How To Maintain Healthy Habits And Why It Matters For Mental Health

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated May 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Health is a term that has a unique meaning for everyone, but many of us have a general goal to care for our health through lifestyle changes and healthy habits. We all know that having healthy habits is important, but it can be hard to stick with them. It's easy to start a new habit, but much harder to keep up with it and make sure it becomes part of your daily routine. Without the right support system for your new healthy lifestyle changes, you may slip back into old patterns. That's why it's important to have a plan in place to improve your mental health.

In this article, we will look at how we can all create and continue these habits in daily life, as well as how to support ourselves in the maintenance of these habits - and how these practices can positively impact your mental health.

Why these habits matter
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When you pursue good habits, it can have a positive impact on all areas of your life. When we think of health or health-promoting behaviors, we often envision only those meant to support our physical health. However, it is vital to remember that virtually all aspects of well-being are connected. From eating nutritious food to exercising and sleeping enough, engaging in positive habits is not only beneficial for your physical health, but it can also have a significant effect on your mental well-being.

For example, let's say that you have high stress levels most of the time. You may realize how this affects you emotionally but not process it in a healthy way.  In reality, it's not something to shrug off; persistent levels of high stress can have serious consequences, including trouble sleeping, high blood pressure and an increased risk for heart disease, early mortality, trouble concentrating or focusing, depression symptoms, such as the loss of interest in activities, and irritability that may impact personal relationships. If you work to manage stress, it may help various areas of life or well-being and mitigate some of these concerns or their risk. According to the American Heart Association, even 20 minutes of relaxation a day can result in positive changes for individuals with high blood pressure or an increased risk of heart disease.

This is only one example of how a habit that seems only to support one piece of your holistic health may support all areas of your health. The same is true for getting enough sleep. So, what are some habits that you might implement to improve your health, and how can you include them in your life? Let's talk about it.

Examples of healthy habits

Deciding to implement good habits in your life can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. You can start by adding habits with the most impact to make a big difference. Start by thinking of small, achievable goals that you can incorporate into your life over time, instead of making large changes all at once. These habits can help you build resilience, improve mental health, and foster overall well-being. 

Strive for a healthy sleep schedule

Sleep is necessary, but many of us tend to skimp on it. This situation could be due to health conditions, like insomnia, or it could be due to a busy schedule.

The National Sleep Foundation suggests that a healthy adult between 18 and 64 needs somewhere from seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Sleeping enough positively impact your health, reducing the risk of car accidents, heart disease and boosting productivity, focus, and concentration. It can also improve your mental health, lowering anxiety and depression symptoms. Sticking to a healthy sleep schedule can give your brain the rest it needs to support mental wellness.

Keep up to date with medical appointments 

Staying up to date with medical appointments and screenings, including cancer screenings, check-ups with your primary care physician, and dental exams, is important. If something serious is happening, you're more likely to catch it sooner rather than later, and you will be aware of any health concerns to look out for or manage.

Engage in physical activity

Physical activity is an example of a healthy habit that has proven benefits across many areas of health and well-being. Activities such as walking, yoga, swimming, and even chores like gardening or cleaning can all have a positive effect on your mental and physical health. Exercise can also help you lower your risk for chronic health conditions.

Make positive social connections

Did you know that positive social connections, as well as general social or peer support, are shown to promote both your physical and mental health? Benefits of social connectedness may include better heart health, a boost in immunity and pain tolerance, lower stress levels, and a decrease in depression symptoms. So, if you want to nurture your well-being and notice that you face challenges such as isolation, you may aim to increase social activities. Supporting your social well-being can help to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression and even reduce the risk of developing additional mental health conditions. If possible, try to connect with other people in person instead of through social media, as social media use has been linked with mental health decline.

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Decrease your stress levels

High stress levels are an extremely prevalent concern in the United States. Stress, particularly when it's ongoing, can increase depression and anxiety symptoms, muscle tension and pain, trouble sleeping, fatigue, and irritability. It can also worsen the risk of or worsen the symptoms of physical health diagnoses or concerns.

