10 Free Ways to Maintain Good Mental Health
I decided to share a list of ideas that may help maintain good mental health. For many of us, we may feel really good after a certain therapy session or positive experience we had but may struggle to maintain that headspace. I can definitely relate to this and appreciate it when others share their suggestions. We are all unique in what works for us but maybe something from my list will help another. I do not suggest these ideas as a replacement for therapy or medications.
1. Get to know yourself
Review your day and check in with your feelings often. Make a mental or physical note in a journal about what helps or doesn’t help you. You can even make a list of things you would like to try to help you next time you feel a particular way. Doing this will also help you establish a mental/physical routine. Investing your time into understanding yourself better can help make future feelings easier to recognize and take care of. You can try some suggestions in this list that may help or check out the free app Mira: Trauma and PTSD Support. Mira is a self-help app to help manage symptoms using exercises, trigger and symptom tracking, analytics to record your progress, emergency hotlines, resources, and more. It also offers some relief solutions for anxiety, avoidance, anger, dissociation, panic attacks, flashbacks, and more.
2. Let yourself be creative
Getting creative doesn’t always mean your typical arts and crafts (although they are great). Creativity and self-expression many art forms. It can be simple things such as re-decorating, digital art, cooking, or dancing to some music. Digital art is something I have grown to like over the years such as a simple clothing or home design app on my phone, or trying out photoshop to make some art or logos. By having this creative outlet you can escape/relieve yourself from stress that could be building.
3. Practice mindfulness
Being mindful means to be aware or conscious of something and maintain that practice. Accepting certain situations or feeling as they are at that moment (without judgment). This can help differentiate yourself and improve your physical and mental health. Practicing mindfulness is usually done through meditation (originating from Buddhism) and yoga – but alternatives or additions can include: mindfulness session apps, deep breathing exercises, and focusing on body sensations during a task. One exercise might be listening to your body (for a moment) when hungry instead of acting suddenly to eliminate the feeling. Instead, you would sit with it and connect with your body in a deeper sense. Engaging in experiences to your fullest ability with stillness instead of rushing through the experience even if it seems insignificant is an excellent way to practice mindfulness.
4. Fuel your brain through your gut
Consume foods that help your body function. Did you know consuming dark greens can help with depression? Read more about it in my “Dark Greens for Depression” post. Numerous studies have concluded that a Mediterranean diet lowered your risk of depression by 25% to 35% in comparison to the “Western Diet”. Eva Selhub MD states in an article for Harvard: “Scientists account for this difference because these traditional diets tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood, and to contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy.”  The production of serotonin during digestion can improve sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and curb pain. However, to improve the production of serotonin (and more) we should be eating probiotic foods which give good bacteria to our body.
Some examples of probiotic foods (that follow the Mediterranean diet and veganism) include:
– Kombucha (consume in moderation)
– Tempeh and tofu (tempeh is generally less processed which is even better)
– Miso soup (do not boil and avoid katsuobushi dashi if vegan)
– Pickled vegetables
– Fortified milk alternatives (alternatives to dairy)
On the flip side, some foods/ingredients to avoid if you want to lower your risk of anxiety or depression include:
– Fruit juice (opt. for whole fruit/fruit juice instead which includes the fiber)
– Highly processed white flour
– Aspartame (often found in “sugar-free” processed foods)
– Trans fat (occurs naturally in meat and dairy)
– Processed food
– Fried food
Read more about Foods to Avoid If You Have Anxiety or Depression from WebMD.
5. Absorb energy & recharge
By simply going outside you are taking in the fresh air and absorbing sunlight and your surroundings which can leave you feeling re-energized with a boosted mood. It is also a good place to practice mindfulness through meditation (try focusing on one of the five senses: feel, touch, smell, hear, or taste (maybe by eating or doing an activity outside). Absorbing sunlight will also provide your body with vitamin D. Those with a deficiency in this vitamin are more likely to experience depression says WebMD. Getting sufficient sleep is another way to help improve your mental health. “We know that up to 80 per cent of people with mental health disorders can have problems with falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up earlier than they intended,” said CAMH psychiatrist and sleep disorder specialist Dr. Michael Mak. Therefore, spending time to figure out what works for your body to help you sleep better can be extremely helpful for your mental health.
