The Power of Habits for Mental Health
When you make a decision to start improving your health, one of the best things you can do is build a strong foundation by creating healthy habits. Small, consistent habits allow you to build big growth and healing over time.
What is a habit?
First, let’s define a habit. A habit is any behavior that you do consistently. Habits can be helpful (brushing your teeth) or hurtful (drinking to cope with stress).Strong habits typically have a tangible reward. When you brush your teeth, your mouth feels clean, your breath smells nice, and you avoid the pain of cavities, all of which feel rewarding. Sometimes, habits are difficult to initiate because they don’t feel rewarding at first. The first time you get back in the gym after a long break, it may not feel great, but will feel better over time
How can habits help with mental health?
In my private practice, I see it over and over again. The people who have a routine of healthy habits tend to have less severe mental health symptoms. On a biological level, improving basic health habits tends to support things like neurotransmitter production, hormones, digestion, sleep patterns, stress, and other body processes. When these bodily systems are working well, they tend to help your brain work optimally. Better habits likely won’t fix all of the mental health concerns you’re facing, but it will give you a much better foundation to address deeper issues.
For example, if I have a client who comes to me with severe depression, the first questions I ask tend to be related to basic health habits. Of course, depression has many root causes, which can be emotional, psychological, spiritual, or biological. All of these can and should be addressed in therapy. However, many symptoms of depression can be reduced with a solid self-care routine that provides more support to the brain and body. Once these basic issues have been addressed, there tends to be more energy to explore things like unhelpful thinking patterns, toxic relationships, or past trauma. Digging into deep emotional work is tough if there isn’t a foundation of safety and well being first.
The big three: sleep, nutrition, and exercise
There is a lot of noise out there when it comes to self-care, mental health, and health in general. If you’re not sure where to start, there are three big areas that can benefit most everyone: sleep, nutrition, and exercise. If you get into some healthier habits with these three areas, I can almost guarantee you’ll have better progress in addressing other goals with your mental health. Here are some sample habits:
Eating three meals a day that include a carb, protein, and fat.
Eating one extra serving of fruits and veggies.
Going to bed 30 minutes earlier every night.
Taking a 10 walk outside every morning.
Cutting back on caffeine by one beverage a day.
I’ve posted in the past about most of these topics, so please read back to previous posts if you need extra info. The reason I harp on the big three is because they have been crucial for me in managing my own depression.
Other good habits
Once you’ve polished up the big three mentioned above, there are other helpful habits you can add to support your mental health. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Practice self-compassion by saying something kind to yourself 3 times per day.
Meditation, yoga, or other mindfulness practice for 10 minutes daily.
Connect with at least one supportive person every day
o to therapy weekly
Journal for 10 minutes daily
If you know that you’re not exactly where you want to be with your mental health habits, please don’t get discouraged! The best piece of advice I can give you is to start with realistic baby steps. Achieving small goals and seeing a little progress can be very rewarding and often brings motivation to keep growing. On the flip side, trying to change too much at once is often overwhelming and discouraging. If you’d like to strategize about building healthy habits and improving your mental health, please reach out to me today for a free consultation or to book a session.