If you want to decrease your stress levels, you can reduce direct sources of stress in your life, if possible. For example, you might change your schedule so that it causes less stress. You may consider incorporating moments of calm into your daily life, like a few minutes of deep breathing or a leisurely walk in the fresh air. Try to find a healthy balance between work and play.

Since stress is sometimes unavoidable, having coping tools to manage it is also important. If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, it can be beneficial to talk with a therapist or counselor who can help you learn stress management techniques.

Meet your nutritional needs

Although nutritional needs can vary extensively, they must be met. Nutrient deficiencies are common, and they can have serious impacts on your mental and physical health. Some frequently seen nutrient deficiencies in the United States include but aren't limited to iron deficiency and vitamin D deficiency. Furthermore, stable blood sugar, often achieved by eating regularly and consuming balanced meals, can aid both physical and mental health.

Incorporating more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables into your diet can help you meet these nutritional needs. You can spend time planning your meals to ensure that you eat healthy each day.

If eating is a source of stress for you, developing a healthy relationship with food and body image can also have positive effects. It may enhance your social life and your emotional, psychological, and physical health.

Get in touch with your feelings

Suppressing your emotions can be detrimental to your well-being over time, so learning to navigate feelings as they arise can be a life-long skill that may have a positive impact on your health. Getting in touch with your feelings can mitigate potential negative outcomes like increased stress, depressive symptoms, or risk of self-harm.

Laugh more often

Laughter has been found to have several positive health effects. These effects include lowering stress levels (as characterized by physical and psychological or emotional stress markers), supporting heart health, and improving your mood.

Attend therapy

Therapy can enhance your life and well-being in a number of ways. Therapy can help you with emotional expression, getting enough sleep, improving your relationships, managing stress, and, in some cases, even treating physical health concerns.

Limitations of certain habits

Good habits aren't one size fits all. Some people, such as those with chronic illnesses, will have different health needs. If you live with a chronic physical or mental health condition, you may have different needs when developing a healthy lifestyle.

How to maintain healthy habits

Now that you know what habits you might decide to use to promote your overall health, how can you maintain them? There are several different ways to help yourself maintain healthy habits. Here are some of them:

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Build a routine

Creating a routine can support the implementation of new habits because it allows you to plan them into your day directly. For example, you might build a bedtime routine that supports your sleep patterns, or you might set aside an hour to take a walk in the morning. Scheduling your time can instill a sense of control over your habits and make it easier to stick to them.

Identify setback

You may notice that you face challenges when attempting to implement a certain habit or behavior. For example, maybe you want to eat more fruits and vegetables, but you’re finding it difficult because you're busy and those foods aren't readily available throughout the day. Once you acknowledge the reasons behind the difficulty, you can work to mitigate it. For example, you might make a quick morning smoothie or prepare dishes with fruits and vegetables in advance so that you can take them to work for meals or snacks.

Have compassion for yourself

Remind yourself that small steps or changes count. Forming habits can take time, and self-compassion in and of itself can be a healthy behavior. A positive mindset can be a powerful tool in the process of change. Whether your progress is big or small, practice gratitude for what you have accomplished.

Ask for help

Perhaps, there is a healthy habit that you want to implement, but you are consistently encountering self-sabotaging roadblocks. In this situation, it may be beneficial to seek the support of a professional, such as a therapist or counselor, who can help you move past obstacles and work toward your goals.

Takeaway

Exploring habits in your daily life and consciously implementing more positive choices can be a beneficial way to maintain your physical, mental, and emotional health. Many habits, from sleeping enough to attending therapy, may improve your  mental health. With support, you can find out what habits may be most effective for you, and what you can do to promote your own health in little ways every day.

Ready to try online therapy to improve your habits? Read our therapist reviews and FAQs to learn more about BetterHelp.
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