We’re all different, and we all cope with stress in various ways. Finding what works for you can sometimes be a trial-and-error process. Depending on what you need at a given moment, you may benefit more from certain strategies than others.
That said, some mental health solutions are known for being universally beneficial. There is significant research demonstrating that happy people have several variables in common. If you want to improve your emotional well-being, it’s worth focusing on these recommended strategies.
Building a Strong Support System
Research consistently shows that having supportive people in your life is a significant protective factor. In fact, one study found that severe, prolonged loneliness was just as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Building meaningful support takes time, but the first step is cultivating a mindset that you’re worthy of having such relationships. That also means being willing to put yourself out there despite the potential risks of being hurt or rejected.
Make time for your friends: People are social creatures, and friends help us feel connected and secure with ourselves. For these reasons alone, friendship should be prioritized as much as any other essential health need. Even if your schedule feels packed, think about ways where you can reach out and spend time with people who matter.
Work on your romantic relationship: If you’re in a relationship with someone, it’s also important to focus on nurturing your dynamic. Ensure that you’re spending quality time together and aim to practice healthy conflict management. If you’re finding it hard to be on the same page, consider seeking couples therapy. A therapist can help you both strengthen communication and increase intimacy.
Set better boundaries: Unhealthy relationship dynamics can cause resentment and burnout. While generosity is important in any relationship, it shouldn’t feel so one-sided that you feel taken advantage of. If that’s the case, it may be time to renegotiate the limits you set with others. Effective boundaries should be clear, and if other people can’t respect them, it may be a sign you need to think about what you want in your relationship.
Practice asking for what you need: Receiving genuine support comes from being emotionally vulnerable. This isn’t an easy task, and it often requires practice. But as you assert your needs and ask for help, you gain insight into how people can actually support you. Not everyone will be able to meet your requests, but you might be surprised by how much people try to help you.
Lao Tzu once said, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
Nothing is ever that straightforward, but the quote holds some truth worth considering. We often spend so much of our time ruminating about what already happened or worrying about what could happen. And while some of this reflection and preparation is important, it’s just as important to learn to appreciate what exists in the here and now.
Mindfulness can help you stay in the present moment. You can integrate mindfulness in several ways, including:
- Practicing active listening when talking to others
- Integrating a formal meditation practice into your daily routine
- Grounding yourself into the five senses when you feel overwhelmed
- Paying attention to your bodily sensations or breath
- Regularly pausing during the day to take note of your gratitude
Remember that mindfulness is an ongoing practice, and there’s no sense in trying to do it perfectly. After all, nobody can be mindful all the time!
But the next time you feel stressed, try to slow down and take in what’s happening at the moment. Practice accepting your reality for what it is (which isn’t the same as liking it). Then, notice any shifts you feel within your body or mind.
Giving Back to Others
Giving back to others makes the world a better place, but it can also make you feel like a better person. Service work releases feel-good hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, all of which can promote better emotional well-being.
That said, giving doesn’t need to be time-consuming or dramatic to be effective. You can start by thinking about small ways you can improve someone else’s day. For example, you might send flowers to a loved one just to let them know you’re thinking about them. Or you could bring in cookies to share at an office meeting.
On a larger scale, many people find that getting involved in social justice and community action helps improve their mood. What values do you most have? Which organizations best align with your purpose in life? How would you like to leave the world a better place?
So many individual mental health problems exist due to macro-level, societal issues. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s built on individual efforts. Knowing that you’re making a difference can help you feel more optimistic about yourself and the world you’re living in.
Engaging In Creative Expression
Words matter, but there’s something to be said about expressing yourself artistically. When you’re going through a rough time, you might not be able to articulate what’s going on exactly. Art and other forms of creative activity can help.
The next time you feel overwhelmed by your emotions, consider:
- Journaling about how you feel (either unprompted or using a guide)
- Drawing, sculpting, or taking photos
- Listening to music or dancing
- Cooking or baking
- Engaging in crafts
The key to engaging with creative expression is letting go of your ego and perfectionism. This isn’t about producing high-quality work. It’s about tuning into yourself and having a self-care activity that revitalizes your spirit.
