We all want to be mentally healthy. It’s such an obvious fact, yet it’s also a big challenge for all of us. In America alone, there are about 40 million adults that suffer from an anxiety disorder. We all know that mental health is such a huge problem across the world yet we don’t talk enough about it.
This article addresses the six things that you can do today to improve your mental health. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, addiction, or overall just feeling lost, these six points can help you get started on your healing journey.
It’s easy to feel ashamed when you’re suffering through mental problems; but we’re all growing and learning together and we’re here to support each other through it.
With that said, let’s begin.
1. Watch Movies That Make You Cry
I know this sounds counterintuitive since the whole point of healing is to do the opposite, but crying can actually be a cathartic experience. Instead of suppressing your emotions and bottling them up, you should allow yourself to express them freely. Studies have shown that crying can actually help you heal after a traumatic experience like a break up or losing your job.
Just recently, I watched a Pixar movie called Inside Out. For some reason, I started choking up when Riley was sharing her childhood memories with her new classmates and suddenly broke down into tears. At certain points in our lives, we all go through major changes that fill us with confusion and disappointments. That scene helped me realize that it’s okay to feel sad because sometimes sadness can ultimately help us appreciate the good times.
Movies can be a great way to help us connect with our emotions, but if they’re not your thing, you can also try listening to sad music as well. Whatever it is that you do, the important thing is that you connect with your emotions and let it out.
2. Take A Break From Social Media
Social media allows us to instantly talk to anybody around the world. So why is it that more people are reporting being more lonely and depressed today? Studies have shown that people fall into depression when they use social media because they compare themselves to other people’s highlight reels. For example, when you see people getting married, traveling the world, or having so much fun, you begin to compare yourself to them and wonder why your life isn’t as kickass as your friends’. To feel better about ourselves, we start uploading new pictures or posting witty statuses so that we can get likes and followers. Social media has essentially made us value our worth by the amount of likes or followers that we get. No wonder we feel more empty and anxious every time we use social media.
A new Netflix documentary called The Social Dilemma explores this exact problem. Without giving any spoilers away, the film explains that social media companies, because they’re publicly traded, design their platforms to be highly addictive so that they can sell ad spaces and make more money. In other words, Facebook needs us to stay on their platforms longer so that we can see as many ads as possible.
Facebook designed their business model without your mental health in mind, so it’s more crucial than ever to start taking a break from social media today.
The best way to do that is to deactivate your social media accounts right now. That way, you never have to worry about new notifications coming in. If going cold turkey sounds a bit too much, you can do it in increments as well. Start by setting a goal not to check your social media apps for an hour or two, then make it 12 hours to 24 hours. As you get less dependent on social media and feel more confident to plug out, you can start deactivating them one by one. After a few days of being off of social media, you’ll start feeling better and more alive now that you’re not so distracted.
3. Gratitude Journaling
Thanks to modern science, we now know that our brain releases “feel good “chemicals like serotonin and dopamine when you focus on thing that you are grateful for. So what does that mean for you? It means that you can literally hack your brain to feel happy simply by writing down what you’re grateful for.
You can even handle situations better when you write down what you’re grateful for. For example, when we’re stressed out, our brain automatically wants to point fingers and blame it on somebody else which we all know makes us stress even more. Gratitude journaling can help remind us of what we already have, which can lead our brains to feel that our lives are already abundant and full. By making gratitude journaling a daily habit, you can train yourself to stay cool and collected and you can also handle your problems more objectively.
The secret to gratitude journaling is that you can write about anything. You can start small if you can’t think of anything immediately-like being able to wake up and move around, having eyes that allow you to see, or simply being alive in one of the best times in human history. Later, you can move onto more concrete examples like having a job that supports you, having a roof over your head, or living in a safe community. I recommend writing at least three things (more is always better) that you’re grateful for every morning before you start your day.
Once you put your pen to paper about what you’re grateful for, you’ll realize that there are a lot of things that work in our favor that we take for granted almost every day.
4. Locate The Source Of Your Pain
Just recently, I watched a really great episode of Rick and Morty that blew my mind. In the episode, Morty’s grumpy math teacher, Mr. Goldenfeld, gives Morty a bad grade on his math exam, which means that Morty can’t spend time traveling around the galaxy with Rick. They decide to travel inside Mr. Goldenfeld’s dream to plant the idea of giving Morty a better grade.
As they go through different layers of his dream, they learn that Mr. Goldenfeld is actually very insecure about himself and his profession. In the end, they help Mr. Goldenfeld deal with his issues. He wakes up in the real world feeling happier and treats Morty better at school. Although the episode was made to be more funny than philosophical, it had a great message about how much our subconscious thoughts influence our behaviors.
We go through life feeling so much negative emotions that it’s all too easy just to say, “I was born like this. Deal with it.” According to Dr. Joe Dispenza, a best selling author on meditation and mindfulness, a major part of our personality was actually influenced and constructed by our past experience. For example, when you wake up in the morning, your brain might be thinking of something traumatic that your mother said to you when you were young. The crazy part is that your brain can’t tell whether the events have happened before or is happening in the present.
