10 ways to improve your mental health

Don’t neglect your mental health. When we talk about being healthy, it is typically just about physical health. But rarely do we think of our mental health when we’re having that conversation—and black women, we have to stop doing that. Studies show we have higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than most other people. For Mental Health Awareness Month, here are some tried and tested ways to help get your mind and spirit right.

Stop putting yourself down. Given the anti-black women sentiment circling out there, it’s not too hard to internalize the negativity. But remember: Every time you tell yourself you’re not good enough, skinny enough, talented enough or pretty enough, you’re slowly killing your spirit. Stop being your own worst enemy and start loving you. Most important: Never lose sight of the fact that you truly are magic!

Remove toxic people from your world. Whether it’s online or in person, toxic people bring nothing to your life except self-doubt, anger, anxiety and sadness—all the opposite of healthy and happy. So go ahead and live your best life by cutting miserable folks out of your life. Relationships are complicated, especially if the toxic people are family members. Instead of going cold turkey, start slowly and reduce the time you spend around their nonsense.

Hit the gym. Getting your sweat on does more than help you lose weight and strengthen your heart; it’s also good for your mind. Because working out releases endorphins (feel good hormones), it also helps improve your mood and lowers stress levels. Even better: Studies suggest exercise can also sharpen your memory, build your confidence and help you catch more ZZZs at night. Go hit up that treadmill or dance class STAT!

Find your joy. What puts a smile on your face? Spending time with the fam? Shopping? Dancing in the kitchen in your underwear? Whatever it is, do it as often as you can. And make sure to schedule in that joy, because your life can’t just be about work. It also has to be about play.

Learn to say “no.” Black women have been socialized to give everything of ourselves to others—work, kids and partners—and very little to ourselves. While helping others can bring you joy, it also can run you physically and emotionally ragged. So for the sake of self-preservation, start saying “no” to folks more often and “yes” to yourself.

Take a break from social media. Facebook and Twitter can be fun, especially when Black Twitter is involved. But whether it’s fighting abusive trolls or Trump news overload, social media can seriously impact your mental health. Studies also suggest constantly comparing yourself to others on the Gram can negatively affect your self-esteem. So go ahead and take a break from the computer or smartphone and live in the moment.

Channel your inner kid and start coloring. Who knew coloring could make you feel better? Well, it definitely does, and it’s all the rage right now. According to the American Art Therapy Association, adult coloring books help “explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem.”

Give back to others. One way to feel better is to put things into perspective, and volunteering can help. Studies have shown giving back to others can help you feel more socially connected and ward off loneliness and depression. It also can relieve stress and help reduce high blood pressure. Take the time to sign up to feed the homeless, read to the elderly or whatever else can make a difference in your community.

Get your om on! The proof is in the pudding: Meditation can help you stay centered and focused, invoke heightened self-awareness, help your heart health, increase your happiness and encourage you to live a healthier lifestyle. And no, it doesn’t conflict with your religion or relationship with God. Even better: It’s free! All you need is a space to sit where you can breathe deeply and clear your mind.

Start seeing a therapist. Hanging out with loved ones, taking a Zumba class or praying won’t solve every mental health issue we may encounter. There are times when you might need the help of a professional to work through your past and current trauma, and there’s nothing wrong or shameful about it. What’s shameful is suffering in silence.