Despite the hype, working on your mental health doesn’t have to be expensive, time-consuming, or energy-draining. Actually, that’s what mental fitness is all about: doing something for your mental and emotional health on a regular basis—whatever that looks like for you. And, trust that there are ways to improve your mental health that don't involve a seven-day wellness retreat in Bali (though, that sounds fun) or even $$$ therapy sessions.
Think of mental fitness as a way to fill up your “emotion tank,” says therapist Jasmynn Smith Abernathy, LMFT. That’s because when you do mental fitness you’re taking preventive measures so that “when life makes withdrawals, you’re not running on empty,” she explains.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that mental fitness is no substitute for mental health help from a licensed mental health professional, though working small but low-key powerful actions into your day can help you maintain a healthy mindset between sessions or just on your own.
Here’s how to improve your mental health with the guidance of 30 incredibly doable things you can do practically anytime, anywhere.
1. Start your day by making your bed.
There's something about your sheets all going in one direction that tends to make you feel like you have your life all the way together, despite the fact that your dirty dishes have been "soaking" for over 24 hours or your to-do list is a mile long. Even if you do have your life together, tidying your bed is a very simple way to start your day off with some good momentum. Look at you go!
2. Move your body.
Set an alarm for a random time, and when it goes off, take two minutes to move your body in whatever way feels good to you. Shake it off like Tay Swift in 2014. Do jumping jacks. Pop in your earbuds and dance in the bathroom at work. There’s nothing like a little endorphin surge (plus, this is a science-backed way to increase your happiness).
3. Categorize your priorities.
To-do lists can be stressful to write out, so if you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, try breaking it up into two sections: “Must Do” and “Might Do.” Be realistic about things that absolutely have to get done, but also make sure you aren’t just bumping all of the non-urgent stuff that’ll bring you some sort of joy (taking a walk, journaling, spending time with your people) to the “Might Do” list.
4. Find time to do absolutely nothing.
Put a 15-minute meeting on your calendar today to just hang. Even if you’re the busiest person ever, giving yourself a tiny break to shift your focus can help you reset and regroup before having to pretend that the next several hours of meetings wouldn’t be better as emails.
5. Make yourself available for self-care.
Write a bunch of self-care activities (mellowing out with some stretching, preparing your fave meal, or listening to music you love) on pieces of paper, drop them in a bowl, and pick one at random for some TLC. If you don’t have time to get to that during the day, you can do a single thing for yourself before you head to bed at night. If that means catching up on a show instead of doing laundry, fine! If you haven’t read for a while, tonight’s the night!
6. Focus on your senses.
Using your senses can ground you in the present moment and bring you to a state of calm. Fill your space with a smell that makes you feel relaxed or takes you to your happy place: Bake cookies, light a candle that reminds you of your parents, or open the window to let the air in (if your allergies allow).
7. Create a no-worry zone.
Designate one area of your house, apartment, or any space as a no-worry zone. It’s a safe place where you can go when you’re feeling overwhelmed to escape the things freaking you out. You can get cozy and focus on your breath, plan your next vacation, or listen to some ASMR—whatever makes you calmer is fair game.
8. Turn off your notifications.
If you’re feeling majorly overwhelmed by the relentless news cycle and need a break, try turning off push notifications to conserve your mental energy (ditto for silencing the group chat when you just...can’t). When you're ready, catch up on the articles, threads, or newsletters you've missed, and browse the social feeds of trusted sources. We don’t always have the bandwidth to engage with bad news, and that’s OK.
9. Get comfortable saying “no.”
The next time saying no to someone feels like saying yes to yourself, just go for it. Be honest with yourself about what responsibilities you can realistically take on and what you may need to decline.
10. Literally take up space.
It might feel awkward at first, but stay with us: Open your arms out real wide, lift your chin, and hold that pose for a few full breaths. Remind yourself that you deserve to fill the room with your body and ideas, because you most definitely do.
11. De-prioritize things out of your control.
Make a list of the things currently stressing you TF out. Then, cross out anything that’s not in your control. That couch you bought in 2020 that somehow still hasn’t been delivered? Yep, we’re mad too. But if there’s nothing you can do about it, try to slide it off your emotional plate (for now, at least).
12. Leave yourself notes.
To get more used to treating yourself with kindness, spruce up your mirror (bathroom, bedroom, compact, etc.) with notes of affirmation. Glancing at these nice, kind words throughout your day might have a real impact on your mood.
13. Make time to get present today.
That might look like tuning in to conversations and sounds around you as you sip your coffee or going on a mindful walk to notice the colors and patterns you pass by. You can also get super intentional when you eat and focus on the flavors. Plus, maybe notice how doing the dishes or showering feels on your skin. Basically, practice being in the moment no matter what you’re doing.
