Are you thinking of healing and managing your well-being without therapy?
If you have doubts about therapy, I won’t be surprised. There are many problems with how psychotherapy is conducted and how solid the science behind it is. I’ve discussed those issues in this article, if you are up for a long commentary.
For this article, I’ve consolidated pointers I’ve given to my counseling client sessions in the last 5 years. My typical client has been 18-35 with primary concerns surrounding depression/low-mood, focus, decision-making, productivity, life satisfaction, and anxiety.
Consider these as things that are generally missing from your “targeted” healing journey like therapy, medication, meditation, yoga, physical fitness, etc. These are the ultra-basics you should cover first. Pick a few and commit to them. I recommend choosing only 5 for the first week.
1. The first steps to healing without typical therapy-style work
- Drink enough water – dehydration worsens brain function. And this is particularly problematic for students who are actively studying. Dehydration and less water dramatically impair cognitive abilities.
- Exercise 3+ days a week – enjoy the endorphins that bust stress and uplift your mood. Exercise also improves memory.
- Dance & move frequently – an active body improves mood and energy. Metaphorically, depression is like no movement in the mind.
- Build a sense of achievement – achievement will help you develop a sense of control, satisfaction, autonomy, and competence.
- Improve the quality of sleep – sleep is essential for maintaining biological and mental health and losing it can make both worse. Here’s a start.
- Restore your vitamin and mineral deficiencies – keep your biology functioning at its best, your mind *needs* well-maintained biology.
- Connect with nature – breathe the phytoncides and negative ions that improve well-being; notice and interact with animals and plants to connect with the world. Connecting with nature reduces inflammation and brain fog, uplifts mood, and generally improves physical and mental well-being.
- Improve your diet – gut health is brain health, especially when it comes to regulating mood, anxiety, and brain fog.
- Create a hobby – engage yourself and accomplish something for the fun of it. This private joy goes a long way to creating work-life balance and a sense of self.
- Get sunlight – counter depressive moods with a boost in vitamin D & serotonin (only if you don’t get sunlight).
- Connect with a variety of people – fill your mind with interesting things, new stories, new perspectives, and new belief systems that come with new friendships and acquaintances, they make life richer, and you adapt better. Loneliness is generally the biggest source of depression and health problems, so actively seek meaningful connections.
- Freely express gratitude and own up to your mistakes – reduce your mental burden and redirect your attention to the positive things; gratitude plays a large role in happiness.
- Shower and stay clean – you’ll need to feel good in your body to feel good in your environment.
- Earn money – money does buy well-being because you can buy things to maintain a high quality of life.
- Relax when you need to – take moments off to refresh your mind with breathing exercises, stretching, showering, face-washing, a glass of water, gaming, Netflix, short walk, 30-second closed eyes, etc.
- Have a few low-thinking activities – be mundane and low-key once in a while with activities like ironing, mindless games, watering plants, etc. These are meant for recovery from a high-octane life.
- Do affirming activities that prove things you want from yourself – If you feel unlovable, go out and have a good date to prove yourself wrong; if you feel unhealthy, take up a health challenge; if you feel dumb, do something to feel smart for real. Read more about self-affirmations and how they work.
- Relocate or change your environment – being stuck in a place with lots of stressors or triggers for bad habits can undermine mental health, so change the environment for a psychological reboot.
- Work on your identity – your behaviors and thoughts are related to your identity and your choice of doing something helpful or harmful for yourself might depend on you trying to create a specific identity or maintain it. E.g., “I won’t socialize because I am an introvert,” will put limits on your social capacity. This is self-labeling; avoid it.
- Reduce decision-making for the basics – your morning routine like bathing, brushing, etc., should be habitual (that means mindlessly repeat it). Involving thoughts for hygiene complicates basic behavior and creates a mental burden like stress, so we try to avoid the stress by skipping hygiene.
- Show self-love – self-love means being kind to yourself, rewarding yourself, acknowledging mistakes, and being honest to yourself. Reduce negative self-talk to show self-love. Very often, our self-talk is a negative inner voice that hurts us instead of picking us.
2. Behavioral tips to maintain and improve mental health by improving your day
If you are unsure what you need to change about your life to launch better days, here are some ideas. These are behaviors, so you don’t have to worry about “thinking” your way through a good day.
- Get out of bed right away. No lingering.
- Have water.
