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At any given time, 55% of people are living in a gray area.
It’s called languishing, the complete absence of mental health. I’ve been in that state of languishing. It’s a hollow, dull feeling — almost like you’re a shell.
Beyond languishing, people’s mental health is suffering. When we look at the state of mental health worldwide, we’re introduced to rattling data points that give us pause:
- 1 in 4 adults in the US suffers from a diagnosable mental health condition.
- Globally, it’s estimated that 264 million people are affected by depression.
- In low- and middle-income countries, there’s a treatment gap. Between 76% and 85% of people with mental disorders receive no mental health treatment. (data cited above)
Every single person shares one thing for certain: we all have minds that need to be cared for. And a good mental health care practice is for everyone, whether you are struggling with severe mental health challenges or trying to maintain your health in an uncertain and confusing world. It starts with being proactive.
The mental health industry is complex and layered, especially in the context of healthcare. At times, it’s difficult to navigate and decipher where to go for what. It’s important to find accessible resources to add to your mental health care package.
But in order to establish a good mental health care practice, it takes proactive action. When we aren’t cushioning our mental health practice with tactics that help us thrive, it makes it that much harder to stay resilient when life throws us for a loop. It’s easier to fall when we have a pillow underneath us.
When we take good care of our mental health, good things happen. And our mental health and mental fitness data speak for themselves. We live more creatively and with a higher sense of meaning and purpose. We’re happier, more innovative, and more optimistic. We’re more engaged at work and overall, we’re more satisfied with our lives.
But the act of caring for our mental health isn’t so easy. Why? Well, we’re all unique. We have different needs, and different ways to tap into what makes us well. And as such, we need uniquely designed mental health and mental fitness plans that fit us like gloves. For example, my daily 3-mile run is a great way for me to care for my mental health. But for my friend, that’s simply not the case.
In this article, you’ll learn why it’s important to take care of your mental health — both proactively and reactively. You’ll also learn how to define what “good mental health” looks like for you — and when it’s time for professional help.
What is mental health?
First, let’s understand what we mean by mental health.
According to the CDC, mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Our mental health impacts how we think, feel, act, and respond. Our mental health is what determines how we handle stress or conflict.
It can help dictate how we make decisions or interact with others. And the importance of mental health doesn’t wax and wane throughout our lifetime. At all stages of life, our mental health is essential.
“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.”
Glenn Close, actor
The more we talk about mental health, the better positioned we are to reduce mental health stigma. The stigma surrounding mental health is often a barrier to treatment and care. It prevents us from being proactive in how we care for our minds, arguably the critical part of our body.
Let’s talk about why it’s essential to take good care — and what that care looks like.
Why is it important to take care of your mental health?
Humans are resilient. Take a minute and think about all you’ve been through.
If you’re like me, you’ve suffered loss and grief. You might’ve weathered significant life events and milestones that arrived with their challenges. You might be living with a mental health condition. You might have suffered from burnout, stress, and other factors that impact our mental health.
I reflect on my own life experiences with somewhat of a sense of awe in many ways. Have you ever thought to yourself, “How did I get through that?”
At the heart of that question is a deep sense of care. You’re here because you realize the importance of mental health care, whether you’ve recognized it as mental health care or not. And if you’re like me, you might not have nailed the perfect mental health care practice. But you’re learning — and you’re working on taking care of yourself. But why is it important?
Caring for your mental health is just as important as caring for any other part of your physical body. When we nurture our mental health, it can help prevent worsening mental health problems that can spiral into physical health problems.
For example, managing stress can help reduce our likelihood of heart disease. When our mental health is thriving, so do other components of our overall well-being.
What does good mental health look like?
This is a tricky question to answer. There’s no “picture perfect” example of good mental health because good mental health will look different for each person.
But there are a few characteristics that we can identify that may show up in different ways for different people.
