Three Ways to be Mentally Healthy
Life can be hard these days. It can feel like a lot to balance school, friends, family, maybe work or romantic relationships. Sometimes it can feel like there’s a lot of pressure to figure things out right now.
Not surprisingly, that stress can really affect our mental health. It can even contribute to anxiety or depression.
The good news? We can train ourselves to be mentally tough. Like physical fitness, there are forms of mental fitness we can practice.
What’s your first reaction when you hear the word “stress?” Does your mind jump to things that stress you out? Does your body tense up? Or you think, “Ugh!”
Here’s the funny thing about stress. How we think about stress changes how it affects us. Scientists have looked at stressful events and jobs.
They found that people who saw stress as a good thing:
- Performed better
- Had fewer stress-related health problems
- Felt more positive
How can stress be a good thing? When we feel stressed, our body reacts differently mentally and physically. These changes are designed to help us overcome problems.
For example, when we feel stressed, our mind likes to focus. It really likes to focus on the challenge or problem. If we want to relax and avoid the problem, this focus feels upsetting. But if we want to solve and overcome the problem, this focus helps us.
Common changes with stress include: energy, focus, quick reactions, and pressure to act.
When you start to feel stress, try telling yourself positive things about stress, like:
- This energy will help me
- This is what I need to get this done
- My body is taking care of me
It might sound weird that we need to learn how to relax. Isn’t that something we just do?
Our minds like to run on autopilot. Part of our brain is like a mouse on a mouse wheel: it just wants to keep going the same way. The more we think or act a certain way, the more our mind wants to continue doing the same thing.
When life is full of activity and challenges, this can cause problems. Even during our “relaxing” time, our brain will act like it’s in stress mode. It keeps running on the mouse wheel.
That’s why it’s important to learn how to intentionally shift from busy brain into relaxed brain.
Some ways to get into relaxed brain:
Make choices: Busy brain runs on autopilot. To switch into relaxed brain, pause. Ask yourself: what am I doing? What do I want to be doing?
Be in the moment: Busy brain likes to jump around in time. It can move between current problems, future worries, and past experiences in seconds. For relaxed brain, focus on what’s happening right now. Use your senses to connect to the present. Notice what you can hear, see, touch, smell, or taste.
Give up changing: Busy brain likes to fix, solve, and change things. Let things be how they are right now. There is time to change them later.
Think about the big picture: Busy brain tends to narrow in on specific goals, problems, or worries. Like the mouse on the mouse wheel, it doesn’t notice the wider world. Expand your attention. If your mind wants to focus on unfinished work, also think about everything you have finished. If your mind wants to focus on this week’s stress, also think about something you’re looking forward to in the future. Imagine your mind is a camera. If you zoom out, what else will you notice?
We build mental toughness over time. There are many tools that can help you.