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January 04, 2021 8 min read

While mental wellness is extremely crucial, but it’s certainly not easy to achieve.

Daily stressors and impact us mentally, making it harder to handle emotions or regulate our mood. Amid everything we need to accomplish, mental wellness often takes a backseat. 

January is Mental Wellness Month and the perfect time to re-prioritize our mental health.  

In this guide, we’ll share our top 6 ways to build better mental wellness and kick off the new year on the right foot. 

What’s Good Mental Health? 

Mental health is about how we think, feel, and behave each day

Mental health is about how we think, feel, and behave each day¹. However, our mental wellness also impacts our ability to handle obstacles, manage stress, form relationships, and recover from hardships.

We often think of mental health in terms of mental illness, but mental health is not just about mental illness. Even without psychological issues, we can struggle mentally. While mental wellness does not mean you’re free of all emotional problems, it’s about the ability to bounce back. Those who are mentally healthy exhibit:

  • Stress management and resilience to adversity. 
  • Meaning and purpose in activities and relationships. 
  • High self-esteem and confidence. 
  • Flexibility to adapt to change and learn new skills. 
  • Enjoyment of life and the ability to have fun. 
  • A balance between rest, work, and extracurricular activities. 
  • Healthy, fulfilling relationships. 

1.) Take Care of Yourself 

Our physical health is very connected with our mental health, so the first way to increase mental well-being is by taking care of yourself. Historically, there’s a big disconnect between physical care and mental health, but the two are interconnected. Poor physical health can increase the likelihood of developing mental health problems². There are undoubtedly genetic aspects of physical health that we cannot control, but we can take care of ourselves by: 

focus on a wholesome diet rich in micronutrients
  • Staying Active. Exercise is vital for mental well-being. Exercise releases “feel-good” hormones and neurotransmitters in our brain that provide a mood-boosting effect³. Being active has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and negative mood while increasing self-esteem and cognitive function⁴. There are many fun ways to be active, and you don’t need to spend hours in the gym to see the benefits. Some exercise ideas include group classes, walking, hiking, biking, running, weight training, swimming, and more. 
  • Eat a whole-food diet that supports mental health. The way you eat dramatically impacts how you feel and what you think. Unhealthy diets full of added sugar, sodium, and trans fats can make you feel fatigued and disrupt sleep. Instead, focus on a wholesome diet that’s rich in micronutrients and low in sugar. One study found that dietary interventions showed promising results for reducing symptoms of depression⁵. 
  • Quality sleep65%-90% of adults and 90% of children with major depression experience sleep problems⁶. As you can imagine, sleep is connected to mental health, and lack of sleep impacts your psychological state heavily. Focus on getting enough quality sleep each night. Avoid nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine close to bedtime. Practice good sleep hygiene by limiting bedroom use to sleep and sex and optimizing your bedroom for sleep. 

2.) Connect with People 

Surround yourself with the right people

Social connection is essential for mental wellness. To feel your best and meet your emotional needs, you’ll need to foster healthy relationships with others. Research has found a wealth of evidence that feeling connected helps our physical health and overall mental health⁷. Lack of social connection, known as isolation, can have adverse health effects and increase depressive symptoms. 

As social beings, we need to have strong relationships with others. It’s also essential that we foster different connections, as we need deep friendships and casual ones. When we feel social support, it helps build our resilience and confidence. 

While digital solutions help us stay connected with others worldwide (especially during the pandemic), it’s essential to get out from behind the screen and incorporate in-person connections. Confide in those you trust, or join activities to build new friendships and expand your support network. 

Not all relationships offer the same benefits for your mental health. Toxic relationships will take a toll on your health and induce stress⁸. Surround yourself with the right people. Turn to those who are supportive and good listeners. Those who listen allow you to express your feelings and thoughts without adding judgment. They don’t interrupt or criticize you, and you will often feel better, not worse, after speaking with them. Pay attention to how relationships impact you and nurture the positive ones. 

3.) Manage Stress 

Stress is a natural part of life, but excessive stress is very damaging to our minds and bodies. While we can minimize stress with planning and decision-making, we cannot eliminate it no matter what we do. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, long-term stress can harm your health⁹. Chronic stress disrupts the body’s normal functions, like sleep, immunity, digestion, and it can also have adverse mental health effects like sadness, irritability, and sadness. Over time, stress can lead to serious physical or mental health problems, including mental disorders like anxiety or depression. 

Fortunately, the NIH also cites that there are ways to manage stress. Managing stress is the best way to reduce the adverse health effects and boost your resilience. Here are some ways to manage stress:

  •  Practice relaxation. Specific activities may relieve stress for a moment, but you should try relaxation techniques like Yoga, mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation to reduce your levels of stress. We’ll dive deeper into how to quiet your mind in an upcoming section. 
    Find ways to see the humor in life and get yourself to laugh
  • Do something fun. Make time for the activities you enjoy. Don’t worry about productivity; schedule time for relaxation and enjoyment is just as important as work time. Do something that you enjoy, like walking on the beach, reading a book, talking to a friend, or doing a craft. 
  • Laugh. There’s a wealth of research about how laughter and humor can help our mental health. According to one study, “laughter therapy, as a non-pharmacological, alternative treatment, has a positive effect on the mental health and the immune system¹⁰.” Find ways to see the humor in life and get yourself to laugh. You can get a laugh from shows or jokes and spend time with those you love. 
  • Practice gratitude. Comparison and focusing on what we don’t have certainly increases stress and negative emotions. Instead, dedicate some time to thinking about all you are grateful for. Researchers at UC Berkeley found that participants in the study who wrote gratitude letters reported better mental health both four and 12 weeks after the gratitude writing exercises ended¹¹. Gratitude writing helps healthy adults and those who struggle with mental health concerns and is a simple, effective way to manage stress. 
  • Talk it out. Face-to-face interaction with someone who cares about you can help calm the physical effects of stress. By interacting, you can halt the negative physical response of stress, and it will also release stress-relieving hormones. Additionally, talking about your stress with a trusted friend or family member can help you work through it or find new solutions. 

