A 2021 ABC News story cites a survey by the CDC: 63% of 18- to-24-year-olds reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, with 25% reporting increased substance use to deal with that stress and 25% saying they'd seriously considered suicide. Mental health is always important to look after, but as the pandemic ends, young adults need to make sure they put themselves in the best position to live healthier lives.
4 habits you can start so you can boost your mental health.
1. Have a proper sleep routine, and aim for 8 hours per night.
This may sound cliche, but sleep is one of the most vital parts of your mental health. Many Americans know sleep is important however, 35.2% of all adults in America report sleeping on average for less than seven hours per night. Furthermore, research shows that young adults (between the ages of 18 and 27) are more vulnerable to sleep loss. The reality is that many Americans aren’t aware of nor taught good sleep hygiene. Here are some tips that will help you get a proper night's sleep. To fight sleep loss and improve the quality of your sleep, you can do the following 7 things:
-Wake up at the same time each day and go to sleep when you first start to feel sleepy.
- Avoid caffeine within 8-10 hours of bedtime.
-Avoid viewing bright lights—especially bright overhead lights between 10 pm and 4 am.
-Limit daytime naps to less than 90 mins, or don’t nap at all.
- Keep the room you sleep in dark and cool and layer on blankets that you can remove.
-Avoid alcohol a few hours before sleeping.
-View sunlight by going outside within 30-60 minutes of waking. Do that again in the late afternoon, before sunset.
This is not a complete list, but these tools are free and can be completed without too much disruption to one’s day-to-day life. For those hoping for a deeper dive into sleep head over to the Huberman Lab Podcast. If you are more of a reader, you can check out the international best seller, Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.
2. Have a daily exercise routine.
Exercise is not only about improving your physical health, but it is also essential for your mental health. The positive effects of exercise include:
-Helps your brain deal with stress, anxiety, and depression.
-Exercise seems to be the only natural reward that makes your reward system more robust.
- Increase memory and thinking skills.
- Improve your mood and keep you emotionally balanced.
How can you fit exercise into your daily routine?
You don’t need to be a fitness fanatic to exercise every day. There are endless options for exercise that require different amounts of time. You just need to find what works for you and your schedule. Here are 4 activities that you can add to your daily routine:
For those who hate cardio, this is the exercise for you. All you need to do is grab a backpack, put some weight in it, and start walking. That's it. This is ideal if you don’t like running and the stress it can have on your knees.
If you are someone who likes to sweat, be alone, and engage in mental challenges, running is for you. Running is great because it doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t require you to put in hours a day. As mentioned, running can be stressful on the body, but the good news is studies show that running just 5 to 10 minutes each day at a moderate pace may help reduce your risk of death from strokes, heart attacks, and other common diseases.
Create a home gym
The home gym industry has been booming in recent years and people are starting to realize how beneficial it is. Many people think building a home gym requires a big space and lots of equipment but that isn’t true. You can build a home gym just using these items:
-Weight Plates (iron or rubber)
-Squat rack with a pull-up bar
There are tons of other pieces of equipment you can use, and fitness gurus will argue left and right about it. However, these items will bring the most bang for your buck. In addition to improving your mental health, a home gym can save you hours in traffic and waiting for machines at the neighborhood gym.
Body weight exercises
Bodyweight exercises are great because you can do them at no cost, anywhere, and at any time throughout the day. These exercises will be great for anyone getting started:
What’s nice about these exercises is that you can make them more difficult over time. Don’t underestimate the power of body weight exercises, as Arnold Schwarzenegger said
“All exercises you do with your own bodyweight are great.”
So here you have it, 4 exercises that are 0 or low cost that can get you into shape.
3. Start a daily meditation practice.
Meditation has been around for thousands of years and no wonder why. Meditation is one of the best things you can do to improve mental health and focus. In an interview with the New York Times, Marc Benioff, CEO, and Co-founder of Salesforce said that
“I’m trying to listen deeply, and the beginner’s mind is informing me to step back, so that I can create what wants to be, not what was”.
In addition to the business world, meditation has been used by some of the world’s greatest athletes. In a 2018 article from the LA Times, Lebron James discussed how meditation helped him on the court.
“You feel kinda weird about it at first because it’s something that’s new, something that’s outside the box for myself,” James said. “But I got more and more comfortable with my inner
self, inner spirits, and inner energy and things of that nature, I guess. So it works for me.”
