10 Simple, Joyful Ways to Boost Your Mental Health
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So you were physically active today, ate the right things, and got the house in order. Or maybe some of those things, but did you remember to do a few activities for your mental health? We don’t always have time to meet with a therapist or fight the nagging (usually hungry) voice in our heads. But, we can do some simple daily mental health activities no matter where we are. The key is to be mindful and consistent, just like we do with food and exercise.
I have lost 65 pounds over the past year and still have about 50 to go. As an educational psychologist, editor, and writer, and mother of two young men ages 18 and 22, I work from home. My professional focus is on public health behavior change, motivation, and assisting communities in reaching their mental and physical health goals.
Here, I explain how mindfulness activities and consistency help improve my mental well-being while I work toward my physical goals.
Expert advice: Improve mental well-being through practicing mindfulness.
How I practice: Since I work from home, I am often alone with my thoughts. Mindfulness and consistency are the foundations I launch from to maintain and improve my mental health. If I want a healthy body, a healthy mind is essential.
Mindfulness and Consistency Go Hand-in-Hand
I have worked remotely for years, so I have to stick to a schedule, or I can fall into the abyss of never-ending pajamas and ask, “What day is it again?”
Making sure I stay physically and mentally active are mindful choices I practice consistently. Those two things, mindfulness and consistency, drive my wellness journey. By mindfulness, I mean I am open and aware of my thoughts and actions. As a thought floats through my mind, I quickly gloss it over with an internal magnifying glass and determine if it’s helpful or unhelpful in keeping my stress levels low.
Our brains are constantly trying to make sense of the world. The brain churns every experience and conversation we have ever had, constantly spitting out a stream of random thoughts that drive our attention and behavior. But we do not have to hold on to each of them. We can decide which thought should be stored, acted on, or let go.
Being mindful helps us sort through, acknowledge, and act on thoughts. If a thought is unhelpful, I let it go and move on. Our minds are hardwired to react and hold on to negative experiences and thoughts to keep us safe from danger, so I must consciously ensure I pay attention to the positive and not react to the negative.
One afternoon, I opened the fridge. I saw six different things that would satisfy a gnawing urge to eat. I stopped and asked myself what I felt, if I was really hungry, and what the most consistent option was for my health journey. I evaluated what I should do against what my brain suggested. I took control and told myself to “be patient and stay consistent” while I made something that would fuel and satisfy me without destroying my hard work and causing stress.
I am so serious about this consistency thing; I have the word “Consistency” scripted on the wall at the foot of my bed.
Expert advice: Being mindful of the many thoughts and inputs our brains interpret every hour can help you filter out the messages that do and don't serve your health goals.
How I practice: My mantra is "be patient and stay consistent." If I respond to an input like a craving by opening the refrigerator, I pause and ask myself if I'm truly hungry. If yes, I make something nourishing to eat. If no, I close the fridge and move on.
Here are 10 activities that have helped me stay mindful and consistent on my wellness journey.
10 Mindfulness Activities
Movement. Stretch, walk, dance, skip, jump rope, hopscotch — anything that feels right. Focus on what your limbs are doing. Thank each finger, toe, hand, arm, and so on. I like to power walk every day for 45 minutes and pay attention to the function of each body part involved in the activity.
Eating. Engage all of your senses when you eat. Chew the food and focus on how it feels. Notice the creamy or crunchy textures, vibrant colors, and intriguing smells. Is it crispy or bubbly if you hold it to your ear? Is your mouth watering?
Tracking. Whether we track objects in the room or what we ate today, the idea is to bring our full attention to what is happening, to be present and aware. I use several tracking apps. I track my food, exercise, moods, and sleep. I stay present and notice patterns in my behavior, helping to raise my awareness.
Gratitude lists. Writing lists of what you are grateful for brings you to the present moment, keeps you from thinking about the negative, and generally helps relieve stress. I started doing this during the pandemic lockdown. It’s unbelievable how many things I’m grateful for. Looking around my room, I’m grateful to have a room, a bed, this silly orange cat purring next to me, and a window to look out. My demeanor has changed since I started this. I find myself seeing the good rather than the bad, especially in stressful situations.
Practice self-compassion. Even if we don’t believe it, we must tell ourselves what we have done well. After some practice, we believe it and know it to be true. I remind myself if I wouldn’t say it to my child or best friend, then why would I say it to myself? Be nice to yourself and forgive yourself when you are not perfect.
Crafting or coloring. Practicing any kind of art, sewing, knitting, or crocheting, will give you a daily project to work on. When we work on a project, we are in the moment, in a state called flow. This state is almost meditative; we become open, present, and focused. I used to be an arts and crafts director at a summer camp. I remember putting on jazz and making dream catchers with campers. The room suddenly filled with a peaceful quiet while we each twisted rope around wood. It was like a communal flow between us.
Gardening. This is another activity that can help us get into a flow state. Focus on the sensations you experience while touching dirt, handling plants, feeling the sun, wind, or how the outdoors smells. I like to focus on what I hear: the whooshing of a freeway nearby, crows, hawks, doves, and finches. During the pandemic lockdown, the whole family was in the garden, pulling weeds, planting, and sweating. It was an excellent way to remind ourselves of what was good at a difficult time.
Find joy in a simple pleasure. It can be that someone let you over on the freeway when you switched lanes, the sweet smell of morning dew, the hot water as it splashes your face in the shower, whatever you can say thank you for at the moment. When I get stressed and negative, I can self-soothe if I stop and remind myself of what went well that day and what is going well this very second. At this very moment, I find tremendous joy in writing this article and knowing how to type. Every finger works quickly, and each finger pad is familiar with the plastic letter keys on the keyboard. They thankfully move without much thought. I’m thankful to be home with my son, who just returned from a class and excitedly shared what he had learned. The windows are open, and a cool 60º breeze shifts from window to window.
Expert advice: Practicing mindful activities help us stay aware, present, and positive, which helps us reach goals.
How I practice: I practice mindfulness daily, throughout the day, to keep focused on my goals, stay consistent, and ensure mental health and well-being.
How will you practice mindfulness, consistency, and gratitude today? I encourage you to write it down, share it verbally with your partner or pet, and then act on it. Our intentions form the inspiration, but our actions are the drivers that move us closer to the person we want to become.