We finally live in an era in which it’s becoming easier and easier to talk about what was once outright taboo: mental health. And not only that, but how to improve your mental health. Western culture is essentially the only culture that treats emotional and mental health as a separate entity from physical health, which is pretty wild when you start digging into how closely they’re connected.
Your mood and emotions profoundly and powerfully affect your physical health, and vice versa. Think about it: the mere thought of a stressful event happening causes your heart to race, sweat to form, your stomach to churn . . . something as simple as a thought can incite your body’s physical stress response, so you already know that something more serious like chronic stress or severe anxiety will have an even more significant impact on your physical health.
Working to improve your mental health is much simpler than you might think. Note: simple doesn’t mean easy, because sometimes you’ve got a lot to work through and figure out, but the steps themselves are, in fact, simple. And it’s so, so unbelievably important to prioritize this above else. By focusing on your emotional wellbeing, you’re not only working toward being happier and healthier, but a better friend and family member, a more productive employee or business person, and a better part of society.
Ahead are my top five tips that have immensely transformed my mental wellbeing and led me to the most balanced, happy place in my life. These are tried-and-true, and sometimes a bit clichéd, but they work and they absolutely bear repeating. Check it out.
1. Go. To. Therapy.
This is the absolute foundation for the rest of the tips, and I cannot underscore it enough. You absolutely must find a good therapist that works for you and your needs. Do not give up the quest for the perfect fit until you find someone. And if you don’t think you need therapy, you’re the person who needs it the most. Surprise!
Everyone can benefit from psychotherapy (talk therapy). You don’t necessarily need a psychiatrist (an MD for mental health) and you don’t have to have a mood disorder to benefit from seeing a therapist. Every single person on this earth has things they can work through with a professional, sometimes things you aren’t even aware of. Rooting out any buried issues can alleviate health problems in a seriously surprising and absolutely transformative way.
The rest of the tips will be so much more effective if you follow this advice first and foremost. And now with the age of apps, it’s so easy to find even a digital therapist if time or location constraints preclude you from getting to an office once a week. Check it out!
2. Set Boundaries and Take Breaks
Something I learned in the process of writing my forthcoming book, The Life Reset, is that we don’t give ourselves permission to take breaks. As a guest speaker I’ve spoken to women who are on the precipice of emotional breakdowns, barely hanging on by a thread — yet they think they “can’t” take a break from work and responsibilities.
One of the best things I read in another book, You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero, was something to the tune of “we don’t have the time until we are forced to have the time.” Her example was that we say we don’t have time to chase our goals, but if we happened to get a flat tire, we’d suddenly have two hours on the side of the road to wait for a tow truck or triple A. Make sense?
We think we don’t have the time or the money to hit pause on things that are causing us chronic stress, but the reality is, we totally do. We just wait for catastrophe. I mention in my book the same question I pose to the people I’ve encouraged IRL: “What if you were in the hospital for a week or two weeks . . . Who would take over for you at work? Who would take care of your kids? Who would cover for you? What would happen?”
The world keeps turning whether or not you’re walking with it. Take the break. Set the boundaries. Say no to things that overwhelm you. Turn your phone off for a few days. Everything will not only be fine, but better when you return, because you’ll be recharged and renewed in ways you can’t even imagine.
3. Use CBD
Something that has helped me improve my own mental health — and get through tough times even when I’m in a “good” headspace — has been CBD. The use of cannabis medicine is something that I was initially averse to; I was scared of “the high” we were taught to fear in grade school, and as somewhat of a rule-follower and goody-goody, that stayed with me well into adulthood.
Once I learned about the profound medical and psychiatric benefits of CBD, and began to learn more about just how healing the plant itself can be (um, hi… it’s WAY healthier than alcohol!), my perspective shifted. And once I experienced those benefits for myself, my life changed.
I now use CBD as a way to maintain a healthy balance for my endocannabinoid system, which impacts everything from mood to gut health to immunity. Even in a generally solid and healthy mental state, everyone goes throughs down times, myself included. I don’t use CBD as a vice or a way to self medicate when times are tough, but I can absolutely identify when my anxiety is peaking or I’m having a bit of a dopamine dip (roughly 16 million Americans experience a depressive episode each year, fun fact!) — those are the times I’ll reach for CBD, particularly if I’m in between psychotherapy appointments.
4. Harness the power of diet and exercise
This is the one I was talking about when I said some of these tips are a bit clichéd, but it is so, so essential. And I don’t just say that as a health and wellness writer! I recently interviewed a doctor about the endocannabinoid system, and he again emphasized that CBD and these other treatments we use as a “fix everything” solution are just one piece — albeit an important piece! — of a puzzle when we’re trying to be our healthiest selves. His tip for maintaining a healthy ECS? Diet and exercise.
You’ve heard all of this before, I’m sure, but I think it’s super important to remember that these things aren’t just about six-pack abs or losing weight for a wedding. It’s not about physical appearance, it’s about keeping your brain and mental health in a good place. Preventing illness and disease. Making sure you can get in and out of your car or pick something up off the ground when you’re 70. Feeling happy when you wake up each day and having better relationships. And of course, back to our “thesis” here — it’s about improving your mental health.
Diets and workouts don’t have to suck. Finding a diet that works for you isn’t as complicated as media might have led you to believe. You don’t need to be vegan or keto to have a healthy diet, you just need to not eat so much junk. Eat more vegetables. Drink more water. Watch the desserts. It truly is very, very simple. Fuel your body well. As my psychiatrist says, “Your body is a temple; don’t take a dump in the temple.” Have I mentioned I love my psychiatrist?
And as for workouts, if you hate barre, try yoga! If yoga makes you yawn, try a bootcamp class. If bootcamp scares the sh*t out of you, go to SoulCycle, and if that feels like a cult, try boxing. There are SO. MANY. TYPES. OF. WORKOUTS. Saying that you hate working out is a copout. There are hundreds of options that might work for you. Start experimenting until one clicks. Your brain will thank you.
PS, go to Pilates. It’s the move.
5. Prioritize Sleep
Another fundamental part of this that impacts the rest — getting adequate sleep. This is such a neglected piece of that aforementioned puzzle of how to improve your mental health, yet arguably the most important (I know I said therapy was the most important, but technically if you don’t sleep you might not go to therapy).
I’m not going to give you a TED Talk on sleep, but please make it a priority. It impacts everything; mood, immune function, metabolism, muscle repair, digestion, skin, not dying…. you get it. If you’re struggling to sleep, CBD can obviously help with that.
Sleeping well allows you to go through your day rested and energized, making better dietary decisions and not bailing on your workouts (see point 4). It also leaves you in a better headspace for setting boundaries and taking breaks (point 2) and you’re more likely to go to that therapy appointment (point 1).
If you’re struggling to catch those zzzs, consider a new sleep hygiene routine in addition to adding in bedtime CBD. Cut out caffeine after 11am, avoid alcohol before bed, have an earlier dinner time, and stop using phones and screens for a couple hours before you hit the hay. A warm shower can also help your body wind down at night. When all else fails, consult your therapist (point 1) or your physician to make sure you’re on a plan to ensure your shuteye.