The prevalence of mental disorders has increased significantly in recent decades, so the reasons that could explain this epidemiological upsurge are the subject of numerous investigations.

Depression and anxiety disorders, especially, are becoming more common. In fact, a high percentage of people who consult their family doctor suffer from one of these psychopathologies.

It is therefore important to learn strategies by which to reduce the likelihood of mental health problems. In this article you will find several habits to prevent psychological disorders , simple and accessible to all people.

Ten Habits to Prevent Mental Disorders

The following ten habits to prevent mental disorders are based on current scientific knowledge. Sometimes they allude to organic bases (such as physical exercise and/or sleep), while in other cases they affect cognitive or behavioral correlates associated with both the initiation and maintenance of these emotional health problems.

1. Be compassionate to yourself and acknowledge your imperfection

It is dramatically common that, when judging ourselves, we adopt a position of enormous rigidity and self-criticism. In this way, we tend to impose on our lives a whole succession of obligations that are not really obligations , unnecessarily assuming the risk of feeling unhappy and frustrated. Many times, in those moments of emotional pain, we can address ourselves with words so cruel that we would not even dedicate them to the worst of our enemies.

And it all starts from the fact that we are forced to live in the narrow margins of unattainable perfection, trying to satisfy impossible expectations that progressively erode our emotional resources and condemn us to psychological discomfort. It is therefore essential to adopt an understanding attitude that recognises the option of erring with total naturalness, without succumbing to catastrophic thoughts when they may occur to us (“if I don’t do this perfectly I’m not good for anything”, for example).

2. Cultivate your hobbies

The abandonment of moments of enjoyment is common among those who enter the dark path of depression. While sadness is a necessary and useful emotion, it can sometimes precipitate the summative loss of activities that in the past provided happiness, so that the quality of our daily life is impoverished and we enter a prison whose bars are forged of monotony.

The emotional inertia in which we find ourselves in such a state does not make things easier, so we must be aware that our first attempts to overcome it will seem like impositions that contravene what our body demands of us . As if they did not arise naturally or were opposed to an imperative that is beyond our control. The fact is that every great vital change implies a previous process of adaptation, which implies effort and persistence, even when we know well that it will bring us positive things.

3. Maintain healthy relationships with others

Social support is considered one of the keys to mediate between stress and its impact on psychological health , especially when it is of an emotional nature (having people with whom to talk about our intimate concerns or having someone to provide us with affection), far beyond that which only covers our material and immediate needs (providing us with economic resources). Feeling that we are loved and esteemed has, in itself, therapeutic properties.

However, it is essential to bear in mind that social support is not measured by the number of people around us, but by the quality of the links that bind us to them. Giving thanks, asking for forgiveness and opening up to others is also important; for a wonderful network of human beings may not be of real help to us if we lack the skills to communicate properly with it. That is, social support requires a proactive and open attitude to give and receive.

4. Do new things every day

Inertia and routine are two elements that erode our ability to be happy. In fact, they shorten life in a certain sense: it has been demonstrated that those who live without bringing variety into their daily lives end up perceiving their existence as shorter than it really was, since the brain ignores repetitive moments because it considers them of little personal relevance. For the latter, living with emotion is basic.

Dare from time to time to break with your most fiercely established habits : walk down unfamiliar streets, change your haircut, dress differently or undertake some learning that makes you curious. In any case, make your everyday life a space where wonder and the unexpected can arise, without this implying living an erratic and uncontrolled life. This fragile balance, as necessary as it is elusive, is forged with practice.

5. Practice regular physical exercise

Physical exercise has proven to be healthy not only for the body, but also for the mind . Daily activity activates the body at times when it may be becoming sedentary, which often coexists with depression or anxiety, generating a series of endocrine changes that manifest themselves in the form of benefits for emotional health and in a reinforcement of our self-image.

Physical exercise boosts the production of endorphins at a central level, which reduce the sensation of physical and emotional pain, and provide us with pleasant sensations. Studies on this issue show that people who practice aerobic sports regularly show reduced levels of depression and report feeling substantially less stressed, regardless of the objective demands of their work or other daily responsibilities.

6. Be genuine with your emotions

Efforts to hide emotions, or the refusal to feel them fully, are associated with an exacerbation of their intensity and greater difficulty in regulating them. There is ample evidence that the professions that generate the most accentuated psychological discomfort are those that force us to act in a way that is different from the way we feel inside (keeping a smile on our face despite having had a bad day, for example).

The first step is to interpret the emotions we may feel as useful tools to understand the world around us, others and ourselves; embracing them as an indivisible part of the experience. By doing so, we will be able to approach them with much more security, keeping the necessary distance to distinguish their nuances and listen to what they are trying to communicate. Escaping from what we feel is like trying to escape from a room without doors or windows, but even more distressing.

7. Searching for a purpose

Viktor Frankl said that any circumstance in life, as difficult as it might be, would be bearable by attributing a personal meaning to it. He added that the absence of a purpose was responsible for generating a deep malaise (or noogenetic depression), which would be perceived as a painful void in the fabric of existence. For all these reasons, his logotherapy aimed at making individuals discover their fundamental goal, their life plan or their ultimate end.

Finding a purpose, something worth living for, strengthens the motivation to continue our efforts in situations of failure or frustration .

8. Surround yourself with nature

Human beings are usually happy when they mix with nature. Despite this, this effect is not appreciated simply by being close to animals or plants, but requires the ability to feel integrated as a part of the environment . Nowadays it is known that children who grow up in places that stimulate this connection, developing a feeling of fraternal union with the rest of the living beings that inhabit the earth, improve their capacity to feel empathy towards others.

Walks in undeveloped areas are pleasant for most people. If we take advantage of sunlight, we will improve the central production (pineal gland) of melatonin during the night, a hormone related to positive emotions and a more restful sleep (as it helps to regulate circadian rhythms).

9. Sleeps regularly

Sleep is one of the most rapidly compromised physiological functions among those suffering from psychological problems. Insomnia is an element common to both depressive and anxious symptoms , so it may be present in both cases. Thus, we know that sleeping badly increases the risk of suffering mental health problems, while the latter also harm the quality of sleep, producing a cycle from which it may be difficult to get out.

Sleeping properly is important, and for this we must adopt a set of healthy habits: avoid physical exercise three hours before going to bed, provide a dark and quiet environment, take short naps (45 minutes maximum), eat a frugal dinner, wear comfortable clothes, refuse to drink alcohol or coffee during the last hours of the day, seek a pleasant temperature, set regular times to go to bed or wake up and use the bedroom only for sleeping and having sex.

10. Learn to make decisions and be assertive

One of the reasons why people often experience discomfort in their lives is because they have difficulty making decisions, or because they use proactive strategies in the face of unsolvable problems. Identifying the problem, defining it in operational terms, extracting plausible alternatives, evaluating the quality of the options available to us and acting accordingly ; constitute a basic process for successfully tackling demanding situations. There are specific programmes for this, such as the Nezu and D’Zurilla decision-making training.

On the other hand, learning to communicate assertively is also a habit that can protect us from developing emotional problems, particularly those resulting from interpersonal conflicts. Through assertiveness we express what we need while safeguarding the rights of others, without engaging in excessively hostile or passive behavior. Assertiveness is thus a search for balance in the relationships we have with others.

Bibliographic references:

  • Layard, R. (2005). Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. Foreign Affairs, 86(6), 26 – 27.
  • Shang, E. (2019). The keys to happiness: Associations between personal values regarding core life domains and happiness in South Korea. PLoS One, 14(1), e0209821.