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Let's be upfront: Sometimes, achieving better mental health requires professional help. People may need a therapist, or even medication, to deal with disorders like depression or anxiety.
But those serious diagnoses aside, we could all do with a little brain tune-up. Fortunately, science has some suggestions for how to overcome personality quirks or unhealthy patterns of thinking that leave people functioning less than optimally.
Here are some things that studies have found may improve people's mental health:
Set goals, but don't take failure personallySlide 2 of 19
Set goals, but don't take failure personally
Most people are at least a little bit of a perfectionist in some area of life. Aiming high can be the first step to success, but studies have found that high levels of perfectionism are linked to poor health and increase the risk of death. Perfectionism is also linked to postpartum depression.
The problem is that perfectionism has two facets: Perfectionists tend to set high goals for themselves, but they also tend to worry about it if they fail to reach extreme levels of performance. The high goals are not the problem as much as the so-called "perfectionist concerns," or feelings of failure and worthlessness that come with falling short of reaching them, which can wreak havoc on mental health.
The trick to getting around this perfectionism trap might be to set goals without taking failure personally, said Andrew Hill, a sports psychologist at York St. John University in England.
One strategy, Hill told Live Science in August 2015, is for perfectionists to set small, manageable goals for themselves rather than one big goal. That way, failure is less likely, and so is the self-recrimination that can keep a perfectionist down. In other words, perfectionists should force themselves to think about achieving success in degrees, rather than in all-or-nothing terms.Slide 3 of 19
Go outsideSlide 4 of 19
The indoor environment protects us from heat, cold and all manner of inclement weather. But if you don't get outside frequently, you might be doing a number on your mental health.
A June 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that spending 90 minutes walking in nature can decrease brain activity in a region called the subgenual prefrontal cortex. This area is active when we're ruminating over negative thoughts. Walking alongside a busy road didn't quiet this area, the researchers found.
This latest study is only one of many that suggest that spending time outdoors is good for the mind. A 2010 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that 5 minutes in a green space can boost self-esteem. In a 2001 study published in the journal Environment and Behavior, time in green space even improved ADHD symptoms in kids compared with time spent relaxing indoors — for example, watching TV.Slide 5 of 19
MeditateSlide 6 of 19
Meditation may look like the person is sitting around, doing nothing. In fact, it's great for the brain.
A slew of studies have found that meditation benefits a person's mental health. For example, a 2012 study in the journal PLOS ONE found that people who trained to meditate for six weeks became less rigid in their thinking than people with no meditation training. This suggests that meditation might help people with depression or anxiety shift their thoughts away from harmful patterns, the researchers suggested.
Other studies on meditation suggests that it literally alters the brain, slowing the thinning of the frontal cortex that typically occurs with age and decreasing activity in brain regions that convey information about pain. People trained in Zen meditation also became more adept at clearing their minds after a distraction, a 2008 study found. As distracting and irrelevant thoughts are common in people with depression and anxiety , meditation might improve those conditions, the researchers said.Slide 7 of 19
ExerciseSlide 8 of 19