14. Keep a “wins” list.
Every time you make a huge or small decision you’re proud of or someone says something nice to you, write it down in your Notes app, on an actual piece of paper, or on a computer doc. After a tough day, pull that list out to remember that you’re kind of amazing. A little self-love and self-appreciation can go a long way.
15. Be mindful of your breathing.
Hone in on how breathing feels physically and mentally. If you’re not sure where to start, stop what you’re doing at some point during the day and take one minute to close your eyes and think about nothing but your breathing. Follow every inhale with a deep exhale. Sure, it’s only a minute, but taking a sec to let your brain rest before tackling the next task on your to-do list might just help you do that thing better.
16. Set an intention.
Pick one word that you want to use as your intention for the day, the week, the month, or the year. Maybe it’s something ambitious like strong, capable, or confident. Maybe all you can handle is present, alive, or safe. Come back to your word for a quick reset whenever you need.
17. Declutter your apps.
Go through your phone and delete anything you don’t use. Those random games you downloaded in 2019? Trash 'em. Those emails that keep piling up? Check those, then hit delete if you really don’t need them. Digital decluttering may feel like you’re slowly exhaling.
18. Make a feel-good to-do list.
Write a mini mental health bucket list for the day, the next few days, or whatever time frame you’re cool with. Step 1: Focus on how you want to feel when you complete that list (calm? energized? relaxed?). Step 2: Figure out what you can do to feel that way and jot it down. Step 3: Conquer that list one feel-good activity at a time.
19. Try visualization.
Picture a place, person, or situation that makes you feel extremely calm. Take a few minutes to let your mind settle there. If you keep getting interrupted, wait until you have more time—or fewer distractions—and try again.
20. Let go of what’s not working anymore.
Write a resignation email on behalf of what’s no longer serving you: the frustration you feel for not doing life “fast enough,” that fling who’s allergic to commitment, the bad habit you swear you’ll ditch every New Year’s Day. They’re all ready to give their two week’s notice.
21. Actually turn off your phone.
Try shutting your phone off for 30 minutes and see what comes up. Do you feel FOMO or feel kind of...nice? Whatever your reaction, investigate those thoughts and emotions for a better understanding of your relationship with your phone. Maybe you’ll realize you want to take these breaks more often or that silencing notifications periodically works better for you.
22. Reframe your thoughts.
Picture the things running through your brain as leaves on water or cars driving slowly past you, watching as they go by. The goal here is to notice them without dwelling on them once they’re out of view.
23. Go outside.
Take yourself on an outdoorsy date, which research suggests can increase happiness. Only have time for a five-minute walk through nature? That’s cool. Maybe you have more time and want to try something like plogging. Honestly, eating lunch with a side of fresh air counts as well. Extra credit if you notice the emotions that come up when you’re outdoors. Whatever you feel, try to name it.
24. Release some tension.
You might find that you hold a lot of stress in your shoulders or your fists. Take a few minutes to bring your shoulders away from your ears, give ‘em a little massage, and shimmy them out. Try clenching and unclenching your fists. Notice if you feel a sense of release (you should) and how else your body reacts to any big emotions.
25. Embrace positive self-talk.
Every time you think something negative about yourself today, try to respond with a compliment. No worries if this is hard for you, but give it your best shot. Really at a loss for words? Try just documenting any negative thoughts that surface on a sheet of paper and tear up the page. Not today, negativity.
26. Keep track of every time you smile today.
Whether that’s making a mental note or actually writing it down. At the end of the day, see if you can remember any patterns (your coworker made you smile so much your cheeks hurt, for example). Be especially on the lookout for glimmers: those spontaneous thoughts, moments, or things that fill you with a sense of joy or safety. This is another way to show gratitude for the good times. Love that for you!
27. Get curious about emotions you avoid.
When you find yourself avoiding a certain feeling (sadness or anger, perhaps?), pause and think about why that’s your reaction. Obviously you might not have a concrete answer, but trying to get to the bottom of your emotions can help you note patterns about certain triggers and learn more about your mind. If you’re looking to process this even more you might try journaling about these emotions or bringing this up at your next therapy session.
28. Get your scary thoughts on paper.
Got an unwanted negative or scary thought that won’t leave you alone (aka, an intrusive one)? That’s normal. Write it down again and again until it starts to feel meaningless. Separating yourself from your thoughts by putting them on paper drains them of their power.
29. Write out a to-not-do list.
Make a list of all the things you absolutely will not be dealing with today, tomorrow, whenever. Maybe you won’t be working extra hours on Tuesday. Maybe you’ve decided Wednesday is a no-worry zone. Figure out what B.S. you won’t stand for.
30. Ask for help when you need it.
This could be asking someone to hold the door open for you when you can’t open it or, on a larger scale, reaching out to a loved one when you’re going through a tough time. If you’re not used to seeking assistance for...well...anything, it might be hard for you to accept help. But the more you practice delegating, the easier it’ll become.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.