This emotion conjured by thoughts of past events can turn into a mood over time, which can then transform into your personality over the course of years. The great thing is that now we know how to reverse engineer it.
According to Dr. Dispenza, meditation is the most effective choice of weapon for dealing with our mental health issues. When we meditate, we can start separating ourselves from our negative thoughts and start categorizing them as separate things. As we do this, we stop labeling ourselves as an anxious person or a depressed person and work backwards to figure out why we’ve having these thoughts and emotions.
For example, the next time you’re feeling anxious, stop and examine where it might be coming from. Maybe it’s coming from the fact that you had strict parents growing up and anything less than perfect resulted in them being highly disappointed in you. This feeling of anxiety may have spread and influenced other areas of your life, such as feeling anxious around people, never feeling like you’re good enough, or always trying to please people at your own expense.
When you start examining the sources of your pain in this way, you’ll find it easier to forgive yourself for feeling these distressing emotions.
Changing the way you think about yourself is one of the hardest things to do. The reward is that you become a radically different person with a keener understanding about human nature.
5. Focus On Another Activity
We all have different ways of dealing with negative emotions in our lives. We usually escape these feelings by indulging in activities such as eating, sleeping, drinking, smoking, or binge watching. Whatever it is, we fall into these habits because it’s much easier to do these things when we’re feeling distressed. What happens is that we fall into a destructive cycle that traps up in a loop, which plunges us deeper into our problems and makes it harder to get out of them. The good news is that we can change it. Instead of going about our usual cycle, we can channel our energy into more productive activities such as exercising.
Developing a habit of exercising can be a great substitute for bad habits. Not only will you gain confidence from looking fitter, but the added bonus of physical exercise can help boost your overall mood and help you become more positive and energetic. Research has shown that exercising releases dopamine in the brain that helps you feel better, which is linked to reduced anxiety, depression, and stress. Combine exercising with a healthy eating habit and daily gratitude journaling and you have a trifecta for boosting your mental health.
If you’re not fond of exercising, you can also pick up a habit in crafting, archery, golfing, or just about anything that’ll help you stave off your destructive habits.
The more you do this, the more your brain will begin to rewire and associate having stress to doing productive activities. And since these activities provide great mental benefits as well, your brain will deal with your anxiety or depression in a more natural, positive way.
6. Find Your Life’s Task
According to Robert Greene, the Best Selling Author of “Mastery” and “The 48 Laws of Power”, we are all born with a unique set of DNA and personality that will only come once and will never be replicated in history ever again.
We all have a unique gift that no one but us can express given our unique experiences and set of traits. It’s our life’s task, therefore, to figure out what that is. One of the biggest reasons why we fall into depression and other deleterious behaviors is because we distance ourselves from our creative abilities. Instead of figuring out our unique gift, we give into pressures from our parents or society and go to law school or medical school. It’s not until later that we realize how empty and miserable we feel in these jobs.
The good news is that it’s never too late to start finding your life’s task. Today, we live in a golden age of technology where there are no more barriers to information. We can start a new business from the ground up in a couple of hours or design new and original products using inexpensive apps on our smartphone or tablets. Whatever it is, we have access to information in ways that people like Leonardo Da Vinci couldn’t possibly dream of.
Finding your life’s task is one of the hardest paths that you’ll ever do. It means throwing away preconceived notions and looking foolish to the outside world. But it’ll also be the most rewarding. You and only you can figure it out, and it starts by leaping into the unknown and trying things that you otherwise might have never tried.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to reinvent the iPhone. You can start small with the things that you already know. Let’s say you have an affinity for writing, so why not start a blogging website? You may not know what niche you want to write in, but you’ll figure that out as you start writing. Another example is a food vlogger. If you like food, you can start a Youtube channel where you show the different kinds of street food in your local area. Later, your videos will start to look the way you want as you develop your own filming style and aesthetic.
As you go through this phase, you’ll constantly learn more about yourself including your strengths and weaknesses. You might also learn that you don’t actually like the things that you thought you did. That’s okay, you can simply entertain your other curiosities. As you continue working towards finding your life’s task, you’ll pick up new ideas and skills that’ll help you along the way. All in all, you’ll have to go through a lot of trial and error on this path until you find the one thing that clicks with you. Your life’s task will not appear in front your door one day. You have to go and find it, and it starts by starting.
The one thing that separates us from animals is our ability to think. We have done such a great job at thinking that we’ve made entire nations and cultures based on sets of ideas. Our world has a lot of problems that can’t be solved with cookie-cutter answers, which is why we need fresh and original ideas more than ever. With your unique perspective, you can influences others to see things in different ways. You can be the voice of reason in an age of populist rhetoric and hysteria. It’s your job to find your life’s task so that you can leave the world a better place than it was before.
Originally published at http://peekingbuddha.com on September 25, 2020.