Some potential solutions for achieving better sleep:
– Physical and mental exercise
– Don’t eat too much too close to bedtime
– Help your body relax mentally and physically (warm bath, warm de-caffeinated tea or milk, meditation, light reading, dimming lighting (giving yourself a low-energy environment), or by keeping your bedroom as a sleep/rest-only space (no work or high energy reminders)
-Try some bedroom Feng Shui that works for you (maybe adding lavender, removing electronics/clutter) to create a peaceful place for your mind to rest
6. Education & Therapy
We are forever learning about ourselves and others. If you are already going to therapy regularly then that is a great way to improve your mental health. If you are looking for a therapist a great place to find one (no matter where you live) is Better Help. Therapy can be expensive, another route you may want to take (not intended as a replacement for therapy) to amplify a therapy experience is reading and learning about psychology. The internet and library can offer an abundance of resources that can help. A personal favourite of mine is Dr. Kirk Honda’s Youtube Channel: Psychology in Seattle. Dr. Honda is a licensed therapist who offers free information about mental health to the public to help viewers understand psychology in an engaging way (such as reacting to popular television shows or podcasts that involve deep dives into misunderstood topics of mental health).
7. Compassionate Interactions
When we think of compassionate interactions we may often think of being kind to others because we don’t know what they may be going through. For example, maybe someone is rude to you but you know there is no justification for their behavior. Your first reaction (without thinking or being mindful) might be to fight back and put them down – but if you use this time to practice being mindful you can differentiate yourself from the situation. When you are able to understand a deeper meaning of what is happening mentally it is easier to show compassion for the person because you know they are having an issue that is not related to you personally. You may even be able to help them to see it in this way. This is a great example of compassionate interaction with someone else.
I think it is also important to make sure you are having compassionate interactions with yourself. A common example of this is when we are too hard on ourselves mentally when we “fail” or think we are going to “fail”. Learning where you need to improve your own self-compassion and being familiar with when you are falling into these bad thinking habits are useful in changing this mindset. Instead of feeling afraid or ashamed, you can tell yourself some positive truths. I think it is also important that if you are setting goals for yourself, those goals are not unrealistic and are enjoyable.
Pros to “failing”:
– You learn and improve from mistakes (encouraging strength and growth)
– It reminds you to be humble and grounded (you are only human after all)
– Helps you overcome fear (even just the fear of failing)
– It can fuel a motivational drive to try again or decide to change course (provides decision-making information)
– At the end of the day, you can say you tried and that is success in itself
8. Connect with other animals
This is my favourite free way to improve your mental health. Have someone you can depend on for emotional support. We can learn a lot from each other and having a supportive person (who you trust) in your life can improve your mental health. This is often a best friend but I think we often forget that we can connect with other animals too besides humans to help us through tough emotional times. Dogs have a positive association with emotional support for human mental health but new studies and species acceptance from society are proving that it is not exclusive to dogs. A publication from the National Library of Medicine by Luke Macauley and Anna Chur-Hansen has found health benefit findings surfacing from species such as birds, fish, snakes, tortoises, insects, and amphibians. You can read their article free here: Human Health Benefits of Non-Conventional Companion Animals: A Narrative Review. I can even remember during my own childhood developing emotional bonds with chipmunks which I would routinely feed and sit with and gave names to. I feel that developing this trust/bond with each other helps my emotional health. In Luke and Anna’s article, it is stated: “Seven overarching themes describe the possible processes or mechanisms by which companion animals may benefit their human guardians’ health: (1) Companionship and Attachment, (2) Social Facilitators, (3) Purpose and Routine, (4) Connectedness with nature, (5) Decoration and Aesthetics, and (6) Physiological Benefits.”
9. Mental and physical exercise
Make time in your routine for mental and physical stimulation and exercise. I find it easiest to incorporate exercise into my other daily tasks that have to be done and make this method my first choice or habit when possible. Some of these tasks may take a bit more time to complete but it can also save you money and leave you feeling more satisfied with what you accomplished during your task.
Ways to sneak physical exercise into your daily routine:
– Walking to pick up some groceries, lunch, or general shopping
– Biking or walking to work if possible (also will save you money!)
– Stretching (Yes this counts! Do it before/after sitting still for long periods of time)
– Yoga (okay this one probably isn’t that sneaky but it is convenient and doesn’t require any cost as long as you have something soft to sit/lay on if doing floor movements)
Ways to sneak mental exercise into your daily routine:
– Download a learning app on your phone or tablet instead of a game (logic, math, word, problem-solving, etc.)
– Read books, Kindle, or listen to audible books (compatible with kindle by selecting “Audible Narration”) during a commute or doing a task if you are busy
– Use multiple senses (smelling, touching, tasting, seeing, and hearing) at once such as cooking, social gatherings, and painting.
– Learn a new skill by taking a free course from Coursera (other options might be learning an instrument or how to make a DIY project)
10. Volunteer for community service
If you have time, volunteering to help in the community is a very rewarding and purposeful activity to give yourself. It can be as simple as helping a neighbour, someone you cross paths with during your day, or volunteering regularly at a registered charity. My personal favourite would be volunteering at farmed animal sanctuaries or non-profit organizations.