Learning how to set and achieve goals is key to making progress. Goals help provide motivation and direction when you are otherwise feeling lost. You may hit a point where you’re unsure how to proceed, but your goals can put you back on the right track.
Mental wellness is a long-term, continuing journey for many. People tend to think that they can cross off X amount of items, and then boom, they will be happy, and everything will fall into place.
Sometimes that can happen for a while, but then life happens. Life will throw you curve balls, setbacks, and painful situations that you will need to find a way to get through.
Setting mental health goals with the aim of improving your overall mental well-being helps a lot with facing adversity. It also helps reduce the impact of chronic mental health problems. It’s much easier to navigate a chronic mental health issue if you’ve been able to improve on it with some past work.
The right way to approach improving one’s mental health will depend on the person and what they need. The following list includes some common ideas that have been shown to help just about anyone. Your needs and goals may differ entirely from the next person; that’s okay! You may have to try a few different things before you find some goals that make sense for you.
Don’t plan on your mental health improving overnight. It will typically take weeks or a couple of months before your body will start adapting and benefiting from new habits. Be kind to yourself and avoid tearing yourself down if you don’t get it perfect. No one ever does. The good news is that 25%, 50%, and 75% are still better than nothing at all, even if it’s not that perfect 100%.
So, the question is, what are some mental health goals that you can set?
1. Improve your sleep hygiene.
The importance of quality sleep to improve your health cannot be understated. Restful sleep is important because the brain produces many mood-balancing chemicals it will use in the coming day during the deepest parts of sleep. People who do not get restful sleep may become more depressed, anxious, and stressed out simply because their brain is running out of that fuel the next day.
Sleep hygiene are the factors that affect your sleep quality. For example, an uncomfortable mattress or pillow can have you tossing and turning all night. Your brain doesn’t get the chance to properly shut down into those deep stages of sleep because it’s always at the surface level, trying to find comfort in your bed.
There are a variety of things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene. Avoid caffeine, sugar, or other stimulating substances after 6 P.M. Avoid using your cellphone or other electronic devices before or in bed. Get yourself a comfortable mattress, pillows, and blankets so your brain isn’t trying to seek comfort at night.
2. Set and enforce your boundaries.
There is a strong argument for boundaries being the key to happiness and peace. So many things in the world constantly push in on you, competing for your attention. It might be coworkers, bosses, family members, friends, or responsibilities. Outside of those personal connections, you also have the intrusions of a 24/7 news cycle, advertising, and even news updates that Microsoft pipes straight into Windows because it’s so convenient!
Boundaries help to keep you safe and sane in an otherwise chaotic world. The ability to say “no” when you aren’t willing or enthusiastic to do a thing offers you freedom. Granted, we all have responsibilities and commitments that we can’t turn down, no matter how we feel about them. But if you are worn too thin, a “no” here and there can free up significant mental and emotional energy.
And if you’re a people-pleaser, “no” will create a lot of space for yourself while reducing stress.
3. Improve your physical health.
An effective mental health goal is to work on your physical health because the two are closely intertwined. The human body is not made to be sedentary, even though that’s how many of us live nowadays. Eating better and finding more ways to get yourself moving cause your body to produce many different hormones and chemicals that contribute to your overall mental well-being.
That should not be confused with “being healthy.” Unfortunately, many people interpret “being healthy” as this binary state, where you’re either healthy or not. That kind of mentality keeps people from making real progress because they assume that because they aren’t living this perfect healthy lifestyle, then they aren’t healthy. So instead of being healthy or not, focus on being healthier.
You may struggle with totally cutting out junk foods or sodas, but can you consume less of them? Can you replace a can or two of soda a day with water? Can you do some meal prep to have some home-cooked food available? Can you take a walk a couple of times a week?
You don’t have to be perfectly healthy to improve your physical health. You just need to do more than 0%, even if it’s only 5%. Everyone starts somewhere.
4. Practice more self-love and compassion.
Sometimes we are our own worst critics. The problem is that we are biased by our own perception of ourselves. A person who doesn’t have good self-esteem will inherently be more critical of their shortcomings and flaws. They may use unkind language to think about themselves, perpetuating negative thinking.
For example, let’s say that Tara makes a mistake. A healthy Tara would just acknowledge the mistake, say it’s okay that I made a mistake, and then work to correct it. However, an unhealthy Tara may drown herself in negative thinking and say she’s stupid, incompetent, unworthy, a failure, and so on.
As you might imagine, that kind of thinking can take a drastic toll on the quality of your mental health. However, learning how to love yourself and finding some self-compassion makes life much easier to navigate. It makes it much easier to bounce back when you experience setbacks, and you’ll be able to better preserve your happiness.
5. Find better ways to manage stress.
Stress creates many mental and physical health problems that aren’t always obvious. For example, when you’re under a lot of stress, your body kicks into a stress response that changes the physiological nature of what’s occurring. One of those changes is the increased production of adrenaline and cortisol, hormones meant to temporarily boost your body to get through a stressful situation.
Adrenaline and cortisol suppress your appetite, increase your heart rate, change the way glucose is used in your body, and alter immune system responses, among other things.