- Do your morning bath, toilet, and brushing routine in one single stretch.
- Eat + coffee/tea (maybe do it before your morning routine, whatever works for you.)
- Get ready for something. Even if you don’t have a job, classes, or a place to be. Have something to start in which you make progress.
- Prepare something for the next day before sleeping. Your bag, papers, appointments, etc.
- Follow the ophthalmologist’s heuristic 20/20/20 – For every 20 mins on a screen, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Ensure you have water with you and don’t skip meals too often.
- Create “slots” in your day where you have the flexibility to make decisions on the spot, so you don’t feel habits control your life.
- Have routines for the day which separate these blocks and create sections of your day – before afternoon coffee, after exercise, etc.
- Don’t doomscroll negative news. The more negative information you consume on average, the population of negative thoughts in the mind explodes.
- Surround yourself with people and things that make you feel challenged in a healthy way – growth-oriented environments.
- Earn money and create something. Money is needed for well-being. If you do this in the first half of your day, you will have less guilt about being unproductive at night. So you cut one opportunity for negative thinking right in the morning.
- Say YES and NO to things in a day – this will help you feel in control of your life.
- Do something that makes you feel good – wordle, music, writing, exercise, etc., for a short while. Leave Netflix for later in the day.
- Reduce comparing yourself with others on social media and reduce excessive phone dependence to escape reality.
After this, you can focus on long-term quality of life. Do read this to know more about what you can do!
3. Mindsets and behaviors to avoid
You can also begin by changing the following habits that degrade mental health. Details here.
- Doing routine things without additional hobbies. Lack of variety in life reduces what psychologists call “psychological richness,” which is a major component of a good life.
- Regularly fishing for external validation & approval. Self-worth should come from your internal sense of self, your thoughts, and your decisions instead of what others think about you. When others’ validation stops, your self-worth will take a hit. But if your self-worth comes from your own thoughts about yourself, it doesn’t take a hit when the validation stops.
- Making excuses for others’ behavior that exhausts you.
- Not talking to anyone freely and not connecting with a variety of people.
- Not taking good advice because you feel you have to figure everything out yourself with no help.
- Finding happiness obsessively. It’s not a race to win at healing or wellness, and doing so will always end up reminding you you are unhappy and create internal conflicts like “I’m doing so much to heal, but I haven’t actually healed or been happy.”
- Feeling that the universe is conspiring against you (always feeling unlucky).
- Comparing yourself to others on social media. People often post a positive version of themselves on social media, so you compare yourself with someone who is filtering out the negatives in life on purpose. And, you are likely to compare when you don’t feel good about yourself. So that increases the contrast between how you see yourself and the false benchmark you set by seeing others – that worsens mental health.
- Always feeling guilty for doing things for yourself that may inconvenience or mildly hurt others.
- Fully accepting your negative state as your permanent state. If you accept all the negatives, which many pop psychology content creators encourage, you end up becoming passive and settling for lesser than what you can gain in the future. It kills motivation to improve and adapt.
- Getting angry at everything when things don’t go your way.
- Bargaining with the universe to get the rewards you desire. If you feel every sacrifice you make will give you a reward, you are making the “heaven’s reward fallacy.” The universe doesn’t keep score of your sacrifices, so feeling entitled to rewards can often lead to disappointment, frustration, and chronic anger when you don’t get the rewards.
- Overthinking about what you could’ve done differently in the past. Attempting to change the past or resolving it can stem from lacking control in life today and a side of guilt/regret with it. It can become a thinking loop of revisiting the past and changing things that no longer affect your future. If you need explanations, consider philosophical approaches, talking to a therapist, learning about psychology, or communicating with others.
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Hey! Thank you for reading; hope you enjoyed the article. I run Cognition Today to paint a holistic picture of psychology. My content here is referenced and featured in NY Times, Forbes, CNET, Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, 10-15 books, academic courses, and research papers.
I’m a full-time psychology blogger, part-time Edtech and cyberpsychology consultant, guitar trainer, and also overtime impostor. I’ve studied at NIMHANS Bangalore (positive psychology), Savitribai Phule Pune University (clinical psychology), and IIM Ahmedabad (marketing psychology).
I’m based in Pune, India. Love sci-fi, horror media; Love rock, metal, synthwave, and pop music; can’t whistle; can play 2 guitars at a time.