- A sense of purpose, clarity, and passion
- High self-esteem and a sense of confidence
- High sense of belonging
- The ability to express feelings, emotions, and thoughts in healthy ways
- Increased resiliency (especially for those low moments in life)
- The ability to form and maintain good relationships
- The ability to navigate change, uncertainty (i.e., future-mindedness)
- Care for physical health and emotional health
Sarah Greenberg, director, Clinical Design & Partnerships, BetterUp, shares why mental health isn’t about mental illness. It’s also about mental wellness.
“Strong mental health helps us fully live life as we choose. When our mental health is strong, we can bounce back from setbacks more easily, connect with loved ones, thrive at work, and savor moments of meaning and joy. Strong mental health isn’t about the absence of pain or hard feelings—it’s more about being able to navigate the curve balls life throws our way.”
Sarah Greenberg, director, Clinical Design & Partnerships, BetterUp
10 ways to take care of your mental health
Let’s face it: there are many self-care options out there. And with that comes many ways to care for your mental health. We leaned on some experts and BetterUppers to find out what mental health care looks like for them.
10 ways to take care of your mental health
- Create a mental fitness plan
- Eat nutrient-rich food and drink water
- Practice Inner Work®
- Take up a mindfulness practice
- Express your feelings and emotions
- Have good sleep hygiene
- Set goals for yourself (personal and professional)
- Nurture social connections and relationships
- Seek professional help
1. Create a mental fitness plan
Mental health and mental fitness are not synonymous. But if you have a solid mental fitness plan, you’re better equipped to take good care of your mental health.
For example, my mental fitness plan combines physical health, writing, mindfulness, coaching, and reading. I like to think about my mental fitness as a piece of the mental health pie. It’s a supplemental way of caring for my mental health but doesn’t cover all my mental health needs.
For Sarah Greenberg, a mental fitness plan was a critical component of proactively caring for her mental health.
“I started decades ago out of a need when I was really struggling, and now I continue proactively even when feeling great. My personal mental fitness building blocks include mindfulness, physical exercise, and time in nature. I also work weekly with my BetterUp Coach, who helps me address obstacles as they arise. Everyone’s best mental fitness recipe is a little different and often must adapt over time with the changing tides of life.”
It’s good to think about your strategy regarding mental health and mental fitness. How much are you investing in proactive mental fitness care? What are some small habits or daily routines you can implement?
2. Eat nutrient-rich food and drink water
Your mental health and physical health are inextricably connected. Your physical body needs to be nourished in healthy ways. When you nourish your body, your mind benefits. Your nutritional health and mental health are linked, too.
Load up on nutrient-rich food and drink plenty of water. Make sure you’re paying attention to how your body feels and listening to what your body needs.
3. Practice Inner Work®
“On my Inner Work® days, I practice a mix of activities that usually help me take care of my mind, body, and environment. For example, I’ll exercise or do a yoga class. I’ll journal or meditate. And I’ll organize spaces that create stress or tension, like a cluttered desk.”
Dr. Erin Eatough, manager, behavioral science, BetterUp
4. Take up a mindfulness practice
Mindfulness can be a form of Inner Work®, but it is worth calling out as its practice. And mindfulness can come to life in many different forms: journaling, meditation, or even a simple reflection.
Rebecca Abara, agile coach, BetterUp, shares how she incorporates mindfulness into her mental health care.
“I love reflective journaling! After any learning session like coaching, I try to take a few minutes to journal about what stood out to me. It’s a great way to reinforce learnings and give myself a meditative moment.”
Rebecca Abara, agile coach, BetterUp
5. Express your feelings and emotions
We don’t know where we need to place our care unless we know what we’re caring for. This starts with being able to name and express our feelings and emotions. When we’re in touch with our feelings, we’re better equipped to care for them and give them the attention they deserve.
Rebecca also shared something that I personally love. She writes mantras whenever she’s experiencing a bout of worry or anxiety. It's a form of anxiety journaling.
“I can often find myself in anxiety spirals. I write down how I’m feeling and respond to myself as a friend would respond. It’s been an incredible way to break down the inner monologue that we can so often fall victim to. It helps me re-align. And since it’s written down, I can look back at it whenever I need a reminder.”
6. Have good sleep hygiene
There’s nothing better than waking up from a good night’s rest. But what if you could make that a consistent habit in your life?
