We all know the big things that impact mental health, like trauma or family history.
But when it comes to management and prevention, often the key to living well lies in the smallest habits – the ones that most easily go unnoticed. Perhaps it is not how many hours you are sleeping but the quality of the bed you are sleeping in or the amount of clutter in your bedroom. Maybe the problem is that you scroll on Facebook more than you say “yes” to all those event invites that clog your notification tab.
Recovering from mental illness has to be holistic: therapy and medication are often necessary, but changing the way you behave and live will ensure that your treatment not only works but sustains itself. Small habits that impact our rest, wellness and socialization over time can lead to an impact in our cognitive wellness. Here, a few of the biggest (and most overlooked) culprits:
1. A cluttered home.
You don’t have to be a Marie Kondo fan to recognize the impact that a clean and organized home has on your mental state.
Having too much clutter in your space takes more of a toll than you may realize. Researchers say that people who have disorganized or messy homes are physically unhealthier, stress more, argue more with partners and family and get less sleep. One study even noted that women who described their homes as “cluttered” were more likely to be depressed, fatigued and showing higher levels of the hormone cortisol.
Disorganized spaces make everyday functioning more difficult, it makes you feel less accomplished and more overwhelmed in your day-to-day life. Try a “100 things” purge (where you get a garbage bag and throw out 100 things laying around your house) or purchase a shredder and filing cabinet and finally organize your paperwork. See how much better you feel, and let the momentum build.
2. Where you sleep.
It’s no secret that Americans are notoriously sleep-deprived and, perhaps not unrelated, still admit a mental health crisis. Though nobody would be surprised to learn that the amount of sleep you get can both cause and be a sign of a variety of mental health conditions, perhaps they would be surprised to learn that how you clock in your 6-8 hours each night can impact you just as much.
The mattress you sleep on and the room you sleep in can totally make or break your sleep quality. Investing in a great mattress is essential – the right one can help alleviate stress, eliminate potential allergens and help you sleep more soundly. An adjustable base like Lucid’s can help with everything from swelling to circulation, snoring and acid reflux, not to mention overall comfort. If you aren’t in a position to splurge on high end gear, Lucid’s queen size is only $699, and will be shipped right to your house.
You’re going to spend a third of your life in bed, and the other two thirds will be irrevocably impacted by it. Ensuring that your bed fits your needs, and that you are sleeping in a dim, quiet room in which you reserve for sleep and sleep only will help you honor your body’s need to shut down and restore itself.
Reports state that even mild dehydration can alter a person’s mood, energy levels and ability to think clearly.
Most experts recommend that you should be getting 8 16 oz cups of water per day, but in reality, many factors including exercise, pregnancy, health issues, climate, sex and nutrition influence how much water a person should really be getting. This is to say: there’s no one specific number that’s “right” for everyone – you have to take your lifestyle into consideration.
4. Not being busy enough.
It’s so common to hear that people are stressed because they are “too busy,” but in fact, the opposite can be a problem as well.
A truly busy person is a productive person (have you ever heard that saying: “If you want something done, give it to someone who is busy?”) People who complain about being busy usually don’t have enough fulfilling things to do each day, and end up overwhelmed by small, unimportant details – inflating problems and focusing on stress.
Multiple experts warn that idle time can be very dangerous for people who struggle with anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses like schizophrenia.
Being bored is not the same thing as taking down time for yourself. However, it is the most ample time for self-destructive behaviors to occur. The APA even warns that chronic boredom can look a lot like depression and that looking for meaningful ways to occupy your time is essential to overall wellbeing.
5. Turning down too many Facebook event invites.
So often, socialization falls last on our priority list. Who has time for hanging out and having dinner with friends when there are errands to run, work projects to finish, kids to chase and bills to pay?!
However, socialization and the feeling of “belonging” are both essential to your mental health. Reports note that people with strong friendships are healthier physically and mentally, live longer, get sick less and feel more content.
Studies even show that people who reach out to people and have face-to-face interactions with them report less cognitive decline, a decrease in depression, and general wellbeing. Of course, this does imply that it’s important to get off social media: “friends” online are not the same thing as friends IRL. So use those social accounts to your advantage: connect with people, find out what’s happening in your community, and slowly get out there and build real relationships. Your mental health may be depending on it.