8 Natural Ways to Improve Your Mental Health
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
May is Mental Health Awareness month, opening up the conversation for awareness into this important topic. Wellness discussions often focus on diet or lifestyle changes, but mental health plays a huge role in our overall health and ability to be and feel well.
Mental illnesses are the leading cause of disability worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates more than 250 million people are affected by depression worldwide, but people often don't seek treatment due to lack of awareness and insufficient resources within their communities.
As anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns are on the rise, it's critical to emphasize how much these disorders affect us and those we love - and most importantly, what supportive measures we can take to help.
If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health, it is important to work with a healthcare practitioner to be evaluated. However, lifestyle factors such a diet, exercise, sleep habits, and even exposure to natural light can affect your mood and emotions. This blog post will cover some of the most effective natural solutions for supporting mental health.
It's essential to get your body moving and release endorphins to help you feel better mentally. Exercise is one of the most important natural solutions to support mental health because it helps release endorphins, improving your mood. Several studies point to improvements in mental health through exercise, especially for people with depression and anxiety.
After 12 weeks of moderate aerobic exercise, one study found that symptoms were reduced by 50% in women who had mild to moderate depressive disorder and 60% for those with severe symptoms.2
It's important to find what type of exercises you like best as consistent activity will provide the most significant benefits. Exercise can also help your sleep better, which is also tied to your mood, as you will learn below.
Meditation can be in many forms but often involves focusing on your breath and being mindful of the present moment. In research, meditation is associated with improvements in mental health, especially anxiety and depression. One study found that an eight-week meditation program led to reductions in anxiety symptoms. Meditation may help people with depression or anxiety via changes in the brain that support the stress response.
While it's not always easy, practice a little every day to promote mental well-being. Some people like meditation because it gives them peace from their busy lives. Others say that practicing mindfulness changes their brain chemistry for the better—helping them feel calmer and less reactive in stressful situations.
3. Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation can lead to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, so it's vital that you're getting enough rest each night. The two are closely connected. You may not sleep well if you're feeling anxious, but at the same time, people who are anxious are more likely to experience sleep disorders.
We're not really sure how sleep is connected to mental health. People with depression or anxiety may be more sensitive to the lack of sleep, making them feel worse. It could also be the opposite - that poor sleep can lead to increased stress levels, which affects mood and creates feelings of loneliness and sadness.
The best way to get enough restful sleep each night is by creating an environment where you'll be able to relax before bedtime. Make your bedroom a calm place, so you don't have any disturbances like bright lights from electronics screens or noisy neighbors late at night. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. It takes time to develop a healthy sleep routine, so just like exercise, consistency is critical.
4. Clean up your diet
As a symptom of mood disorders like depression is exhaustion, balancing blood sugar with optimal foods is vital. Addressing inflammation through diet can also support reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms. This means following an anti-inflammatory diet rich in polyphenols from plants, healthy fats, and low in starchy or sugary carbs.
Certain nutrients found in foods can also improve your mood. For example, several studies show that omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon or sardines, positively affect depressive symptoms while also reducing markers for inflammation.
The amino acid tryptophan, which is found in turkey and bananas, has also been shown to improve mood and reduce depression. This is because it converts into the neurotransmitter serotonin. By eating foods containing this nutrient, your body will have a natural boost of serotonin production overnight, helping reduce feelings of anxiety or sadness.
5. Spend time outdoors every day
Even if it's just for 10 minutes, being outside in nature has been shown to reduce stress levels. Studies also show that people who feel more connected to nature are generally happier. Natural outdoor light can also improve your mood while supporting circadian rhythms. This is important as studies show that people who experience disruptions in their circadian rhythms are more likely to develop depression and anxiety.
Taking time for yourself outside each day can reduce stress, improve mood and help restore natural circadian rhythms. Combine physical activity with being outside, and you have even more improvement.
6. Practice self-compassion
We unknowingly engage in negative self-talk all day long. Not only are these negative thoughts bad for your self-esteem and confidence, but a recent study also found that negative thoughts are associated with cognitive decline and the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Alternatively, studies suggest that self-affirmation and compassion can help improve mood and reduce depression and anxiety. Self-compassion is a way to practice kindness towards oneself when under challenging moments. It includes acknowledging one's feelings (even if they're painful), trying to understand their source, and then showing some understanding or compassion for our imperfections.
A good way to practice self-compassion is by making statements like "I am doing my best" or "nobody can make me feel bad about myself unless I let them." This gentle reminder helps reduce stress on our minds and body because we are holding ourselves with kindness instead of harshness.
