How to Improve Your Mental Health

Searching for greater content with one’s life, more and more individuals have turned their attention to the realm of mental health in an attempt to improve their overall well-being. Continue reading if you, like many others, want to learn how to improve your mental health.

How to Improve Your Mental Health

Mental Health and Overall Well-Being

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines well-being as “as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Its definition highlights the importance of producing a multi-tiered sense of satisfaction, derived from meeting one’s tangible, intrapersonal, and interpersonal needs, well beyond shielding them from physical threats.

The US National Institute of Health (NIH) goes one step further, offering a more specific definition for emotional well-being. Like the WHO, the NIH offers a complex approach, describing emotional well-being as “an overall positive state of one’s emotions, life satisfaction, sense of meaning and purpose, and ability to pursue self-defined goals.” The NIH’s definition aims for balance in one’s life, together with the opportunity for growth.

Mental Health and Overall Well-Being

Improving Mental Health Through Physical Action

Numerous studies have established a substantial and reciprocal link between physical and mental health. When it comes to maintaining and improving one’s mental health through physical activity, exercise has been shown to be one of the most beneficial ways one can do so. Regular workouts, through sports, cardio training, weightlifting, or even a walk through the park, has been proven to act as an effective stress manager. Exercise is a particularly beneficial safeguard against two of the most prominent mental health issues, anxiety and depression.

Nutrition is just as important as exercise, with a balanced diet consisting of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals acting as a mood stabilizer and reducing stress and anxiety. More specifically, 95% of the mood-elevating neurotransmitter serotonin is believed to be supplied by gut bacteria, making improved gut health a priority, and foods such as probiotics and yogurt, olive oil, and fiber-rich grains an important step toward greater mental health. Conversely, low levels of vitamin B12 have been linked to depression.

Water intake is a crucial cornerstone to any healthy diet, particularly when it comes to one’s mental health. Research points to an association between increased water intake and a lower risk of developing anxiety, depression, or panic attacks, compared to those with a lower intake of water. It is recommended that men drink 13 cups of water per day, while women are recommended to drink 9 glasses, and pregnant and breastfeeding women drink 12 cups a day. Drinking a satisfactory amount of water has been shown to help control mood swings and increase happiness. Dehydration, on the other hand, has been found to be linked to greater tension, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and general confusion.

Improving Mental Health Through Social Interactions

The centrality of our relationships and social interactions cannot be overstated. We are social beings, whose existence in relation to one another helps us shape our understanding of the world, ourselves, and our coping mechanisms. As a result, the quality and prevalence of intimate connections in our lives has a fundamental effect on our own well-being.

Studies have shown that beneficial relationships include the following four aspects:

  • Social Support. Relationships that foster a sense that one is cared for and loved help reduce stress, and diminish the arousal induced by risky behavior.
  • Self-Efficacy. The belief in one’s ability to navigate their lives is an important factor in the quest for greater calm and well-being. Individuals whose main relationships help promote their self-efficacy enjoy greater protection from stressors and adverse experiences.
  • Symbolic Meaning. Finding significance in certain relationships, such as romantic ties or the child-parent bond, can help foster a greater sense of responsibility to provide loved ones with a healthier lifestyle. This in turn can motivate an individual to acknowledge the mental health needs of others, as well as their own needs, thus promoting an overall greater sense of well-being.
  • Norm Learning. Internalizing acceptable norms can help them better integrate into society and minimize situations of stressful conflict. That said, norm learning and implementation in one’s own life can also cause adverse effects: this has been found to be the case with obesity and a lack of physical activity, which have been shown to sometimes appear as the norm among members of certain online communities.

Maintaining a healthy, supportive marriage in particular has been found to protect against stress, depression, and suicidal ideation. Social cohesion—the willingness of group members to cooperate with each other to survive and prosper—has similarly been linked to a lower risk of depression among older adults.

Social isolation, on the other hand, can have detrimental effects on one’s mental health. In fact, research on prisoners of war have concluded that isolating previously well-functioning individuals can induce psychological, as well as physical deterioration.

Logotherapy and the Search for Meaning

This NIH’s emphasis on a search for meaning appears to be linked to logotherapy, also known as the Third School of Viennese Psychotherapy. Conceived by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl following his experiences at Nazi concentration camps during World War II, logotherapy states that searching for meaning (or rather, meanings) in an individual’s life is a basic human need, and one that can offer true satisfaction and acceptance.

In his seminal work “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl posits that one can find meaning through work, love, or suffering: he goes on to elaborate on each point, describing work as composed of the achievements and creativity that one labors to breathe into existence. By love, Frankl refers to the relationships we build with one another, the sense of being understood and appreciated for who we truly are, and of being together rather than alone. Finally, acknowledging the unavoidable suffering that is a part of life, Frankl speaks of finding a new perspective to the pain we go through that illuminates the lessons we were able to learn from it, and the suffering that was prevented as a result of the struggles we endured.