10 Things That Could Affect Your Mental Health in the Long Run
Guest Post by: Patrick Bailey
There are many factors that influence our mental health, either positively or negatively. Some of these factors might even be beyond our control. We can’t control our genetic tendencies towards mental illness, for example. However, our “mental health destiny” is not set in stone. Even if you are experiencing anxiety, depression, or other forms of mental illness, there are several factors that can impact the course of your condition and influence your mental health in the long run.
Research has shown a positive link between exercise and mental health. In fact, exercise has been found to be one of the most effective ways to maintain good mental health and even improve mental health. Physical exercise can improve sleep, reduce stress, increase energy levels, and bolster overall mood, and has also been shown to affect anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Several studies have found that exercise can actually help treat mild to moderate depression just as effectively as medication but without the side effects that tend to come with pharmaceuticals.
The good news is that the type of exercise doesn’t seem to have as much of an effect as just finding something you love that gets your body moving. Cardio exercises have shown significant benefits, but there is also research that demonstrates that yoga and tai chi reduce depression.
2. Substance Use
In contrast to exercise, substance use negatively impacts mental health over the long run. For example, smoking can initially increase relaxation and lower stress, but over the long-term, smoking actually increases anxiety and tension.
Additionally, there is a strong correlation between poor mental health and addiction, both as a cause and as an effect. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety can all increase the risk of substance abuse and self-medication. In turn, substance abuse and addiction can further damage mental health, resulting in a cycle of self-medication and increased depression and anxiety.
3. Sleep Habits
Sleep and mental health have also been shown to have a positive correlation. For those experiencing anxiety and depression, good quality sleep can help reduce symptoms the following day. Additionally, healthy sleep habits can maintain good mental health over the long-term.
In contrast, sleep difficulties are both symptoms of anxiety and other mental health disorders and can contribute to worsening of mental health. For example, insomnia can be caused by anxiety and intrusive thoughts. However, insomnia can also lead to poorer mental health, including increased levels of anxiety the next day.
4. Personal Relationships
Close and loving personal relationships and feeling connected to others are instrumental in maintaining good mental health. In healthy relationships, you feel supported and enjoy a sense of belonging. Even if you are going through difficult times or mental illness, having a connection with another person can reduce the impact of your symptoms.
In contrast, there is a negative correlation between loneliness and depression. A lack of close healthy relationships can increase the risk of depression, and for those already experiencing depression, symptoms can increase.
Isolation also negatively impacts mental health. Research shows that even a few hours of isolation can increase anxiety and in some severe cases, produce hallucinations.
5. Trauma and Abuse
The link between trauma and mental health has long been established. Those who experience frequent or significant trauma have a higher likelihood of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction. Both children and adults who experience domestic violence are particularly at risk, especially due to the increased likelihood of traumatic brain injury and repeated trauma from people who are supposed to be safe and supportive.
An increasing problem in our society, especially among children and adolescents, is bullying. Research has found that being bullied increases the risk of suicide among youth and that one of the biggest predictors of mental illness in adolescents is experiencing frequent and severe bullying.
While we may not always be able to control factors like bullying and trauma, diet is one that is easily to control and can have a profound impact. Several studies have shown that diet impacts mental health, with diets high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats having the greatest positive impact. In contrast, eating large amounts of sugar, fried meals, and processed foods can lead to poorer sleep, a lack of concentration, difficulties controlling blood sugar, increased anxiety, and poor moods.
While it can be difficult to eat a healthy diet when experiencing depression or anxiety, it is important to try, even if it means eating small snacks rather than full meals. Keeping your refrigerator stocked with carrots, celery, fruits, nut butters, and yogurt can give you something quick and easy to grab when you’re not feeling well.
It’s easy to overlook the mental health benefits of reliable and meaningful employment, but the impact can be significant. If you have steady work that makes you feel fulfilled, it is easy to wake up each day with a sense of purpose. Additionally, reliable employment helps reduce anxiety regarding finances and being able to afford food, a place to live, and even recreational activities that can all benefit mental health in the long term. Full-time employment also often comes with health insurance, increasing access to mental and physical healthcare.
8. Community Involvement & Connections
Feeling connected to your community can help reduce the feelings of isolation and improve mental health. Participating in recreational and cultural activities, as well as volunteering, can foster a sense of belonging and increase your social connections.
In addition, there is increasing research linking religious beliefs and mental health. The research doesn’t support one particular type of religious belief or practice, but rather, it is the ability to develop a spiritual connection and belong to a supportive community of like-minded individuals that increases feelings of wellbeing.
9. Self-esteem & Confidence
It may seem obvious that when you feel great about yourself, your mental health improves. However, it’s not always easy to feel confident and have a positive self-esteem, especially if you are the victim of trauma, abuse, or bullying. It is important to find situations where you can be successful and experience growth.
Do you love to write or draw? Can you run an eight minute mile? Find something that you enjoy doing and set achievable goals to improve in that craft. Achieving those goals can give you a sense of accomplishment and confidence that can expand into other areas of your life.
10. Support System
Finally, having a strong support system can be key in maintaining or improving mental health over the long-term. A support system includes not only family and friends, but also your co-workers, physician, psychiatrist, and counselor. It is important to have a place to go for help when you are feeling down or are in the midst of a mental health crisis. A good support system can also help you maintain good mental health by increasing your social connections and reducing isolation.
While we can’t control whether we develop a mental illness or experience mental health difficulties, we can take steps to improve our mental health. Having a good support system and social connections, finding ways to increase our self-esteem and confidence, finding meaningful work and community activities, eating a healthy diet and maintaining good sleep habits, and avoiding substance use can all help to improve our mental health over the long-term.
About the author of, 10 Things That Could Affect Your Mental Health in the Long Run
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. Check out Patrick’s blog and follow him on Twitter, Linkedin and Google+.