4 Habits for Better Mental Health

Nicholas Smith
6 min readOct 20, 2023
Photo by Total Shape on Unsplash

Life today can be filled with stress, anxiety, and sadness. Heavy feelings that weigh us down are so common but often hard to manage. When mental health suffers, every aspect of life becomes more challenging.

The good news is that there are simple habits you can build into your routine that greatly boost your outlook and wellbeing. Small steps can lead to profound shifts over time. Habits rewire thinking patterns to be more positive.

In this article, we’ll explore four science-backed habits for enhancing mental health through everyday actions. Implement one or more of these practices and see your mood start to lift.

#1: Make Exercise a Daily Habit

Let’s start with the power of exercise. Moving your body each day, in any way, is one of the most effective habits for elevating your mood.

The mental health benefits of exercise are astounding.

Reduces Stress and Anxiety Exercise lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol and releases endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in the brain. As little as 5 minutes of aerobic activity can reduce anxiety. A gym session, a brisk walk, or even stretching are great options.

Boosts Happy Neurochemicals Vigorous exercise in particular increases the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These are your brain’s “happy chemicals” that lift moods naturally. Aim for 20–30 minutes to get this mood boost.

Clears and Calms Your Mind Physical exertion gives your racing worries a rest. Exercise forces you to be present and focused on your body. Being mentally immersed in the moment while actively meditating clears the mind.

Promotes Better Sleep
Quality sleep and mental health are intertwined. The more active you are, the better you’ll sleep, as it reduces restless energy. In turn, you’ll awaken feeling mentally refreshed.

The beauty of using exercise as a daily mental health habit is that you can tailor activities to your needs and preferences. Like group classes for socializing, solo running to process thoughts, or gentle yoga for relaxation. Find what moves you.

Aim to exercise 4-5 days a week for optimal effects. But even a short 10-minute walk is better than nothing. Push yourself to get moving every single day in some small way, and your mindset will lift.

#2: Prioritize Quality Sleep

Our second vital habit for better mental health is consistently getting quality sleep. Restorative sleep helps mood, concentration, productivity, and overall wellbeing.

When we’re sleep deprived, everything feels worse. Fatigue exacerbates anxiety, sadness, overwhelm, and irritability. Making sleep a priority, not a luxury, regulates your mental health.

Here are some tips for getting the quality ZZZs you need each night:

Stick to a sleep schedule
Go to bed and wake up at the same time daily, even on weekends. This programs your body’s natural circadian rhythms for restful sleep.

Develop a relaxing pre-bed routine
Unwinding before bed signals rest. Take a warm bath, read, try gentle yoga, meditate, or listen to calming music. Dim the lights too.

Limit screen time before bed
Tablets, phones, TVs, and computers emit “blue light” that disrupts sleep hormones. Avoid screens at least 1 hour before bedtime.

Optimize your sleep environment
Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in blackout curtains, a comfortable mattress, breathable bedding, and an essential oil diffuser. Make your bedroom a sleep haven.

Cut back on caffeine and big meals before bed Caffeine and heavy late-night meals energize your body when you want it to wind down. Curb intake 3–4 hours before bed.

Reduce worrying in bed If you wake up worrying, get up briefly to write your your concerns down or do a calming activity until you feel sleepy. Don’t associate bedtimetime with anxiety.

Give yourself grace on harder nights Stress or disruptions happen. If you occasionally have poor sleep, avoid catastrophizing. Simply get back on track the next night.

Prioritizing restful sleep pays off immensely for emotional health. With good sleep habits, you’ll wake up feeling mentally refreshed and resilient.
Try implementing a consistent sleep routine and watchinging your outlook improve day by day.

#3 — Spend Time in Nature Daily

Did you know that spending time in nature is scientifically proven to lower anxiety and depression?

Being in a a natural environment triggers measurable changes in brain activity, physiology, and mood. Nature has a profoundly grounding, calming effect.

Here are some of the mental health benefits:

Lowers Cortisol and Stress
Research shows cortisol levels decrease after nature walks, even short ones. Natural settings promote awe and relaxation.

Reduces Rumination The negative repetitive thoughts tied to anxiety and depression are reduced by being outdoors, especially in green spaces with lots of plants and trees.

Boosts Attention and Mindfulness Nature effortlessly holds our attention with sensory details. This engages our involuntary focus, increasing mindfulness and mental calm.

Elevates Mood Studies demonstrate that time in nature elevates mood, with the effects lasting hours or days after. Outdoor light, greenery,, and fresh air are healing.

Whether you have access to woods, parks, or just a small yard, aim to spend time immersed in nature daily. Here are some simple ways to benefit:

  • Take mindful walks outdoors, leaving your phone behind. Tune into the the sensory details.
  • Have coffee, tea, or breakfast outside on your patio, balcony,, or front steps.
  • Plant herbs, flowers, or veggies in your yard or in pots indoors. Gardening is therapeutic.
  • Sit outside reading, coloring, or just observing for at least 15–30 minutes a day.
  • Take glimpses of nature from your window, appreciating trees, sky, birds, etc.
  • Switch walking meetings to outside venues when possible.

With hectic modern lifestyles, penciling in outdoor time is key. But integrating just a bit of nature daily or most days has amazing mental health benefits to tap into.

#4: Cultivate a Gratitude Practice

The fourth habit that tremendously boosts mental health is cultivating gratitude. Gratitude practices train our brains to spot the positive in life. This lifts mood, outlook, and resilience.

Studies show people who regularly practice gratitude sleep better, have less anxiety and depression, and have have stronger relationships. Appreciating the good counteracts our brains’ natural negativity bias.

Here are some simple ways to build more gratitude into your days:

Keep a gratitude journal Jot down 3–5 things you’re grateful for daily—from warm sunshine to having a car to friendly neighbors. This habit rewires neural pathways.

Write thank-you notes Send brief emails, texts, or handwritten notes thanking people who’ve helped you. Expressing gratitude feels good!

Share gratitude socially

Vocalize out loud what you appreciate, whether chatting with friends or sharing on social media. Social transmission amplifies gratitude.

Savor good moments

When pleasant things happen — seeing a stunning sunset, hearing a child laugh — pause and soak it in. Savoring enhances benefits.

Reflect on life's blessings Setbacks happen, but reflect on the good overall—your health, your family, nature’s beauty. Count blessings over hardships.

Giving thanks in both big and small ways trains our brains to spot silver linings and possibilities. Make gratitude a daily habit, and negativity will slowly give way to lightness.

Start with One Habit for Mental Health

There you have four science-backed habits for reducing anxiety, depression, and overwhelm while boosting positivity. But change takes time. It’s best to tackle one habit at a time, practice it daily, and then add more as those become automatic.

For example, start with a short daily walk outside or write down three grateful things before bed. After a month, add another habit to the mix.

Small, consistent steps lead to progress over time. Be patient and celebrate little milestones along the way. Protecting mental health through simple, daily habits yields huge dividends.

The goal is to create a lifestyle that supports your emotional wellbeing over the long term. Use these four powerful habits as your toolkit. With commitment and compassion for yourself, your mental health will strengthen.

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Nicholas Smith

I'm Nicholas Smith, a dedicated wordsmith on a lifelong quest to breathe life into stories and ideas through the power of the pen