Positive Mental Health Influence

Recovery can sometimes feel like you’ve been dropped into an unfamiliar place and told to find your own way home. It can be lonely, scary, and confusing. It can also involve a variety of mental and physical obstacles.

The path ahead of you doesn’t run in a straight line. When you’re struggling, it’s important to recognize all the skills and tools you’ve already gained. Over time, you’ll learn how and when to use these strategies to help you navigate your journey. Time, commitment, and attention are keys to a sustainable recovery. You’ll need to keep your eyes open to spot all of the resources around you that can help support you.

As you look at your path each day, you’ll discover new supports. Some may surprise you in their simplicity. No matter how small they may seem, allowing yourself to see the good in every day can help you build strength. This might include appreciating the beauty of your surroundings, reaching out for help, or helping others.

Focus on the good

It’s easy to rush through your days with blinders on. Sometimes, we’re so internally focused that it can be exhausting. This leaves us more susceptible to negative thinking. In many instances, we pay more attention to the bad qualities in others rather than the good ones. We notice “the things that worry or annoy us, or make us critical.”

With a “negative bias” for the “bad, or at best, neutral qualities in others and only a sprinkling of good ones, you naturally feel less supported, less safe, and less inclined to be generous or pursue your dreams.”[1] It’s helpful to move outside of a cycle of negative thoughts and observe the good in other people. We learn a lot from others, and this increases and broadens our mental and emotional perspectives. In turn, this makes us more resilient.

Reflecting on positive moments observed during each day can help you change your habits. You can see new ways to fix mistakes and solve problems. Science shows us that our brain structure can change and adapt to build resilience, form new connections, and take control.

So how do you start retraining your brain to see the good? Start with small observations by “seeing the good in others. It’s a simple but powerful way to feel happier and more confident, and become more loving and more productive in the world.”[3] When you reflect on the challenges of the day, don’t spend all of your time on negatives. Be sure to also find at least one good thing. Remember, it doesn’t need to be something big. It could be as simple as a smile you offered while you held the door for someone.

It’s important to recognize that the good you see in others is also in you. This is what lets you see it in other people. You, too, have positive intentions, abilities, and virtues of mind and heart. Those qualities are as real as the chair you’re sitting on. Take a moment to let that sink in. You don’t need a halo to be a good person. You are already a good person.

Spend time in nature

Another essential tool for self-care is appreciating nature. Research shows that being outside gives us a boost of happiness. It helps us feel better connected to the world. “Well-being increases if people simply take time to notice the nature around them.” One study showed that nature can be anything that’s not man-made. This can include a houseplant, a dandelion growing in a crack in a sidewalk, wildlife, or sun through a window.” Participants were asked to take a photo of something natural and write a short note about it.

It’s important to note that “this wasn’t about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the wilderness; it was about the tree at a bus stop in the middle of a city and the positive effect that one tree can have.”[4] Being in natural surroundings can allow you to be more open to multi-sensory experiences. You awaken more of your brain through the sights, smells, tastes, touches, and sounds, creating associations that form strong memories.

Go ahead, exercise. Go outside for a walk. Look around at your physical surroundings and forget for a moment or two about “your needs, worries, regrets or desires for the future.” Green space benefits not just your mental health, but also your physical health. In one study on “forest bathing,” people spent time sitting, lying down, or just walking around in nature. Participants had lower blood pressure, reduced heart rates, and decreased stress after spending time outdoors. In addition, research suggested that people who spent time in nature had a lower risk of developing Type II diabetes and heart disease compared to those who stayed inside. Spending time outdoors also improved sleep. Give it a try: take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass. It will help you feel more grounded.

Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people can also make a big difference. This helps you to keep moving forward on a sustainable recovery pathway. Interestingly enough, this can go both ways. Reaching out and helping others with their journey can also be therapeutic for you. This process can “take the attention off yourself… assist the other person in making progress and [you may] receive gratitude for your efforts.” This, in turn, can give you perspective, boost your sense of purpose, and make you feel happier. Being able to recognize the challenges that you faced and overcame, and speaking with others about them, helps develop strength. It also gives you a chance to reflect upon how far you have come.

Recreation therapy helps in similar ways. People work to regain control over their lives, relax their minds and bodies, and rebuild social skills, self-esteem and confidence. This all happens through the connections they make with other people in their community. They can participate in “exercise groups such as yoga, and other physical activities such as active games, creative arts, woodworking, and crafts.”

While these all help, it’s also important to remember some of the most important things that will help during recovery:

  1. Taking time to take a break when you need it.
  2. Remembering how important exercise and proper nutrition are to your strength.
  3. Staying connected to your social circle for support and encouragement.

Becoming aware of positive influences and how they make you feel will also help you notice when you’re feeling unwell. Recognizing those symptoms and using these tools can help you stay on course as you recover. This will help you learn when you may need to call for professional care.