Many Americans couldn’t wait to say goodbye to 2020. This last year may have maxed out your coping skills and ability to be optimistic, but you can still start the new year right with a fresh set of mental wellness habits to keep you focused and positive.
Why is mental wellness so important? For starters, paying attention to your mental health and maintaining a positive outlook can lead to more fulfilling relationships. After all, when you feel good about yourself, you’re probably a lot nicer to others. That’s good for everybody’s emotional well-being!
And if that isn’t reason enough, research has also found a link between an upbeat mental state and improved physical health. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some of these benefits include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower risk for heart disease
- Improved longevity
So, are you ready to get started on developing better mental wellness? If so, pencil these five habits on your calendar to start the year off right.
Lace Up Your Walking Shoes
Walking for fitness naturally helps you manage blood pressure and weight. It also helps reduce stress and releases feel-good endorphins. In other words, walking is a major mood-booster.
“Without physical exercise, I can get pretty grumpy,” says Anne-Marie Emanuelli. She’s the founder of Mindful Frontiers, a center for mindfulness and meditation in El Prado, New Mexico. Emanuelli attributes her calm, reflective mind to her habit of regular walks, jogs and bike rides.
“When I exercise outdoors, it is an active reflection time to work out personal and work-related issues as well as tuning in to my body and mind,” says Emanuelli. She has worked out many issues with friends and colleagues during long walks in the countryside. “Usually, by the time I get back home, issues have been worked out and I feel much better.”
If you’re not used to walking regularly, try starting small with the Mayo Clinic’s 12-week walking schedule. It starts out at 15 minutes per session the first week. It helps you build up to 40 minutes of walking by week 12.
Combine Exercise and Spirituality with Yoga
Yoga is a mind-body practice that blends physical poses with controlled breathing, meditation and relaxation. It can help you deal with stress and anxiety while getting fit and staying healthy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines that may help you achieve peacefulness of body and mind. This can help you relax and manage stress and anxiety. And the good news is, you can start off small.
Carrie Jeroslow, a spiritual coach and author in Elkin, North Carolina, wanted to take up yoga again after mostly sporadic classes throughout the years. So, Jeroslow committed to starting off with a “minimum yoga practice” of doing just three easy sun salutation poses daily. The routine took only three minutes a day.
“I knew I could commit to this, regardless of how busy my day was,” says Jeroslow. “I wanted to see what would happen if I lessened the amount of practice time but showed up daily.” Soon, Jeroslow expanded her yoga practice, while continuing to show up daily. Four years later, she still practices yoga, even in the midst of a pandemic, thanks to technology.
“90% of my yoga is led by incredible YouTube teachers. Most of my practices are between ten to thirty minutes with an occasional 45-minute class,” says Jeroslow. She’s learned that her yoga practice is just that — practice for dealing with the stressors of life.
“The real yoga happens off the mat, in the moments when I am faced with conflicts, fear or confusion,” says Jeroslow. “Because of my yoga practice, I feel better equipped to check in with my feelings, question my responses and calm myself down, which all leads to more healthy interactions with the world and the people in it.”
Set Aside Morning Time
Want to set a positive tone for the day while enjoying time to yourself? Dedicating a few minutes every morning to reflect is a great place to begin, says Prianca Naik, M.D., an internal medicine physician and life coach who lives in Garden City, New York.
When Naik wakes up each morning, she sets an intention for the day. For examples, that day’s intention could be “peace” or “kindness.” Then Naik doesn’t touch her phone for the first hour she’s awake. Avoiding emails, texts and mindless scrolling helps her start the day with a calm, clear mind, she says.
“I take 15 minutes to myself in the morning to savor my morning cup of coffee. I practice gratitude and reflect on things I did well in the past day,” says Naik. “Additionally, I work out three to five times a week for 45 minutes, coupled with daily 20-minute meditations. The exercise and meditation combined boosts my endorphins and keep me centered.”
Separate Work from Home Life
Now that working from home is the norm for many, at least temporarily, it’s easy to blur the lines between work obligations and enjoying the rest of your life. However, that lack of separation between work and home can manifest itself in the form of physical aches and pains, says Anjani Amladi, M.D., a board-certified adult psychiatrist in Sacramento, California.
Amladi knows what she’s talking about, having blurred those lines herself. For her, working at home pushed her eight-hour workdays to 10 or more hours a day. “I started getting migraines, had trouble sleeping, wasn’t exercising and felt much more tense and irritable,” says Amladi. “After a few weeks of this, I needed to make a change.”
So Amladi designated a physical space in a spare room exclusively for work. She painted the room white to brighten the walls and added a sit-stand desk so she didn’t sit for long periods. She added rugs, houseplants, a mini-fridge and a comfortable office chair. Then she set a time limit to stop working each day by 6:30 p.m., after which she ignored non-urgent emails and after-hours texts.
“This helped immensely with my stress level,” says Amladi. “Shortly after I started taking better care of myself, my headaches went away, I felt more energized, started exercising again, and was more pleasant to be around.”
For many of us, our first inclination is to focus on what’s not going well rather than on the many positive aspects of our lives. But did you know that when you feel gratitude, your mind and body may both benefit?
“Taking time to feel gratitude may improve your emotional well-being by helping you cope better with stress. It could even lower your risk of heart disease,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These findings were further supported by Harvard Health, who found that feeling gratitude helps you:
- Experience more positive emotions
- Relish good interactions
- Deal with adversity
- Enjoy strong relationships
Teal Nicholson of New York, New York, says keeping a daily gratitude journal helped her emerge from a deep depression caused by a divorce and her sister’s death. That’s when Nicholson began a daily habit of making a short list of things in her life she is grateful for. This practice helped her remain positive even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
Nicholson’s list may contain things as simple as being grateful for the coffee that helps her wake up in the morning. The list could also include deeper gratitude for the fact that she woke up to enjoy another day. Nicholson also lists things her “future self” will be grateful for, implementing visualization into the practice. To end the night, she jots down things that went well that day.
Try coming up with a list style that works for you. For example, you may write down five things to be grateful for each morning and then five more just before bed. Or, you could list ten things to be grateful for every morning. You may prefer to make each gratitude entry short or want to create a list that’s longer and more thoughtful.
No matter the format, the simple act of viewing the many positive aspects of your life on paper — even during difficult times — can significantly improve your emotional and mental well-being.
Reap the Benefits of Mental Wellness
Maintaining good mental wellness habits is easier than you think, especially once you start enjoying the benefits of a more positive, calm and optimistic outlook on life. Now that you’ve got a good idea where to start, expand on these ideas or tweak them to suit your unique life and mental wellness needs.
By the time next year rolls around, hopefully you’ll feel healthier, happier and be looking forward to what life brings.