“Gratitude is good for our mental health. It changes the way our brains function. It brings discipline to our thoughts, and it redirects our attention to thought patterns that are good for us rather than destructive. It reduces depression, envy, frustration, regret, and other negative emotions that work against us.”
Many of us are, frankly, obsessed with the health of our bodies—except when it comes to our brains. Most people don’t think much about the most complex organs in our bodies until we are forced to consider our mental health, because something has gone wrong. And some of the things that can go wrong with our brains are outside our control—we can’t always do anything to prevent genetically inherited conditions, the consequences of trauma, or other forms of injury and disease.
At the same time, our mental health is not entirely outside our control. In fact, even when a genetic predisposition is present, or our circumstances are harmful, our lifestyle choices can prevent a disorder from developing, lessen its severity, or help us achieve better recovery. Regardless of our predispositions, experiences, or sense of health, it really doesn’t make sense for anyone to neglect the opportunity to protect and strengthen our mental health.
No matter who you are, why not give some thought and care to your mental health this year?
Here are 10 ways we can all do that.
1. Laugh: Laughter really is among the best forms of medicine. Studies have shown that laughter can improve our health in multiple ways, including by lightening our mood, relieving tension, and improving our cognitive function. It can also change our outlook on life, make us more creative and resourceful, and make us more open to friendly relationships with other people. I hope you have someone in your life who can make you laugh. But you can always work on making yourself laugh, too, and you might entertain someone else in the process. And if all else fails, try YouTube.
2. Walk: Exercise in general is good for our mental health, and walking is great. And for reasons scientists don’t completely understand, walking in nature specifically is especially good for our brains. Try going for a walk each day, either as part of your exercise routine or for a quick head-clearing stroll. Get outside for it if you can. And by the way, some studies have shown just being in nature, walking or not, is very good for our brains. So get out there!
3. Be grateful: Gratitude is good for our mental health. It changes the way our brains function. It brings discipline to our thoughts, and it redirects our attention to thought patterns that are good for us rather than destructive. It reduces depression, envy, frustration, regret, and other negative emotions that work against us. It can literally change our minds. So count your blessings. If you make the effort, you’ll never run out of things to be grateful for.
4. Pray: For people who believe in God and the power of prayer, it can’t seem particularly surprising that studies would show prayer is good for us. When we connect with God, turn our attention to his love for us, express trust in him, renew our perspective, and receive God’s comfort, of course we’re going to experience a kind of nurture and help we can’t receive anywhere else. Prayer in community, and on behalf of others, can also strengthen the sense of support and connection in our relationships with other people—which are also good for us. But in case you had any doubts, research does indeed show that prayer can reduce depression, stress, and anxiety and is good for our overall health. And prayer doesn’t have to be hard. We don’t have to come up with anything profound to say. It doesn’t even require words. The Bible tells us, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom. 8:26). So when prayer feels hard, just bring yourself before God.