Improve your Thoughts, Improve your Mental Health

Cloudy Thurstag

Lauren Bulanek, Op/Ed and Shark Stories Editor

The conversation around why your mental health matters has been increasing lately, but many people don’t know how to improve it. We can’t all afford therapy.
Mental health is defined as what “refers to our cognitive, behavioral, and emotional wellbeing – it is all about how we think, feel, and behave,” by Christian Nordqvist. To put it simply, it’s your mental wellbeing. Your mental health largely affects the parts of you people can’t see, like your thoughts and feelings.
Since mental health largely affects invisible factors, it can be hard to notice symptoms of decaying mental wellbeing. Mental illness, also known as a mental disorder, is an umbrella term for mental conditions. Common examples of mental illness include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and schizophrenia.
Mental illness has a wide range of negative effects on a person, but like any illness, they can be treated. Even if you don’t struggle with mental illness, taking care of your mental health is very important. The question is, how do you do that?
Though seeing a therapist is a great way to improve your mental health, as someone with $4 in their pocket, it isn’t an option for me. It is helpful to have guidance when working on yourself, so if that is an option for you, please look into it. If it isn’t, that’s okay! Self-improvement comes in many forms.
Improving your perspective can have a major positive impact on your mental health. You don’t have to change how you see the world, instead, improve your thoughts surrounding it. Improving your word choice when describing yourself or the things around you can add a healthier connotation to your thought process. For example, earlier I contrasted the word “change” with the word “improve.” These words are synonyms, but the word “improve” implies a positive change, while “change’ can seem more negative.
Improving the language you use is a very minor step, but it can have a major impact on how you view your environment. More importantly, it can improve how you view yourself.
Your mental health can have a major impact on your body image. Changing the way you speak or think about yourself can have a long term impact on your overall health. A healthier mindset can help you learn to love yourself, which provides an internal incentive to take care of yourself.
In order to improve your mindset and your body image, first, pay attention to your thoughts. Therapists often refer to this as “self-talk” and it is generally your daily internal monologue. Take time to check in and examine your thoughts. Are they positive or negative? What are they about? What caused them? How do you feel? Asking yourself small questions can help you gain a deeper understanding of your mindset. It is important to examine your negative thoughts. They may only take a second to think, but over time they can chip away at your happiness. You have to become aware of them if you want to improve them.
When you become aware of your self-talk, try to explore it. Though your thoughts are caused by your own reality, they may not be realistic. For example, accidentally telling someone “your problem” instead of “you’re welcome” or “no problem” may make you feel like you have to live in a hole for the next 100 years, but you don’t. It was one moment, and it probably impacted you more than it impacted them. At most, it gives them a funny story to tell their friends.
Question your thoughts and their validity. Do you only focus on the negative outcomes and ignore positive possibilities? That is called “catastrophizing.” Maybe you decide things with your emotions and not evidence, as if something is true because you feel it. That’s emotional reasoning. Do you assume you know what others are thinking? For example, “he looked at me that way because he’s judging me.” The term for that is “mind reading.” Do you see yourself, and others, as only good or bad, with no middle ground? That is referred to as “black and white thinking.” These thought patterns can be harmful, but they’re not uncommon. We all see the world through a different lens, but we often analyze it the same way. On the bright side, identifying irrational thought patterns makes it easier to challenge those thoughts, instead of letting them bottle up.
Question the validity of your thinking. If your thoughts are negative and unrealistic, then prove to yourself that they are. You may know something isn’t true, but your mind and your emotions aren’t always on the same page. Using factual reasoning can help to talk yourself down. Point out holes in your negative messages. If your negative self-talk is based on something that happened, consider if you have had a similar situation occur before that you can examine as an example. For example, if you knocked over your drink in class before and it wasn’t a big deal, it probably won’t be a big deal this time either.
After you examine negative self-talk, try to consider other possibilities. For example, if you think you couldn’t pull off that outfit, please consider that you could. Remember to consider other factors behind your actions and the actions of those around you. For example, you aren’t a burden for needing your friends to help. You are going through a lot and they care about you. Every situation has multiple outcomes, so if you feel like you are focusing on the negative ones, try to list some positive ones. There are more than two outcomes to your actions, try to consider the gray areas as well. Not everything and not everyone is simply good or bad.
After you analyze your self-talk, try to challenge negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, if you’re worried someone won’t like you due to a physical feature, like freckles or acne, ask yourself “would I like someone with ______?” The answer will likely be “yes.” And if you’re worried that they won’t see it the same way you do, then they aren’t worth your time. You don’t have to read this article to know that surrounding yourself with negative people will hurt your mental health.