Finally, meditation has been used in the creative industries as well. One of the biggest fans of
mediation is the famous rapper, Kendric Lamar. In a 2016 interview with GQ Magazine when asked about his meditation practice, Kendric said
“Yeah, man. I have to have at least 30 minutes to myself. If it's not on the daily, every other day, to just sit back, close my eyes, and absorb what's going on.”
He went on to say how the 30-minute session helps him restart, refresh, and remember why he is here on earth.
How do I fit mediation into my daily life?
You don’t need to be a celebrity, CEO, or go to a fancy yoga class to meditate. Here are some options that you can incorporate into your daily life.
10-minute Yoga Nidra
During Yoga Nidra, you lie on your back and consciously relax your mind and rely on a guided
visualization, allowing the body to relax while the mind stays awake. The practice engages the left and right side of the brain which aids creativity, reduces stress, and builds neuroplasticity. This is ideal for you if you are constantly running around and don’t have time for a 30 to 40-minute meditation session. There are a lot of Yoga Nidra scripts out there, but my personal favorite is free and can be found on youtube.
Mantra Meditation is popular, especially in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. This type of meditation uses a repetitive sound to clear the mind. It can be a word, phrase, or sound and your mantra can be spoken loudly or quietly. After repeating your mantra for 15 or 20 minutes you should feel more alert and be more aware of your surroundings. If you are someone that struggles with focus, this may be a better option for you because it could be easier to focus on a word rather than your breathing. If you think this meditation suits you, here is a detailed guide for beginners.
This meditation practice is one in which you visualize a particular goal, place, person, or event. In this practice, you want to focus on your 5 senses — taste, smell, sight, touch, and
hearing. There are different types of visual meditations - color breathing, compassion, progressive muscle relaxation, and more. Again, everyone is different and certain ones may work better for you. Overall, visualization meditation is for you if you like to use your 5 senses.
Meditation has been proven to help overall mental health and focus, so even a 5 to 10-minute practice per day can have a positive impact.
4. Begin your day with journaling.
Like meditation, journaling has been around for thousands of years. The famous Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius wrote his personal thoughts and observations in a journal titled “To
Himself.” It was never meant to be published, but today it is a popular book across the world.
A Few Science-backed benefits of journaling every day.
-Increased learning performance.
-Writing reflects clear thinking.
-Improved memory through writing.
Now that you know some of the benefits of journaling every day, let's dive into some of the options.
3 Journaling methods you can do every day.
The gratitude journal is exactly what you think it is, a journal about gratitude. All you need to do is write down 2 or 3 things that you are grateful for that day. Start small so you can build consistency. I try to write down one thing that I am grateful for that day and here are some things I have written in the past:
I am grateful for the hot water in my shower. (I had times when my hot water didn’t work).
I am grateful that my gym is within walking distance of my apartment.
I am grateful for my oven which cooks my food with relative ease.
Once you get the basics down you can write about more abstract things like this:
I am grateful for my boyfriend/girlfriend because they have always been there for me.
I am grateful that I grew up with an incredible family that always supported me.
I am grateful that I have been blessed with good physical and mental health so I can travel the world.
You don’t need to take my word for it. In a 10-week study, Two psychologists researchers from Harvard Health found that people who wrote a few sentences about things they were grateful for were “more optimistic and felt better about their lives” compared to people who cataloged things that irritated them.
Morning Pages is a journaling method developed by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s
Way. This journaling technique is designed to help clear your head before you start your day with little journaling constraint. According to Cameron:
“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages- they are not high art”
Tips for writing Morning Pages:
-Aim for 3 pages with little interruptions and stopping.
-Don’t worry about mistakes— the pages are for yourself and there should be minimal pressure.
-Be consistent— it may take a while to get to the 3 pages at first, but it will get easier over time. Tell yourself that it’s going to be difficult at first, this will help you mentally
stick with the habit.
The 5-Minute Journal
This is like the gratitude journal but includes other topics as well. The five-minute journal is a mix of both a to-do list and a gratitude journal, consisting of 5 simple questions for you to answer every day. These 5 questions are split up into 3 questions to ask yourself in the morning and 2 questions to answer before you go to bed. The journal is based on positive psychology and the goal is to reflect on the good things in your life thus, making you happier.
The prompts in the morning:
What are you grateful for?
What would make today great?
Daily Affirmation, I am…
The prompts in the evening:
Highlight of the day.
What did I learn today?
You can find out more about the 5-minute journal here.
So, whether you are struggling with sleep, exercise, meditation, or journaling, you have several free options to fit your lifestyle. These habits can be started now so start small and watch these habits compound over time.