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Mental health affects all of us. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults experience a mental illness every year. Both NAMI and Forbes Health cite suicide as the second leading cause of death in adolescents ages 10 to 14 years alone. The CDC reported a 2.4% increase in the number of adults receiving mental health treatment between 2019 and 2021. There’s no doubt that poor mental health affects our ability to thrive in our relationships and at home, work and school.

Mental health can be a challenging thing to manage. Nine years ago, I decided I wanted to learn more about it, and I hired a licensed therapist (who I still see weekly). After nearly a decade of focus, I’ve found that the following five practices dramatically improve our mental and emotional well-being. I discuss these practices with my clients on a daily basis, and literally all of them report positive effects from practicing them.

Related: We Need a Real Commitment to Mental Health at Work. Here’s How (and Why).

1. Identify and then prioritize the things that matter most to you

It’s easy to get swept up in the demands of others and forget about ourselves. Determine what activities, hobbies, events and jobs you love most and prioritize those things. Mental wellness often seems to disappear when we don’t make time for the things that make us tick. It doesn’t matter whether it’s pickup soccer, painting or playing guitar. Figure out what you love to do and regularly spend time doing it. Have dreams and articulate them.

If you’ve always wanted to learn to speak a foreign language or write a book, I recommend you don’t lose sight of that. For some, these goals are forgotten once we have children or start to age. I recognize it’s hard to juggle and balance the demands of a family or career with your own needs and interests, but it’s not impossible. It starts with you believing it can be done and committing to doing it — no matter what. To start, create a vision board or mission statement and post it somewhere you can see it. This helps remind us of the things that matter most.

2. Set and enforce boundaries

Don’t be afraid to say no. Some of us were raised to be people-pleasers and feel compelled to always “do it all.” This thinking is misguided. Anytime we say yes to one thing, we’re automatically saying no to something else. If that “something else” is always yourself, you’re likely not caring for your mental health. In my expeirendce, this will catch up with you. Unhappy, frustrated and burnt-out individuals spend a tremendous amount of time doing things for other people and not nearly enough time doing things for themselves. Figure out what you really want to do and what you don’t. Then, articulate it confidently and without guilt.

As Stephen Covey said, “It’s easier to say no when we have a greater yes in mind.” When you know what matters most (to you), you’ll have an easier time making (and protecting) space for it. To start, give the things you most want to accomplish a place to live and breathe on your calendar. Use Outlook or another calendar to schedule time for your top priorities — this will help you say no when a last-minute conflict arises.

Related: Entrepreneurs Are Scheduling Their Days Down to the Minute for Ultimate Success

3. Honor and validate your emotions

Many of us like to be right. Understandable; it feels good to know things and be correct. However, sometimes our desire to be right stands in the way of us actually doing what’s right. It’s not uncommon to gaslight others. Frequently, people invalidate the experiences, beliefs and emotions of others just because they don’t mirror their own. Learn to recognize that you can’t control how often this happens to you, but you can control your response. Make a point to regularly connect with yourself and truly understand your feelings. Once you know what those are, trust and listen to them. Don’t allow yourself to be talked out of them.

Getting advice and mentorship from someone you deeply care about (who also has your best interests at heart) is one thing. Being gaslit by someone who feels threatened by your success or is uncomfortable with a difference of opinion is entirely another. If you choose to be influenced or persuaded, make sure it’s for the right reason. To start, regularly journal or talk to a therapist (or coach) about how you feel. This helps you connect with yourself and be self-aware of what you’re really experiencing.

4. Celebrate every step of your journey

When it comes to pursuing big goals, the road is long. It can be easy to become discouraged. Remember to celebrate your efforts along the way, not just at the end. Make time to acknowledge what you’ve done well and choose to be proud of yourself. Instead of focusing on perfection, focus on progress. Are you wiser, stronger and braver than you were a few months ago? What about a year ago? If the answer is yes, then make sure you choose to feel good about yourself and where you’re at, even if you’re not completely done yet. To start, keep a gratitude journal or list of your accomplishments. Catalog specific things that are working well. If you do this consistently, you’ll rewire your tendency to see the negative or engage in any sort of negative self-talk. Instead, you’ll notice far more of the good. And that feels good.

Related: 3 Reasons to Celebrate Small Wins in Your Business

5. Only associate with people who support your mental health

Who we surround ourselves with matters. Many people who struggle with mental well-being keep the company of others who actively try to undermine them. Ultimately, we tend to adopt the beliefs, values and mindset of those we see the most. If you associate with negative people who complain, you’ll develop a tendency to do the same thing. If you associate with catty people who love to gossip, you’ll develop a tendency to judge as well.

It’s been said that “Two things prevent us from happiness: living in the past and observing others.” If we care about our mental well-being, it’s important to surround ourselves with like-minded people. Spend time with others who have goals, pursue their purpose with passion, set and enforce boundaries and will respect you as you do the same. To start, take inventory of the people with whom you spend your time. How do you feel when you’re around them? Do they support and encourage you? Do they champion your goals? If not, limit your interactions with them and replace that time with these other activities.

Most of us face a tremendous amount of outside pressure from our bosses, families and even friends. It can be extremely hard to prioritize ourselves and our well-being over the demands of others — but we must. As hard as it is to show up for ourselves, regularly practicing these five principles will make it easier.


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