7. Reduce screen time
There's a direct link between mood disorders and increased use of social media. Studies show that while sometimes social media can create a sense of belonging in a group, it can also increase symptoms of depression and anxiety. People tend to compare themselves to unrealistic versions of someone else's life, contributing to negative feelings and low-self esteem.
A way to reduce the time spent on screens is by creating boundaries for what's allowed and not allowed during certain times of the day. For example, if you know that after dinner, you have trouble resisting your screen time, then consider stopping it at least an hour before bedtime. Or you can set time limits on your phone.
8. Taking care of yourself to support your mood
Many lifestyle factors can support a healthy mood. While all of these are important for your mental health, sometimes it's hard to get started if you are already feeling low. Try focusing on just one change at first. It could be something as simple as adding a ten-minute walk in the morning or after work. If you find yourself feeling good after making an adjustment like this, then try another and see what happens.
Mental health takes a holistic approach, and one single band-aid won't fix everything. Over time all of these little things will add up to make significant differences in your health and mood—and that's definitely worth celebrating.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Revelation Health. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Revelation Health and associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Revelation Health encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
1. “Depression.” Accessed May 6, 2021. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression.
2. Craft, Lynette L., and Frank M. Perna. “The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed.” Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 6, no. 3 (2004): 104–11.
3. Hoge, Elizabeth A., Eric Bui, Luana Marques, Christina A. Metcalf, Laura K. Morris, Donald J. Robinaugh, John J. Worthington, Mark H. Pollack, and Naomi M. Simon. “Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity.” The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 74, no. 8 (August 2013): 786–92. https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.12m08083.
4. Gu, Jenny, Clara Strauss, Rod Bond, and Kate Cavanagh. “How Do Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Improve Mental Health and Wellbeing? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Mediation Studies.” Clinical Psychology Review 37 (April 1, 2015): 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2015.01.006.
5. Alvaro, Pasquale K., Rachel M. Roberts, and Jodie K. Harris. “A Systematic Review Assessing Bidirectionality between Sleep Disturbances, Anxiety, and Depression.” Sleep 36, no. 7 (July 1, 2013): 1059–68. https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.2810.
6. Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K. “Stress, Food, and Inflammation: Psychoneuroimmunology and Nutrition at the Cutting Edge.” Psychosomatic Medicine 72, no. 4 (May 2010): 365–69. https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181dbf489.
7. Wani, Ab Latif, Sajad Ahmad Bhat, and Anjum Ara. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids and the Treatment of Depression: A Review of Scientific Evidence.” Integrative Medicine Research 4, no. 3 (September 2015): 132–41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.imr.2015.07.003.
8. Lindseth, Glenda, Brian Helland, and Julie Caspers. “The Effects of Dietary Tryptophan on Affective Disorders.” Archives of Psychiatric Nursing 29, no. 2 (April 2015): 102–7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apnu.2014.11.008.
9. Kondo, Michelle C., Sara F. Jacoby, and Eugenia C. South. “Does Spending Time Outdoors Reduce Stress? A Review of Real-Time Stress Response to Outdoor Environments.” Health & Place 51 (May 1, 2018): 136–50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2018.03.001.
10. Capaldi, Colin A., Raelyne L. Dopko, and John M. Zelenski. “The Relationship between Nature Connectedness and Happiness: A Meta-Analysis.” Frontiers in Psychology 5 (2014). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00976.
11. Walker, William H., James C. Walton, A. Courtney DeVries, and Randy J. Nelson. “Circadian Rhythm Disruption and Mental Health.” Translational Psychiatry 10, no. 1 (January 23, 2020): 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-020-0694-0.
12. “Repetitive Negative Thinking Is Associated with Amyloid, Tau, and Cognitive Decline - Marchant - 2020 - Alzheimer’s & Dementia - Wiley Online Library.” Accessed May 6, 2021. https://alz-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/alz.12116.
13. Misurya, Ishita, Pranati Misurya, and Anirban Dutta. “The Effect of Self-Compassion on Psychosocial and Clinical Outcomes in Patients With Medical Conditions: A Systematic Review.” Cureus 12, no. 10 (October 17, 2020): e10998. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.10998.
14. Seabrook, Elizabeth M., Margaret L. Kern, and Nikki S. Rickard. “Social Networking Sites, Depression, and Anxiety: A Systematic Review.” JMIR Mental Health 3, no. 4 (November 23, 2016): e50. https://doi.org/10.2196/mental.5842.