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11 healthy mental health habits to calm your mind

Jun 21, 202415 minute read

Self-care is about more than treating yourself to a spa day or extra dessert—although those can be great options to have in your back pocket. 

Nurturing your mind for the long term is about developing sustainable, healthy mental health habits. You can turn to these practices when life gets tough, or the budget is tight. 

And like any habit, it takes time and consistency to see meaningful results. 

“If you go to a gym bootcamp and then don’t ever exercise again, you’re going to lose that progress. People understand this about physical health, but with mental health, that sort of consistency isn’t often expected,” says April Kilduff, Licensed Therapist and Clinical Trainer at NOCD.

“People often think they can get whatever is bothering them taken care of—and then they’re done. But you need to keep using the skills that you learn the same way you would need to keep going to the gym.” 

By weaving mental health habits into an existing routine, you can manage stress more effectively and develop long-term skills to handle difficult situations or emotions.

People understand this about physical health, but with mental health, that sort of consistency isn’t often expected.


April Kilduff, MA, LCPC, LMHC

How daily habits improve mental health

Daily habits can significantly influence your mental health by providing a sense of structure, accomplishment, and overall well-being. A healthy lifestyle can also reduce the risk of depression, even for those with a genetic predisposition to the condition.1

Other benefits of healthy mental health habits include: 

  • Reduced stress 
  • Improved mood 
  • Decreased anxiety 
  • Enhanced self-esteem
  • Higher energy levels
  • Better sleep quality 

When practiced consistently, routines like a morning stretch or a mindful pause during the day can serve as an anchor, grounding you as you navigate life’s challenges.

If you’re not sure where to start, you’re in the right place. These 11 mental health habits are an excellent way to boost your daily well-being on your own or in addition to professional support. 

1. Prioritize quality sleep 

Sufficient sleep is the foundation for a healthy mind. When you’re well-rested, you can better manage stress, focus throughout the day, and regulate your emotions.  

So, what happens if you don’t get enough sleep? Losing even one or two hours can lead to reduced productivity and an increase in mistakes, plus it makes you less physically and mentally prepared to handle the day ahead.2

“I’ve found many people with anxiety and OCD have sleep issues. It can be particularly difficult for people with anxiety & OCD because when you lie down to go to bed, there’s no more distractions. It’s just you, your thoughts, and your brain. Sometimes people want to avoid that with distractions, which will mess up your sleep even more, Kilduff explains.

The good news is that incorporating healthy sleep practices doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your life, even if you lack quality rest. 

Here are a few ways to improve mental health with proper sleep hygiene: 

  • Create a relaxing routine. Signal to your body that it’s time to unwind by taking a warm bath, reading a book, or avoiding electronics. Once you’re ready to sleep, make your room cool, dark, and comfortable. 
  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Try to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day, getting roughly 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Yes, even on the weekends. 
  • Spend time in the sun. If you struggle to fall asleep, soak up a few minutes of sunlight (with proper SPF) each day. This helps regulate your internal clock and lets your body know when it’s time to sleep and wake up.

Pro tip: If you feel like you’ve done it all and still can’t get good rest, try progressive muscle relaxation. Slowly tense and relax each muscle group in your body to release tension before bed. If you’re still struggling, consider reaching out to a sleep expert for guidance. 

2. Nourish your body with healthy foods

The things you eat and drink drastically impact your brain. Good nutrition is essential for supporting brain development and proper brain functions, as well as preventing mental decline.

The brain thrives on a balanced diet rich in nutrients. By making healthy eating a habit, you invest in improved mood, sharper focus, better stress management, and long-term holistic well-being. But remember that building healthy habits takes time and self-compassion. 

Get your healthy nutrition habit started with these tips: 

  • Focus on addition, not restriction. Instead of feeling deprived by eliminating favorite foods, aim to add more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your diet.
  • Start small to build consistency. Overhauling your diet overnight is unrealistic. Begin with one or two healthy steps, like incrementally drinking more water.
  • Practice mindful eating. Eat slowly, savor your food, and avoid distractions. This helps you recognize and respond to hunger signals. 

