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6 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health During Mental Wellness Month

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January is Mental Wellness Month, and it couldn’t come at a better time. 

Mental Wellness Month was established to focus attention on mental health and well-being. It’s reported that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience some form of mental illness each year. The period following the holiday season can be particularly challenging for many, with increased rates of seasonal depression, loneliness, and post-holiday blues. 

The start of the year is a great time to remind ourselves of the importance of our mental well-being and double down on the steps we can take to nurture it. Many people make resolutions for the new year that focus on physical health and appearance—Mental Wellness Month encourages us to also prioritize mental health. It brings an opportunity to spread awareness on mental health issues, and to embrace practices that enhance mental well-being, like mindfulness, open communication, and an active lifestyle. It’s a time to recognize the widespread impact of mental illness and to engage in efforts to support mental wellness in our communities and in our own lives. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge the challenges many face in silence, and to embrace practices that make life better.

Here are six action steps you or a loved one can take to start the year off right:

Teen meditating

#1: Self-Reflection and Mindfulness

It’s our first tip for a reason. Self-reflection allows individuals to understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors more deeply, leading to greater self-awareness and emotional intelligence. This process can help in identifying negative patterns and developing strategies for positive change. Mindfulness, on the other hand, involves staying present and fully engaging with the current moment, without judgment. It helps in reducing stress and anxiety, improving focus, and fostering a sense of peace and well-being. Regular practice of mindfulness can enhance emotional regulation and lead to a more balanced and resilient mental state. 

Action Step: Set aside 5-10 minutes each day to sit in silence and focus on your breathing. Observe your thoughts.

Teen openly communicating with parent

#2: Open Communication

Expressing yourself honestly is one of the tenets of good mental health. By voicing your thoughts, you reduce stress and anxiety, thus preventing them from being internalized. Open communication plays a crucial role in building and maintaining strong relationships by fostering trust and understanding, essential for a supportive social environment. It also enhances self-esteem and self-worth, as feeling heard and validated is critical for a positive self-image. Emotional release through open communication is therapeutic, assisting in the processing of emotions and experiences. Finally, it promotes empathy and understanding among individuals, which are vital for reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation, thereby contributing significantly to mental well-being.

Action Step: To practice open communication, think of a situation that’s been bothering you. Who do you need to talk to about this situation? Write them a letter expressing your thoughts and concerns. Even if you never send it, it’s good to get your thoughts on paper.

Teen playing basketball

#3: Active Lifestyle

Regular physical activity is known to release endorphins, often referred to as ‘feel-good’ hormones, which can naturally boost mood and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercise also helps in managing stress by providing a healthy outlet for tension and negative emotions. Physical activity can also improve sleep quality, which is closely linked to mental well-being. Engaging in regular exercise also often leads to improved self-esteem and confidence, as individuals feel better about their physical health and abilities. It’s a win all around.

Action Step: Choose a physical activity you enjoy and spend just10 minutes practicing it daily.

Teen with fruit demonstrating a healthy diet

#4: Balanced Diet

The brain requires certain essential nutrients to function properly, and a balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can enhance brain function, affecting mood and energy levels. For example, omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are known to contribute to the structural integrity of brain cells and may help in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety! Complex carbohydrates, present in whole grains, provide a steady supply of glucose to the brain, enhancing concentration and mental alertness. Foods rich in B vitamins, like leafy greens and lean proteins, are crucial for nerve function and the production of neurotransmitters, which regulate mood. Adequate hydration is also important: even mild dehydration can affect cognitive abilities and mood. 

Action Step: Add one serving of fruits or vegetables to each meal. This can significantly increase the nutritional value of your diet without making drastic changes. Buy a large water bottle to make sure you’re drinking about 64 ounces every day.

A well-rested teen after a good night's sleep

#5: Adequate Rest

Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep in improving mental and emotional resilience. During sleep, the brain processes the day’s experiences, consolidates memories, and restores its energy. Quality sleep helps in regulating mood and is linked to reduced risk of mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, can lead to irritability, difficulty in concentrating, and increased vulnerability to stress. Sleep plays a critical role in cognitive functions such as decision-making, problem-solving, and emotional regulation. 

Action Step: Establish a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, helps regulate your body’s internal clock, the circadian rhythm. 

Teen holding up HELP sign

#6: Seeking Professional Help

If you or someone you know is struggling, professional guidance can be invaluable, and it can mean the difference between recovering and continuing to flounder. This is where centers like Evolve play a critical role. As a leading teen treatment center, Evolve understands the unique challenges faced by teenagers and offers specialized, compassionate care tailored to each individual. With a holistic approach combining therapy, education, and activities, we strive to heal not just the teen, but support the entire family.

Action Step: For more information about our programs and how we can help your family thrive, reach out to our admissions team.

Mental Wellness Month is more than just a calendar observance; it’s a call to action. It reminds us of the ongoing need to prioritize mental health, destigmatize mental illness, and provide accessible care. This January, let’s pledge to take steps, big or small, towards better mental wellness for ourselves and our loved ones.

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