Mental Health 101
A daily wellness regimen
Illustrations by Chad Crowe
Happiness is very much a practice. There is a myth that some people are naturally happy and others naturally not – but while it’s true that each person has a set point for happiness and satisfaction, it’s not set in stone. All of the mental health professionals who spoke with us agree that there are little things a person can make a part of their daily routine to optimize their mental health.
EXERCISE. “Sometimes you can’t think yourself better,” Swope says. “Sometimes you have to do yourself better.” As little as 10 minutes of exercise, such as a walk, can be a soothing and uplifting action you can take almost anywhere.
HELP OTHERS. Donate a coat, volunteer or make cookies for your neighbors. Invite someone who is having trouble to meet for coffee. “People who help other people are happier because brain chemicals, such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, are released when you do. A Harvard study also found that people who help people are something like 10 times more focused at work, and receive 40 percent more promotions,” says Swope. It’s win-win.
SLEEP. You will feel better if you have a regular bedtime and if you wake up at the same time each day. “Sleep is the most underrated tool for a healthy outlook,” says Shipman. “People need a routine. Our old rhythm was to wake up when the sun rose and go to bed when it set. Now, with artificial light and screens that we never have to turn off, our sleep schedules are more important than ever.” Shipman said that you can’t really catch up on sleep, so it’s better to treat each day as its own unit and sleep properly.
GET HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT. The bulk of Shipman’s clients are dealing with manageable life stressors. Things feel hard or out of control for all of us at one time or another. Getting help, and developing the tools to manage smaller stressors, will also help you manage the larger ones. Working through smaller challenges is good practice, and getting some professional help only makes sense.
DO THINGS YOU LIKE EVERY DAY. “Don’t underestimate the benefit of a cup of tea, nurturing a pet or reading the paper,” Swope says. These things seem small, but that’s the point. A variety of small, enjoyable experiences can make life much sweeter, and more comfortable.
CONNECT WITH PEOPLE, IRL. This means different things to different people. Maybe it means taking a lap around the office in the morning and just saying hello. Maybe it means chatting with strangers while standing in line, or joining a book club, or calling your sister. If you would like to connect more, but it hasn’t been your strong suit, realize that it’s a habit to develop like anything else. What may feel stiff at first will come easily later.