Pro tip: When prioritizing healthy eating habits, it’s tempting to only focus on weight loss. Go beyond this metric to celebrate how healthy eating makes you feel holistically. Are you more energetic during the day? Do you find common stressors more manageable? These are excellent wins that deserve recognition. 

3. Move your body regularly 

Regular physical activity isn’t just about physical fitness; it’s a powerful tool for boosting your mental well-being. Here’s how Kilduff views the physical and mental health connection

I think physical health and mental health go hand in hand because they can each affect the other. When we aren’t physically healthy, that can lead to some emotional consequences. It can lead to us feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed.


April Kilduff, MA, LCPC, LMHC

This occurs because physical activity releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters. As a result, exercise is a powerful tool to address conditions like OCD, depression, and anxiety. 

Just getting started? Improve your physical and mental health with these tips: 

  • Tap into your inner child. Begin your journey with activities you actually want to do. Dance to your favorite music, dust off your rollerblades, or try anything that gets you joyfully moving.
  • Prioritize consistency over intensity. Regular, moderate movement is more beneficial than sporadic, intense workouts. It’s more important to show up consistently than to over-exert yourself.
  • Join a fitness group or class. Finding a unique and exciting class can make exercise feel less like a chore. The key is to find activities that bring you joy and a sense of accomplishment.

Pro tip: Building habits to improve mental health takes time and self-compassion. Don’t be discouraged by setbacks. Keep moving forward, and you’ll gradually find exercise becoming an integral part of your mental well-being routine.

4. Practice relaxation techniques  

In today’s fast-paced world, taking time to relax is crucial for maintaining mental well-being. But what exactly are these techniques doing in the body? 

In short, relaxation practices can trigger the body’s relaxation response, which happens when you slow your breathing, lower your blood pressure, and reduce your heart rate.4 

Regular relaxation practices help regulate the nervous system, reducing stress hormones and encouraging calm and peaceful emotions. 

These are just a few techniques you can incorporate into your daily life:

  • Practice gratitude journaling. Taking the time to write down and appreciate the good things in your life (big or small) can shift your focus to the positive and reduce stress. 
  • Add yoga to your weekly routine. Yoga’s positive impact on mental health is well documented. It combines movement, breathwork, and mindfulness for a well-rounded practice.
  • Try different breathing techniques. Practices like belly breathing and alternate nostril breathing can slow your heart rate, reduce stress hormones, and promote feelings of calm. 

Pro tip: If you struggle with somatic OCD (a type of  OCD that centers on intrusive thoughts regarding the body’s involuntary functions), consider addressing the breathing techniques with your therapist before adopting the practice. 

5. Give yourself time to process emotions 

Ignoring or bottling up your emotions can take a toll on your mental health. Continuously pushing down difficult feelings can cause them to build up over time.

If you notice signs of emotional overwhelm, try acknowledging your feelings, understanding them, and expressing them in healthy ways. This helps build resilience and manage stress more effectively, gaining greater clarity and emotional control.

Here are a few things you can do to regularly process difficult emotions:

  • Create a safe space. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. A designated space can signal to your mind that it’s time to focus on your emotions.
  • Engage in creative, meditative activities. Outlets like painting, writing, or playing music are healthy ways to express your emotions—even if you don’t identify as an artist.
  • Practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself. Your brain is designed to experience a wide range of emotions, so don’t beat yourself up for feeling a certain way.

Pro tip: Be patient with yourself and find what works best for you. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by intense feelings, it’s okay to step away, engage your mind with other activities, and come back to those emotions when you’re ready.

6. Connect with those around you 

Building strong relationships takes time and effort—especially as the world becomes more digitally connected. But that doesn’t make social connections any less important.