4.) Give to Others 

Give to others

Acts of kindness don’t just help the recipients; they also help the giver. Giving to others is one powerful and positive way to help our mental health and society simultaneously. Research shows that helping others can reduce our stress, boost happiness, and improve our mental and emotional well-being¹². Kindness is also a way for us to connect with others, which helps our social wellness. We can gain an essential sense of purpose and self-worth through our acts of kindness. 

There are many different ways to be kind to others. The smallest acts like saying thank you or opening the door for someone can go a long way. We can also give to our local communities through volunteering and donating to charities. You can give to others in ways that are authentic to you, but some examples include:

  • Recognizing someone for their hard work. 
  • Offering to help someone with work or home project. 
  • Leaving a small note of appreciation. 
  • Donating items or money to a charitable organization. 
  • Volunteering your time and services in person or online. 
  • Offering support to friends or relatives who need it. 
  • Paying for the person behind you in line.
  • Giving a generous tip at a restaurant.
  • Wiping off someone’s car or shoveling their driveway for them. 

5.) Quiet Your Mind (Pay attention to the present moment - i.e., mindfulness)

mindfulness meditation

When we are stressed and overwhelmed, our minds can be very loud. Quiet your mind by bringing your attention back to the present moment. Bringing your mind back to the present can help you take a step back and form a more realistic outlook. It will also help you relax and calm yourself down. Some ways to quiet your mind include:

  • Mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is an evidence-backed strategy for focusing on the present and accepting your emotions without judgment. You direct your awareness to your breathing and thoughts while observing your feelings and sensations without judgment. According to the APA, over 200 studies found that mindfulness meditation effectively reduced stress, anxiety, and depression¹³. 
  • Yoga. Yoga is an ancient practice that’s closely tied to meditation. One study found that in addition to improving physical health, Yoga effectively reduced stress, depression, sleep, and overall well-being¹⁴. 
  • Breathing techniques. Our breathing has a significant impact on how we feel. As we experience stress, our breathing tends to speed up and become more labored. Controlling our breathing is an effective way to improve mental health, and it’s a key component of meditation and Yoga. One study found that the Breathing Intervention Group experienced lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels after completing the breathing training¹⁵. 

6.) Value Yourself (Find Meaning and Purpose)

Spend quality time with those that matter to you

We all derive meaning from life in different ways, but it’s important to feel valued and purposeful. Purpose is what drives us and motivates us to get through the challenges. One study found that purpose in life offered a buffer for adverse events, and those with purpose experienced greater resilience and emotional regulation after adverse events¹⁵. Having a purpose is also crucial for the brain and can help us develop new cells and pathways while relieving pain and stress. Deriving meaning and purpose is something you must work toward every day. Some strategies to guide you include:

  • Engage in meaningful work that sparks your creativity and provides something beneficial to the world. We spend a lot of our lives working, so finding work that fulfills you is crucial. Think about ways that you can use your talents to do work that you’re passionate about. 
  • Spend quality time with those that matter to you. As we move through life, it is the time with others that we remember and cherish most. Build meaningful relationships with others. 
  • Care for others. Taking care of another person or even a pet can make you feel valued. It’s a rewarding, challenging process that can be incredibly meaningful. Pets also provide unconditional love. 
  • Volunteer your time. Volunteering is a form of kindness that can help enrich our lives. While volunteering, we can form new relationships and help our communities thrive. Many charitable organizations depend on volunteers, and there are many ways to volunteer in-person and online.  

Building better mental wellness is an ongoing process, but along the journey, you will grow immensely. By focusing on the six strategies above, you can foster a life full of meaning while also becoming more resilient and happy.

There’s no better time to start giving your mental health the attention it needs than Mental Health Awareness Month!




(1) APA Dictionary of Psychology (n.d.) Mental Health. In APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved December 2020, from https://dictionary.apa.org/mental-health

(2) Mental Health Foundation (February 2016) Physical health and mental health

(3) Weir, K (December 2011) The exercise effect

(4) Sharma, A; Madaan, V; Petty, FD (2006) Exercise for mental health 

(5) Firth, Joseph et al. (April 2019) The Effects of Dietary Improvement on Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

(6) Harvard Health Publishing (July 2009) Sleep and mental health

(7) Martino, J; Pegg, J; Frates, EP (November - December 2015) The Connection Prescription: Using the Power of Social Interactions and the Deep Desire for Connectedness to Empower Health and Wellness

(8) Newman, ML; Roberts, NA (2013) Health and social relationships: The good, the bad, and the complicated

(9) National Institute of Mental Health (n.d.) 5 Things You Should Know About Stress

(10) Yim, J (July 2016) Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review

(11) Wong, YJ; Owen, J; Gabana, NT; Brown, JW; McInnis, S; Toth, P; Gilman, L (2018) Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial

(12) Mental Health Foundation (n.d.) Doing good? Altruism and wellbeing in an age of austerity

(13) American Psychological Association (October 2019) Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress

(14) Woodyard, C (July - December 2011) Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life

(15) Ma, Xiao et al. (June 2017) The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults