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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

8 Simple Ways to Be Mentally Healthy

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8 Simple Ways to Be Mentally Healthy

We all strive to be mentally healthy, no matter who we are or where we are in life. We all want to be happy. We all want to know where we are going and how to control that ride. We find ourselves comparing ourselves to others. We find ourselves analyzing our flaws. We obsess over outcomes. We must learn how to simply be ourselves.

Being mentally healthy isn’t based on whether or not you are always happy, always productive all the time. Having some negative thoughts and feelings are natural and part of being human. Instead, being mentally healthy is about healthy coping skills and strategies that you develop for the tough times. It’s not about who is strong and who is weak.

According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness),[1] 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness every year. That means when you are struggling, you are not alone. But many of us do not feel seen nor do we grab the tools handy to use in those times.

If you are mentally healthy, you adapt more to circumstances, find good in difficult times, learn how to lean on others or ask for help when need be, accept yourself, have realistic perceptions, be resilient, and be ready for anything. You live a balanced life knowing what to prioritize. Your self esteem is high, you are able to communicate your needs, you know your worth and you stand for what you value and believe in giving yourself a greater sense of meaning and purpose.

What it also means to be mentally healthy is that you have a crisis plan for when you are not feeling like yourself. This means you know when you are falling apart, who to turn to, how to cope and so on.

No one is 100% mentally healthy all the time and perfect. If you think otherwise, you’re only getting someone’s highlight reel or just what someone wants you to see.

We stigmatize mental health issues in society, and we use image to cast a false narrative of what is going on to avoid vulnerability. Yet, the less shame a person has, the more likely they will get help.

Do not afraid to be open about your feelings. It can be to anyone you trust: a friend, family member, a mental health professional. You are able to process things in a way that utilizes healthy coping skills. That could be your interests, hobbies, journaling, venting to someone. You don’t let emotions stay bottled lest they explode. You seek cathartic outputs so you can cope.

Symptoms of poor mental health are catastrophizing in many ways. Psych Central says the 15 common cognitive distortions are as follows:[2]

  • Filtering
  • Polarized thinking (or black and white thinking)
  • Overgeneralization
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Catastrophizing
  • Personalization
  • Control fallacies
  • Fallacy of fairness
  • Blaming
  • Shoulds
  • Emotional reasoning
  • Fallacy of change
  • Global labeling
  • Always being right
  • Heaven’s reward fallacy

For example, jumping to conclusions can mean thinking you know the outcome before it happens or having all the facts. Similarly, catastrophizing is thinking about worst case scenarios and thinking only about them happening to you. What they all have in common is there is a level of distorted thinking that can be assessed and corrected to be a more mentally healthy you.

Typically, you can underestimate the good in front of you and the tools you have. You have a distorted view of how things will turn out. Thoughts have power. But you can take control, today.

For a more in-depth look at these distortions with descriptions, check out Psych Central’s article.

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So, how to be mentally healthy?

There are 8 simple ways to be mentally healthy. How to stay mentally healthy is to use the right tools and like the Ancient Greek aphorism, “Know thyself.”

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

How to be mentally healthy starts with cognitive behavioral therapy or for example recording your thoughts to assess if there are any that are unhelpful versus helpful.

There is an easy tool called Thought Record Sheet by Carol Vivyan that can be downloaded from here.

This record sheet has you describe a situation that has happened, rate your emotion, note physical sensations, record unhelpful thoughts/images, then list alternative or realistic thoughts for a more balanced perspective and has you come up with solutions. At the end, you re-rate your emotions.

Such a tool is effective because it has you stop and analyze a thought rather than ruminate on it, which so many of us do. It stops us from catastrophizing and only thinking in worst case scenarios.

2. Mental Health Maintenance Plan

Another tool called the Mental Health Maintenance Plan comes from Therapy Aid and can be downloaded here.

In this worksheet, you can identify triggers and warning signs for mental health decline. Self care and coping strategies listed next will help you come up with a plan for when you feel down. It also asks you to assess if you should seek professional help for these struggles.

This is a good tool to put into practice because it helps you to take control of your mental health coping strategies. When you have a plan in place, you are more likely to act to help your mental state. It’s also something you can share with a therapist to self advocate and ask for help. You can update it at anytime and view your growth.

3. Screen Yourself for a Mental Health Issue

Free screening tools for a mental health issue from Anxiety and Depression Association of America can be found here.

On this website, you can screen yourself for “anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, PTSD or phobia.” You can easily download it and share the results with whoever you’d like.

Nothing is saved or kept on file about you on the site. ADAA does not offer direct services to help with mental health issues such as psychiatry or therapy, but it does offer resources to assist you.

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Assessment Psychology Online is another way to screen for mental health issues with some resources to help with them for Free.

4. There’s an APP for That

You can use the Mindwise lists APPs that can help you manage your mental health.

Download an APP and give it a try! Some include apps to “reduce stress, manage a mood disorder or improve mood.” There are many tools on the internet to help calm you when you are troubled. Answers are literally at your fingertips. All you have to do is a web search if you can’t find what you want.

Type in a search engine for meditations and many will come up. This is a great way to remind yourself that you have the power or control to help yourself. Come up with a daily routine where you put this in practice.

5. Find a Therapist

You can use Psychology Today’s free find a live therapist tool here.

If you don’t want a live therapist, Betterhelp is another tool for getting matched with a therapist however it is online.

Signing up for therapy doesn’t mean that you are weak or unable to handle your problems. It means that you are secure in yourself enough to ask for help when you need it.

Professional help doesn’t mean you necessarily have a mental illness. Sometimes, all of us experience needs for someone to help us navigate life. It is very healthy to reach out to a professional in times of crisis but also in times of stability. That’s because when you navigate life with a mentor, you can recognize flaws in your thinking.

There is a lot to gain from this. All you have to do is reach out.

6. Stop the Stigma

In yourself and in society, there is some stigma towards mental health issues. If you are suffering, talking about it will alleviate that suffering.

Most of us experience fear of others’ judgment. But by owning your story and your mental health journey, you can eradicate that fear.

Rather than hide your life story or struggles, be someone who sees your own strength through it all. Rather than staying a victim, you become someone who knows what you are worth, scars and all. You will then prosper.

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If someone can’t accept your life path, it’s their loss, not yours. Once you get into that mentality, you can free yourself from needing control over others’ reactions to you.

When you stop the stigma, you make it okay for others to speak their truth too. When you give that acceptance, you also learn to accept yourself. This is how you conquer your mental health story.

The story we tell ourselves is powerful. It doesn’t mean you define yourself by struggle, but it means that you don’t hide from it.

Getting mentally healthy is not about keeping up with appearances. It’s about being you and knowing you don’t have to face life alone.

7. Live to Give

Giving is receiving. When you get the right help and are at the right level of confidence, you can more easily help others.

People need to know that they are worth it. At every level of mental health care, a person will still have some insecurities. When you give to another person — whether through friendship, volunteer work, mentorship or more, you are showing that you value that person. It also makes you feel good too!

One thing that you have to watch out for though is codependency, or depending on someone else’s wellbeing to ignite your own. You can’t help others if you are drowning too. You have to get on solid ground before you can be a healthy option for people to look up to.

When you give to others, you are expressing interest in human interaction, social good and overall humanity which uplifts your perspective towards feeling more purposeful. When you have purpose, you can achieve so much more.

You only have to give your time and attention to someone else that maybe you were once like. Someone in need of help.

When you discover tools for being mentally healthy, pass it on. That way, you can do some good while rising to your potential as well.

Use your pain for purpose. It doesn’t have to be right now, right away or even in the near future. Use it to elevate you to higher inspiration to want to lead others someday.

8. Embrace the Imperfect Process

When you recognize that the process is not perfect, you are more likely to forgive your flaws and find meaning in the struggle. You ultimately decide your reactions, your attitude, your mentality.

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No amount of therapy or tools can make you choose who you want to be. They can only guide you towards that. It’s up to you to decide that.

You are able to handle things in life when you know who you want to be. Having goals, a plan, priorities in place are just as important as learning emotional regulation.

Emotional regulation will help you when you start dealing with the cognitive distortions that we all suffer from. You will still experience negative emotions from time to time, and it’s a lifelong process to learn how to cope with them.

Circumstances can sometimes slip from our control, but if we have resources, a support system, professional help to turn to, adaptability, healthy relationships and purpose, we can start to regain a sense of optimism even when that happens.

It’s okay to have flaws. It’s okay to fall apart. It’s okay to be honest with ourselves and others. What matters is that you don’t stop there. You keep going. You rise again. You decide not to let it define you.

What you do is up to you, but there are tools out there to help shape your destiny.

Final Thoughts

Being mentally healthy doesn’t mean you have all the answers. It means you know who you are and what you want out of life.

We will all experience strife. But your response is up to you no matter what tools you may use. You are able to rise when you have the right help.

So, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Reach out when you feel like you need it and check in with others even when things are going well. This habit will make you understand yourself better and grow in more ways.

Overall, being mentally healthy doesn’t mean that you won’t have trouble. All of us have mental health maintenance needs, and that is something that can be ignored or maintained.

When you develop a strong mental attitude, don’t forget others along the way who helped you get there. Pay it forward. Give back. Start again, as many times as it takes. And most of all, don’t be afraid to be you.

Good luck.

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If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

More on Mental Health

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] National Alliance on Mental Illness: Mental Health By The Numbers
[2] Psych Central: 15 Common Cognitive Distortions

More by this author

Sarah Browne

Sarah is a speaker, writer and activist

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

Reference

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