Having people you can rely on for support, laughter, and a sense of belonging can make a world of difference for your mental health. By prioritizing connection with others, you’re nurturing your emotional well-being and creating the foundation of a happier, healthier life.

Build stronger connections with these healthy mental health habits: 

  • Nurture existing relationships. Even if you can’t see them in person, take the time to stay connected with the important people in your life. 
  • Step outside your comfort zone. Join a club, take a class, or volunteer in your community. This is a great way to meet new people who share your interests.
  • Embrace emotional vulnerability. Be open to giving and receiving vulnerable emotions. Sharing your feelings with others can deepen social connections. 

Pro tip: Express your genuine interest in others by practicing active listening. You can do this by making eye contact, asking thoughtful questions, and offering support when it’s appropriate. 

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7. Embrace daily gratitude practices 

Practicing gratitude isn’t just for the holidays. Focusing on the good things in life year-round can counteract negative emotions like stress, anxiety, and worry.

But gratitude isn’t about ignoring life’s challenges. It’s about acknowledging them while also appreciating the good things you may otherwise overlook. You’re essentially training your brain to focus on the good rather than letting it pass you by.  

Here are some ways to make gratitude a daily habit:

  • Notice the small things. Find moments of appreciation throughout your day. A kind gesture from a stranger, the comfort of your bed, or a successful task are all great examples. 
  • Actively express thanks. Let the people who make your life better know how much you appreciate them. Express your gratitude with a note, verbally, or even with a simple hug.
  • Be specific. Go deeper than surface value and express what you specifically appreciate about something or someone. The more specific your gratitude, the more powerful it becomes.

Pro tip: Dedicate a few minutes each morning or evening to write down a few things you’re grateful for. It could be a supportive friend, a delicious meal, a beautiful sunrise, or even simply the fact that you woke up healthy.

8. Schedule time for self-care and rest

Just like you schedule important meetings or appointments, scheduling self-care is crucial for maintaining mental health. Planning this time for yourself isn’t selfish. It’s essential to your overall health and well-being. 

Scheduling time for activities that nourish the mind and body will help you replenish your energy and create a buffer against the daily grind. Scheduling this time out in advance gives you permission (and makes it easier) to take the moments you need for yourself. 

If you’re unsure what to do when your mental health is declining, consider these self-care scheduling tips: 

  • Identify your needs. The first step is to find out what form of self-care is most beneficial for you. Understanding your needs allows you to schedule activities that will truly replenish you.
  • Learn to set boundaries. Saying no to commitments that drain your energy is an essential part of self-care. Prioritize your well-being and protect your scheduled self-care time.
  • Block time in your calendar. Treat self-care like any other important appointment. Schedule specific times for activities that promote relaxation, rejuvenation, and enjoyment.

Pro tip: Schedule self-care activities that easily fit into your routine. For example, incorporate a few stretches into your morning routine or practice deep breathing exercises before bed.

9. Limit time on social media  

Just like your body craves quality sleep, your mind craves uninterrupted focus time. Constant social media scrolling can disrupt this focus and leave you feeling scattered.

If you struggle to limit time on social media, you’re not alone. These apps are designed to keep your attention. It’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of curated feeds and endless comparisons. 

Too much exposure to social media videos has even been linked to increased stress, depression, and anxiety.5 So, while these apps are fine in moderation, once social media starts impacting your mood and self-esteem, it’s time for a break. 

Limiting social media time can be a game-changer for your mental health—but building this healthy habit is sometimes easier said than done. 

Here are a few tips to add this to your list of stress management techniques: 

  • Identify when you turn to social apps. Think about when you start scrolling. Is it during your commute, right before bed, or while waiting in line? Once you recognize your patterns, you have an easier time avoiding them.
  • Set time limits and stick to them. Most phones have built-in downtime features you can assign to specific apps. Here’s a helpful guide if you’re unsure how to set time limits. 
  • Replace scrolling with mindful activities. When you reach for your phone on autopilot, try activities like reading a book or taking a walk instead. These activities will leave you feeling more engaged and fulfilled.

