3 Unexpected Things You Can Do to Improve Your Mental Health

Although in society mental self-care often takes a backseat to physical self-care, you cannot afford to neglect it. Your mental and emotional health affect not only your mood but also your sleeping patterns, how you make choices, your relationships with others, how you deal with stress, and even your physical health.

In May I talked about six steps you can take to improve mental health, and today I give you three more that are perhaps unexpected but also impressively helpful.

1. Give to Others

There are a lot of reasons why giving to others helps not only the world around you but also you and your mental wellbeing.

Berkeley University of California’s Greater Good Science Center wrote, “Giving has also been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone (also released during sex and breast feeding) that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others.”

The science center also mentioned several studies that show how giving makes us happy and is good for our health:

“A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues found that giving money to someone else lifted participants’ happiness more tha[n] spending it on themselves.”

And, “in a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a ‘warm glow’ effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphin’s in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the ‘helper’s high.’” 

Ideas for ways to improve mental health by giving are listed below.

Small acts of giving

  1. Write a note of encouragement or thanks to a spouse, child, or friend.
  2. Let someone pass you on the freeway.
  3. Smile at people you do and don’t know.
  4. Really listen when another person speaks to you.
  5. Lend a hand when you see someone struggling with something like carrying their groceries or shoveling their sidewalk.

Larger acts of giving

  1. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, hospital, or local school.
  2. Give a charitable donation.
  3. Travel and help those less fortunate than you.
  4. Become a mentor to someone could use some direction.
  5. Contribute to someone else’ college fund.

2. Break up Routine

It may come as a surprise, but doing something as simple as breaking up your routine can actually make you more mentally healthy.

The University of Michigan wrote, “Although our routines make us more efficient and enhance our feelings of security and safety, a little change of pace can perk up a tedious schedule.”

Similar to breaking up your routine, and often just as helpful, is taking a break. Psychology Today wrote, “In those moments when it all seems like too much, step away, and do anything but whatever was stressing you out until you feel a little better.”

U of M also gave suggestions on how you can break up routine:

  1. “Alter your jogging route,.”
  2. “Plan a road-trip.”
  3. “Take a walk in a different park.”
  4. “Hang some new pictures.”
  5. “Try a new restaurant.”

3. Create Play Time

Perhaps the most unexpected way you can improve mental health is by playing. Playing is actually one of the best ways you can strengthen your mental health and instantly improve your mood.

Skyland Trail, a nonprofit mental health treatment organization based in Atlanta, reported, “Social support is one of the best predictors of good mental health. Enjoying time with loved ones (face to face; not on Facebook or Twitter) is the best medicine of all.”

That means when you enjoy time with loved ones, when you are out playing with them, your sense of social support increases, causing you to feel better in the moment and in the long run.

While today it’s no secret that physical activity and mental health go hand in hand, many don’t realize why.

Huffington Post wrote, “Endorphins are released in response to pain and stress and help to alleviate anxiety and depression. The surging ‘second wind’ and euphoric ‘runners’ high’ during and after a vigorous run are a result of endorphins. Similar to morphine, it acts as an analgesic and sedative, diminishing our perception of pain.”

Seeking out playful physical activities, then, is one of the best ways you can increase happy-inducing endorphins that actually decrease your perception of physical and/or mental pain.

There are other ways of “playing,” however, that can be done without physically exerting yourself.

Huffington Post continued, “Along with regular exercise, laughter is one of the easiest ways to induce endorphin release. Even the anticipation and expectation of laugher, e.g., attending a comedy show, increases levels of endorphins. Taking your sense of humor to work, forwarding that funny email, and finding several things to laugh at during the day is a great way to keep the doctor away.”

In short, when you’re trying to come up with ways you can play to become more mentally healthy, try to come up with things that will make you laugh. Like Huffington Post mentioned, playfully joke with your coworkers or attend a comedy show — both are valuable ways to spend your much needed play time.

Here is a short list of ways you can play to bolster your mental wellbeing.

  1. Have a family-and-friends house party.
  2. Join an ultimate frisbee team.
  3. Go hiking.
  4. Take a date to a stand-up comedy show.
  5. Send funny jokes to coworkers through email.

When you’re trying to come up with ways to improve your mental and emotional health, don’t forget these slightly unexpected ways. Giving to others, breaking up your routines, and making time for play not only improve your mood but also help you lead a more fulfilling and joyful life.

Of course, please know for clinical mental illnesses these three tactics alone won’t be enough. Often, those suffering with such illnesses should also implement the six other methods brought up in my earlier post: (1) Practice gratitude, (2) meditate regularly, (3) improve physical health, (4) seek medical help, (5) counsel with a therapist, and (6) lean on your support system.

As you allow mental self-care to move from the back to the front seat in your life, have fun with it. Making your mental health a priority doesn’t have to be grievous or boring. Give to others, add something new to your life, and schedule in time for play — it’ll do you more good than you can measure.

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