Improving Your Physical Health
Research continues to show that the mind and body are undoubtedly connected. With that, how you take care of your physical body has a direct impact on your emotional health.
At the most basic level, your body requires fuel, activity, and rest. But many people neglect those essential needs when they become stressed. And even if the body is “functioning,” it may not be operating at its best capacity, which can deplete your energy.
You don’t have to make significant changes all at once. Many people find that it’s easier to commit to smaller habits and build that consistency over time. Some healthy habits to consider include:
- Going to bed earlier (to ensure you get enough sleep each night)
- Scheduling a physical exam if you haven’t seen your doctor in the past year
- Getting routine lab tests
- Wearing sunscreen regularly
- Drinking enough water
- Eating balanced meals each day
- Limiting or avoiding mood-altering substances
- Getting physical activity (even if it’s just taking a short walk)
- Staying compliant with any medications prescribed for certain health conditions
As you grow and your body changes, your physical health needs will also evolve. As much as possible, try to stay on top of your preventative care. You certainly can’t control every health need, but being proactive may reduce the chance of unforeseen medical emergencies.
Changing Your External Circumstances
Sometimes structural change is needed to improve internal well-being. For example, if you’re completely miserable in your job, meditating probably won’t fix how you feel. If anything, it might feel like a band-aid on a serious problem.
Changing your external circumstances isn’t always easy. Making a big change can pose numerous financial, emotional, and logistical challenges. But if you’ve identified that you need to make such a movement, you can prepare yourself in a few ways.
Seek therapy: A therapist can provide support and guidance as you navigate a significant life transition. They will also offer specific coping skills intended to help you manage your stress and feel more empowered.
Have realistic expectations: Even the best kinds of change don’t automatically translate to complete happiness or stress relief. In fact, many people note that they temporarily feel worse after following through with a big decision. That’s because change- even when it’s desired- triggers stress and forces you out of your comfort zone. Knowing this in advance can help you feel more prepared.
Practice more self-compassion: It’s easy to get hard on yourself for making mistakes or struggling with stress. Instead, try to remind yourself that you’re only human. Self-kindness means knowing that you’re entitled to your emotions and that you’re not alone in how you feel.
Connect with like-minded individuals: Whether you’re considering divorce, a new job, or relocating to another country, other people are going through the same situation. Support groups- whether they’re in-person or online- can provide you with camaraderie during this time.
Engaging in Ongoing Growth
Emotionally healthy or happy people don’t always have easy lives. Adversity affects everyone, but having perspective makes a difference in how you perceive your current situation. In addition, growth is a lifelong process. Here are some ways you can continue becoming a better person in every moment.
Hold yourself accountable: We all disappoint other people. You will make mistakes, and that’s what makes you human. But being honest and holding yourself accountable models integrity, and that fosters better relationships with others.
Consider how you can improve your weaknesses: We all have parts about ourselves that we wish we could change. Sometimes, it comes down to acceptance (and that’s perfectly okay). But if you truly want to improve a certain issue, it’s worth identifying what you need to do to make those necessary changes.
Integrate feedback from others: If people offer you advice or give you constructive criticism about something, pay attention (especially if you’ve heard the same feedback in the past). That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily right, but if a loved one offers you some kind of feedback, it’s worth considering its relevance.
Reassess what isn’t working: People often talk about the perils of quitting, but it’s okay to modify or even abandon certain goals. If something truly isn’t bringing you meaning anymore (or you just can’t commit to it), consider if you need to revise that goal altogether.
Finding Trusted Sources for Guidance and Support
Sometimes vetting the right mental health resources can feel downright overwhelming. Information overload is a real thing, and it’s hard to parse out accurate information from misleading sources.
First, word-of-mouth can help. For example, if your friends, family, or doctor recommend a specific treatment approach, it may be worth looking into. That doesn’t mean they’re inherently right, but if you respect their opinion, you might want to consider that option.
Second, look for sources vetted by other established professionals. For example, at MedCircle, we work with credentialed psychologists and psychiatrists. We value evidence-based work and are committed to providing high-quality information to all our readers, viewers, and Members.