Pro tip: If you want to structure your social media consumption, schedule designated check-in times throughout the day to stay connected on social apps while still prioritizing uninterrupted focus periods.

10. Spend time in nature   

Disconnecting from the digital world and reconnecting with nature is a powerful tool for boosting your mental well-being. Stepping into wild or natural spaces offers a welcome contrast to the buzzing and beeping of everyday life. 

Research has shown that immersing yourself in nature can be incredibly calming, reducing stress and anxiety while improving your mood.6 And you don’t need to be the outdoorsy type (or go on grand adventures) to feel the benefits. 

Here are a few easy ways to incorporate nature into your daily life:

  • Take it slow. No need to go all in on outdoor activities if they’re unfamiliar to you. Start simple with relaxing walks, listening to the birds sing, or reading a good book. 
  • Seek out local green spaces. Explore nearby parks, nature trails, or even your own backyard. The key is to find a place that feels peaceful and allows you to de-stress and unwind.
  • Practice mindfulness in nature. While you’re outdoors, engage your senses. Notice the sounds of the wind rustling through leaves, the warmth of the sun on your skin, or the scent of pine needles. This mindful approach deepens your connection with nature and maximizes its positive effects.

Pro tip: If you’re struggling to get outdoors, try combining nature walks with activities you already enjoy, like listening to podcasts or audiobooks. 

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11. Seek professional guidance 

Therapy doesn’t have to be reserved for times of crisis. Just like going to the gym for your physical health, therapy can proactively strengthen your mental well-being.

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“People don’t really volunteer that they have a therapy appointment in the same way they might say they have a dentist appointment,” explains Kilduff. “I hope one day that, as a culture, we can take mental health as seriously as we take our physical health. That would be the ideal.”

I hope one day that, as a culture, we can take mental health as seriously as we take our physical health. That would be the ideal.


April Kilduff, MA, LCPC, LMHC

Therapy provides a safe space to explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If your mental health is struggling, seeking out a trained professional can provide access to specialized interventions, personalized therapy approaches, and comprehensive mental health support.

If you’re ready to give therapy a try, consider these tips to make it a regular part of your routine: 

  • Find the right therapist. Online directories and therapist websites can help you find the best fit or narrow down providers by specific conditions. For example, NOCD is an OCD-specific teletherapy platform focusing on ERP therapy
  • Schedule appointments ahead of time. Block out time in your calendar for therapy sessions and treat them with the same importance as work meetings or other doctor appointments.
  • Start small and be patient. Therapy is a journey, not a destination. Begin with weekly or bi-weekly sessions and adjust the frequency as needed. Remember, consistency is key to seeing progress.

Pro tip: Frame therapy sessions as “mental health check-ups” to normalize the experience—just like you would your physical wellness. 

Building healthy mental health habits takes time and self-compassion. By incorporating these practices into your routine, you’ll be well on your way to nurturing a healthy and happy mind.

Sources 

  1. Nature Mental Health (2023, September) “The brain structure, immunometabolic and genetic mechanisms underlying the association between lifestyle and depression.” (Accessed May 2024)
  2. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022, June) “Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency – How Sleep Affects Your Health.” (Accessed May 2024) 
  3. National Library of Medicine (2023, March) “Nutrition and cognitive health: A life course approach.” (Accessed May 2024) 
  4. National Institutes of Health (2021, June) “Relaxation Techniques: What You Need To Know.” (Accessed May 2024)
  5. National Library of Medicine (2023, February) “The Relationship between Social Media and the Increase in Mental Health Problems.” (Accessed May 2024) 

National Library of Medicine (2022, December) “What is the impact of nature on human health? A scoping review of the literature.” (Accessed May 2024)

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