book
Engaging in a spiritual activity like prayer or meditation
Calling a loved one on the phone
It may take time and experimentation to identify self-care activities that bring you the most fulfillment. But once you find them, try to schedule them into your everyday life, granting them as much importance as your work meetings, gym classes, and other responsibilities.
4. Invest In Your Relationships
Both anecdotally and scientifically, quality relationships are key for a happy, healthy, and even longer life.
An ongoing study by Harvard University, titled the Grant Study, has followed a group of people to assess how early-life experiences affect health and aging over time. One of their greatest takeaways is that our relationships have powerful influences on our mental health. These connections promote happiness, slow mental and physical decline, and predict longevity better than social class, IQ, or genes.
Healthy relationships require energy from all people involved. Seemingly small acts, like scheduling a phone call with a families or grabbing coffee with a friend, add up over time. When you nurture your relationships, you’re investing in your mental health as well as the health of the people you love most.
5. Make Time For Your Hobbies
Hobbies are a form of self-care, and they’re also a way to learn new things and meet other people in your community. The benefits of hobbies are so great that health care professionals sometimes “prescribe” them to supplement patients’ care plans. Some research suggests that hobbies can reduce stress and people with hobbies are less likely to develop depression. Another observance that provides awareness of mental health is National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month every October. If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, enjoying an interesting hobby is a good idea. Consulting a professional in mental health is another good option.
6. Create Space For Gratitude
Gratitude and mental health are closely related. Several studies link gratitude to reduced stress, better emotional control, a more positive mindset, and deeper connections to other people.
The MHA recommends tracking your gratitude with a journal. Every morning, evening, or sometime in between, you can list three things you’re grateful for, and potentially discuss them with a loved one or therapist.
7. Get In Touch With Your Emotions
Between work, family obligations, and social events, you might find it difficult to press pause and make an honest assessment of your emotions. Yet by asking yourself how you’re really feeling, you’re prioritizing your emotional well-being: a primary aspect of emotional intelligence.
By taking time to understand their own emotions, emotionally intelligent people learn to recognize others’ feelings with greater accuracy and compassion. Emotional intelligence is related to better social and intimate relationships and work satisfaction, all of which can boost mental health.
8. Tap Into Your Creativity
Creativity isn’t limited to visual art. Your next creative project could be writing a poem, making up a song, or choreographing a one-of-a-kind dance.
As long as you’re harnessing your inner artist, you can enjoy some of the psychological benefits of creativity. Research has shown that over time, maintaining a creative hobby or job can increase happiness, lower the risk of dementia, reduce anxiety and depression, and even support healthy processing of trauma.
9. Focus On Your Self-Esteem
Self-esteem describes how positively we view our unique qualities and characteristics. Low self-esteem is linked to relationship problems, academic struggles, work-related issues, and mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.
For many people, developing their self-esteem is a lifelong journey – but small, daily efforts make a difference over time. To improve your self-esteem, pay special attention to any thought or behavioral patterns that may make you feel poorly about yourself. A therapist can often help you identify negative thoughts and look for healthier ways to understand and explain your feelings and actions.
10. Consider Therapy
A therapist or counselor can play a critical role in your mental health. While some people prefer face-to-face therapy, online therapy is an increasingly popular option, particularly for people who lack time or financial resources for traditional therapy. Digital platforms like BetterHelp connect patients to over 20,000 licensed mental health care professionals with a broad range of specialties.
In several studies, such as a 2019 review of telemedicine, patients report that online therapy offers similar benefits as in-person sessions. In some cases, online therapy is preferable to traditional treatment: its benefits include reduced wait time and commute, which can cost time, money, and stress. In the 2019 study, the researchers also noted that most online interventions simulated the benefits of in-person, face-to-face consultations, which include a sense of connection to the provider.
Regardless of which therapy format you prefer, therapy can offer a safe, calming space to heal pains from the past, build social and coping skills, and figure out your goals for the future.
With these 10 strategies, the support of loved ones, and a willingness to try something new, you can begin the lifelong work of strengthening your mental health.
This work takes time, patience, and potentially the support of a therapist or another mental health professional, who can help you create a personalized plan for success. Whatever your preference, remember that you deserve quality mental health care all year-round.
To get involved in Mental Health Month and related advocacy work, visit the MHA website and stay tuned for the 2023 theme.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Mental Health Month
What Are Awareness Months?
Awareness months are month-long events dedicated to raising awareness of various issues, communities, and historical events. Some examples include Alcohol Awareness Month, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In particular, Black History Month typically places a lot of emphasis on the historical contributions and achievements of Black people.
While these campaigns span one month each, the work of advocacy, self-education, and activism continues throughout the year. Awareness months highlight critical topics with both national and global effects. Commonly, their organizers generously provide information, resources, and volunteer opportunities to the general public.
Is There A National Mental Health Month?
Yes, there is a national Mental Health Month in the U.S., recognized every May. Mental Health America (MHA) first recognized Mental Health Month in 1949.
The MHA originated from the experiences of Clifford W. Beers, a Yale graduate who experienced his first episode of bipolar disorder after the death of his brother in the early twentieth century. Beers’ painful experiences in mental health care institutions inspired him to create the Connecticut Society for Mental Hygiene in 1908, which later became the National Mental Health Association and finally the MHA. The National Mental Health Association celebrated the first Mental Health Month in 1949, which we continue to honor today.
In the U.S., National Mental Health Month is an opportunity to raise awareness for mental illness and mental health. You can get involved in several ways: by attending specific events or lectures, volunteering in your community, or spreading awareness of mental health conditions and the value of self-care.
How Can I Improve My Mental Health?
Depending on the individual, mental health needs can vary widely. Your personal circumstances, community, and life goals all shape your mental health care. With these factors in mind, research suggests that many people can improve their mental health – and oftentimes, their physical wellness – by focusing on the following goals:
Improving stress management
Maintaining a healthy balance of work, personal life, and leisure
Getting enough sleep
Investing in social relationships
Regularly engaging in your favorite form of exercise
Eating a wholesome, nutritious diet
Your doctor and therapist can offer more personalized suggestions to improve your mental health. Making small, healthy changes to your daily routine can add up over time, supporting your mental health and even healthy aging.
- Previous Article
- Next Article