the guide to maximizing mental health
“Mental health. Sounds a little touchy feely.”
If that describes your initial reaction to talking mental health, welcome to the club. I’ve spent my life on high performing teams – both in the military and out – where the idea of talking about mental health was just not a thing. After years (alright, decades) in the world of type-A, achievement oriented, doers, I found myself beat down and unhappy.
When I realized that my mental health wasn’t really in the place I wanted it to be I initially gaffed it off and went with the, “this too shall pass” approach. Not the wrong move entirely, but not the right one either. It took framing mental health in a way I hadn’t before to give me the perspective to know I needed to make a change.
I realized that my mental health was important and worthy of prioritization. When I finally determined that - if I was to achieve my objective of living a happy, productive, and worthwhile life – I needed to take responsibility and action to make it happen. Nobody could do it for me.
If that is your stated objective, as it is for me, then decide and act on making your mental health a priority effort.
You are not a bystander at the whims of fate. Stress and anxiety come and go. Terrible things happen. The question is, how will you manage those inevitable life events?
It turns out you can bulletproof your life to a large degree to make yourself less susceptible to swings in mental health and even change your state when those swings inevitably occur. The below tools, tactics, and procedures are easy to execute and high leverage. Build them into your toolbox and see what happens.
Tools, Tactics, and Procedures for Mental Health
The #1 thing a person can do to improve all aspects of his life, including mental health and cognitive performance, is to make sleep a priority. Of course that’s not always possible (looking at you new parents), but that should be the target.
Sleep is the baseline of managing positive mental health. Positive sleep patterns help to control moods, aid in decision making, and provide the energy you need for daily tasks.
Solid sleep is essential to health, productivity, mood, and nearly every process that takes place in the human body. You can go nearly two months without food but could very likely die after two weeks without sleep.
Experts generally recommend seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Executing on these numbers allows for memory formation and muscle growth & repair along with numerous other benefits. Studies show that up to 70% of Americans regularly miss the mark on sleep with nearly 33% achieving less than six hours per night. Minimizing sleep is not a badge of honor – it’s making you less effective, less happy, and less productive. Not cool.
If you don’t know where to start, start here:
Get more sunlight during the day. Your circadian rhythm is largely set by exposure to sunlight. When you get outside during the day you set yourself up for a great sleep. One NIH study in older adults found that 2-hours of bright light exposure during the day increased the amount of sleep per night by 2-hours and sleep efficiency by 80%. Not bad.
Cut out coffee/caffeine in the afternoon. We stop at 1 p.m. Studies consistently show that consuming caffeine even 6-8 hours before bedtime negatively impacts sleep quality.
Build a bedtime routine. Consider the following:
No screens past 9 p.m. Studies show blue light tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime. Cutting out screens has the added benefit of getting your mind out of daytime/work mode into rest mode.
In bed stretching and/or reading by 10 p.m.
Consider stretching in the evening. Stretching has been shown to not only put your mind into a relaxed state but also relieves muscle tension that can contribute to poor sleep. Two for one.
Avoid alcohol – Alcohol has been shown to significantly diminish quality sleep by disrupting natural sleep patterns and negatively impacting your body’s natural melatonin and HGH.
No phone in the bedroom. Scrolling social media or taking one last look at your emails before bed is a sure way to rough sleep. Get an old school clock – you’ll be fine.
Make your bedroom a cave. Black out blinds and ramp down the temperature.
Get up early and workout during the day. Getting up early will help you sleep at night. Duh. Add a good workout regimen and your body will be ready for some rest when the sun goes down.
Vitamins & Supplements. There are numerous supplements on the market targeting sleep – consider the right one for you if you feel like you need a little extra help in setting and maintaining your sleep schedule. Shameless plug: we developed the VRB CBD Rest Blend to achieve a great night’s sleep and to wake up feeling energized and ready to get after the day.
Physical health dictates mental health to a large degree. What you do with your body can directly affect the brain’s chemical profile in terms of the nutrients it has available and hormones it produces.
Activities as simple as going for a daily walk, bike ride, or swim, can have crucial benefits for mental health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, daily exercise not only releases endorphins, which makes you feel happier, but can reduce depression and increase energy as well. Schedule regular workouts into your life even if those workouts are periodic walks around the block.
Additionally, making healthy food choices can positively affect your mental health. Food is fuel, and functioning optimally means providing your body the nutrients you need. Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps with sleep, pain mediation, and positive mood balance, is mainly produced in the gut. This means that the food you put into your body has a major impact on how you feel, both physically and mentally.
Prioritize your relationships.
Taking time to be with the ones you care about is a pivotal piece of mental health.
According to the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the world’s longest studies of adult life, the strength of one’s close personal relationships is the primary factor associated with general happiness.
Additionally, studies show that taking time with positive influences in your life can be instrumental for boosting mood and stamina. Think of it as your own personal cheer squad: they can motivate you to be your best when facing challenges. Asking those you care about the most can be challenging, but they are ultimately your greatest asset in a positive mental health journey.
Be ‘other’, not ‘me’, centric.
Those who dedicate time, energy, and efforts to helping those in need often feel the extraordinary satisfaction of making a difference. Most of us tend to focus on my challenges, on my bad luck, on how I have been mistreated, or how I’ve been treated unfairly. That’s human, but not optimal. Being ‘me’ centered can trick our brains into both over catastrophizing and believing that we are more important than we are. When we pick our heads up and focus on others that mindset shifts dramatically.
Make a point – every day – to make someone’s day. Pay for the next guy's coffee. Invest your energy in volunteering where you can. Make anonymous donations and don’t expect thanks for your efforts – what you do and the opportunity you have to serve others is its own reward.
You can experience greater happiness and mental health in your life today by picking your head up and helping others. Become a part of something larger than yourself that does good for your community.
Take a break.
All work and no play makes Chase a dull boy.
Learn to surf, woodwork, write creatively, play guitar, or any other activity that challenges you to get out of your comfort zone. Taking time to work on things that you’re passionate about (that aren’t work) allows you to chew on hard work problems subconsciously and actively generate positive emotions. What’s more, picking up creative hobbies allows you to expand neural connections in your brain linked to production of dopamine – the feel-good hormone.
Allocating as little as two-hours per week on tasks you enjoy, like a musical instrument or photography, can directly lead to improved mental health. It will also make you more interested. Which is good.