Good sleep hygiene has incredible health benefits, both physical and mental. It can help reduce anxiety, improve productivity, and reduce serious physical health risks (like diabetes or heart disease).
It also helps improve concentration and focus, which will have a positive ripple effect across other aspects of your mental health.
7. Set goals for yourself (personal and professional)
It’s good to have things to strive for. Setting goals doesn’t have to be monumental. But it’s good to have an optimistic vision for your future and an idea of what you want to achieve.
My husband and I have a monthly ritual of setting small achievable goals (SAGs). We write down 3-5 things we want to accomplish that month. For example, in April, we took our dog on a walk together at least three times a week.
This could be laddered to a bigger goal of investing in our relationship and spending quality time together. But it’s easier to break it into tidbits. And when you accomplish those tidbits, it gives you that extra boost of confidence to go for the bigger goals.
8. Nurture social connections and relationships
We are social beings by nature. And to that end, we literally need social connections to be well. Like you would water a plant, how are you watering your relationships? How can you invest in the relationships that matter most to you?
I usually try to use driving or walking time to catch up with my family and friends. If I take a 30-minute walk, I try to spend 15 minutes catching up with someone I care about. It’s an excellent way to ensure I’m nurturing myself and my relationships.
Rest. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.
But in all honesty, rest is an overlooked and critical part of caring for your mental health. And there are different types of rest that you can explore. Our brains aren’t wired to be endlessly productive and on go-go-go mode. You can hear our CEO Alexi Robichaux talk about the rest imperative in this recent episode on Masters of Scale.
Are you giving yourself breaks? How do you practice rest? Can you find ways to incorporate rest into your daily routine?
10. Seek professional help
Of course, these mental health care tips are not solutions to living with mental health conditions. These are tools in your arsenal but not a cure-all for mental illness.
Consult your doctor or mental health professional for ways you can support your mental health care. For example, medication was a part of my mental health care for some time. I took anti-depressants to help with my depression. But my mental health was in a position where I could wean myself off medication with the proper care established.
Only you and your medical professionals will know what will work best for you. Seek the professional help and advice you need when creating a mental health care plan.
When to reach out for professional help
Your mental health isn’t something you should have to care for alone. You’re not alone on your mental health journey. There are certain points in your journey where you may need more care and support than others — and that’s when professional help comes into play.
If you’re experiencing any of these 13 symptoms, seek professional help:
- You’re having difficulty regulating your emotions
- Your work or school performance is suffering
- You’re experiencing changes in sleep and appetite
- You have increased mood swings or feel emotionally out of control
- You’re struggling to nurture healthy relationships (or find yourself in increasingly toxic relationships)
- You have a loss of interest, motivation, and passion around things you generally enjoy doing
- You’re grieving
- You’ve experienced some sort of trauma or are currently experiencing trauma
- You’re no longer caring for your physical health (and are experiencing increased problems)
- You constantly feel overwhelmed or stressed
- You are turning to unhealthy habits to cope with your mental health (alcohol, substances, etc.)
- Your emotional well-being and energy levels are suffering (your self-confidence and self-esteem have taken a significant drop)
- You are having suicidal thoughts
Seek the medical advice of trained professionals in mental health services as soon as possible. Your daily life and overall health shouldn’t continue to suffer without professional help.
Start taking care of your mental health
Whether you’re looking to learn about caring for the mental health of a friend, loved one, a family member, or yourself, start with reflection. Mental health isn’t easy to care for — but it’s not impossible.
It starts with a proactive approach to caring for your mind. Are you getting a good night’s sleep? Are you taking care of your physical health? Do you get regular exercise? How are you practicing mindfulness, like deep breathing? Are you taking mental health days? If you're not sure where to start, find some ideas on what to do on a mental health day.
With BetterUp, you can design a mental fitness plan complementary to your mental health care plan. Your coach will work with you one-on-one to provide the emotional support you need to create a regimen that works for you. And, in the end, you’ll be better equipped to handle whatever life throws at you.
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.