Normally, everything reduces to its appropriate levels after the stressful situation passes, and your body returns to typical functioning. However, a person experiencing chronic stress will constantly be in that fight-or-flight state with their hormone production set to stress levels. That’s why long-term stress causes heart attacks, depression, anxiety, weight gain, sleep problems, memory problems, headaches, stomach problems, strokes, chronic pain, and much more.
Managing stress is one of those mental health goals that applies to most people. That may include eating better, meditation, reducing your workload where you can, and exercising. Reducing your responsibilities will likely pay the greatest dividends. However, depending on your life circumstances, they may not be an attainable goal.
6. Work on building a support network.
A support network of friends and family can greatly help improve and maintain your mental health. Everyone needs someone to lean on from time to time. You can do that for other people, and other people can do that for you when the need arises.
Of course, there are issues with building a support network. Some people reading this will be surrounded by people who are not empathetic and capable of offering meaningful support. Some people reading this will not feel comfortable being all that open or honest around their friends and loved ones. Others may have unhealthy friends or not know how to find these kinds of friends and support.
In those scenarios, your best options are a therapist or support groups until you can make those mutually beneficial friendships. Then, make sure you pour energy and support back into the people in your support network so the relationship isn’t one-sided.
7. Listen more to your own feelings.
The brain is an interesting thing. It can pick up on subtle differences and nuances in situations that may not be immediately obvious. These subtle interpretations can then manifest as different feelings or instincts.
For example, you may meet someone and feel strongly that something is off with them. It could also be that you meet someone and feel a flutter of anxiety in the pit of your stomach because you’re nervous and excited about this person. Perhaps you come across an opportunity and just have a bad feeling about it.
In many cases, these signals result from your brain interpreting subtle cues and warning you. Still, many of us ignore these and more blatant feelings.
An obvious example is your relationship which has long been over. The two of you are no longer in love, you aren’t intimate, you only talk in a platonic way, and you just kind of coexist together. So it’s clear that the relationship is over. One or both of you may understand the relationship is over, but you still haven’t decided to end it and move on.
Listening to your feelings will not only help you move through life, but it also helps with your own mental health. Denying your feelings can cause stress, anxiety, and depression because your brain knows something is off. You can’t and shouldn’t ignore that forever.
8. Try new things.
Monotony creates a struggle that can worsen anxiety and depression. So many people get locked into the routine of work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep. That routine, while stable and beneficial, can also cause unhappiness. Your brain needs a little excitement for stimulation! It needs to experience things to snap out of that rutted routine.
There are a couple of ways you can go about that. A new hobby doesn’t have to be expensive. You may take up some kind of exercise or sport that doesn’t require a massive overheard to get involved. Sports like basketball and softball can be a great way to get out of the house and do something.
A vacation may be a good idea, even if it’s just a couple nights in a nearby city. It just needs to be a little something that breaks up the overall monotony of the routine of your life.
Exercise your mind with a visit to a museum or take some time to see local landmarks you haven’t previously visited. Maybe look up some new recipes and try some different types of food. Whatever it may be, find something new and get out there to do it.
9. Reduce your time on social media.
Social media is engineered to exploit your brain’s addiction and risk/reward regions. The goal is to keep your eyes on the app so the companies can maximize views and engagement. The more views and engagement they offer, the better service they can sell to advertisers.
Sitting and scrolling on social media is an unhealthy waste of time. You end up comparing your life’s difficulties with the highlight reels of your friends and family.
“Oh, Maria got to go on vacation. Why can’t I go on vacation?”
“That family looks loving and happy. I wish my family was more like that.”
“Man, Jack got himself a nice new car, but all I have is this beater that’s almost ready for the scrapheap.”
And then you have the 24/7 news cycle and amplification of everything terrible in the world. People make the excuse that they are “just staying informed.” You’re only being informed of what the news and their commentators want you to see. “If it bleeds, it leads,” because people love a negative spectacle. It keeps them engaged and coming back for more.
So another example of a mental health goal that many might wish to consider is to spend less time scrolling through social and news feeds each day.
10. Start a gratitude journal.
A gratitude journal is a powerful tool that can help you boost your mind and perspective. The idea behind a gratitude journal is to list the various things you are grateful for in your life. Then, when you’re feeling low, you can return to your gratitude journal and remind yourself that it’s not all terrible.
Sometimes it’s hard to find things to be grateful for, especially if you’re dealing with mental illness or you’ve had a rough life.
There is one place you can always start. You still have your life.
Just being alive allows you to make something better for yourself. Your life situation may suck. It may feel like it will never get better. However, you’re still here with the capability of making things better.
Maintaining your mental health can have a profound effect on your long-term health and well-being. Learning to set healthy goals and develop better habits can significantly boost your mental health. However, it won’t be instant. It’s a long-term project. A good way to think about it is like an ocean tide. It doesn’t happen instantaneously, but it will slowly raise the level as time passes.
Be kind to yourself. It’s okay if you don’t get it perfect all of the time. Anything is better than nothing, and you can always try again.
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