Top 3 Habits for Mental and Emotional Health
This 2nd part of the blog series is intended to highlight the top 3 things we can do for our mental health, while explaining in depth the first of the three, and giving a variety of ways to practice. It is fitting to do this during the month of May as May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Many people are diagnosed with mental illness (about 20% of the population), but most people struggle at times with their mental health, whether it be managing negative thoughts, difficult emotions, or keeping confidence.
We ALL have an inner world of thoughts and emotions. Perhaps many of us are not so aware of our inner world or how to manage it, or even that we have control of it to some level; but our mental “health” depends on it. I have spent the last 15 years of my life immersed in the topic of what we can do to improve this area of our lives- our mental health, well-being, and performance. I have boiled it down to the following 3 things we should do:
1- Be Kind
2- Be Mindful
3- Deliberately Choose Your Thoughts
This little nugget of wisdom is very much over said, but under-practiced and truly under valued. A little secret to this world is that we are meant to positively connect with others. Our brains are wired for it. When we give kindness in any of its forms, there’s a positive biological, physiological, emotional and mental response. Check out this small list of benefits:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces cortisol (the stress hormone)
- Produces a DOSE of + brain chemicals: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins
- Improves creativity and openness
- Improves mood and emotional state
- Improves self-esteem
- Improves optimism
More so than ever, and for a variety of reasons, we have become a selfish society. For many in our culture, especially for a majority of our teenagers, it has become cool to be cruel. It has become natural to make fun of each other, or to share hate, be resentful or jealous. These thoughts, feelings, and actions grow like sun and water to a freshly planted seed. Whatever you sow, you reap. The quote below from Buddha highlights this connection. The great news is that positive feelings work the same way. The feeling is love, compassion, and gratitude. The action is kindness.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Buddha
People that make a daily practice of connecting positively with others, supporting them, and being kind experience better physical, emotional, and mental health. And for the heavy introverts reading this, the benefits of kindness does not always have to be through social connection. Even the process of directing our attention to compassion, gratitude, and loving thoughts has an incredible impact on us. The research on this from leading institutions including Harvard and UPenn fully support it. It is worth the practice!
Here are some practices worth building into your daily schedule:
Simple but Effective Kindness Practices
- Give a note or text of thanks to someone in your life.
- If you are religious or spiritual, give gratitude to that which empowers your faith.
- Before bed, write down 3 good things that happen in your day
Yes, it’s possible. Refer back to the quote from Buddha above. Our teachers of all faiths and sciences would agree.
Give someone a compliment or praise
So easy! So impactful! So undergiven! Tell me, can you remember the last time you received a compliment? Many people cannot. They are rare. Give them freely, especially to children and teens. Yes, you will positively impact the receiver, but this also create positive emotion in yourself (and anyone else who witnesses it).
- Highlight their strengths- I remember when I was 14 years old, a friend of mine said, “you are a great listener. I feel like I can tell you anything.” I still remember that comment clearly. Her comment made me want to get into peer mediation as a teenager, listen better to people struggling, and perhaps led me on a path to feel confident doing what I am doing today.
- Give an active constructive response when someone has told you something positive- “Wow, congrats. I’m happy for you. I’m sure you worked hard for it.”
- Praise the Process… “Wow, you were really creative in accomplishing that!”
- Compliment something about appearance
Listen to others!
A senior student at my school was asking teachers for one piece of advice they would give. I struggled with the answer but finally arrived at: “Listen more than you speak”. When someone is talking to you, focus completely on them. Ask questions. Be empathetic.
It is a gift to listen to others, for us and them. It is one of the most kind things we can offer.
This is the general concept in practice. The more we help other people, the better we feel, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. There are many ways we can volunteer our time and services. Do so as much as you can!
Meditations on Loving Kindness, Compassion, or Gratitude
What you think directly controls your emotional state. Meditations on the concepts of love, kindness, compassion and gratitude, fill your heart and soul. They are worth it! Just go to google or youtube and type it in. You will find 100’s!
Utilize Someone’s Love Language
Gary Chapman wrote a terrific book called the 5 Love Languages. He determined that we all have a top way in which we feel loved. I challenge you to be kind to someone by offering love in the way they would receive it best
1- Physical touch- hugs, etc…
2- Words of affirmation- saying kind things, etc..
3- Acts of service- helping someone with a task that needs to be done
4- Quality Time- just being there connecting with someone can be a kind act in itself
5- Gifts- use your empathy and give something meaningful. It does not need to be costly
And there it is- Kindness
Like anything else, the more we practice, the more it grows; and the more we reap the fruit we have sown. I started this blog series saying that there were 3 top things we could do to improve our mental and emotional health. Kindness absolutely makes the list! Stay tuned to the next 2 posts to see what else makes this important list.
Thanks for reading!
Powell Cucchiella, LMHC