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Habits for Mental Health | Katharine Chestnut

Building Habits That Support Your Mental Health 

May is Mental Health Awareness month here in the U.S. It’s such a great reminder to me that we all need support when it comes to taking care of ourselves. 

It’s challenging to be consistent with our self-care, but building habits that support your mental health offer lifelong benefits. 

The habits we create in our lives don’t need to be restrictive. Create them to give you the space to explore your inner wisdom. There are a few ways that you can approach building new habits, even if you find it challenging to be consistent. 

Embrace the Struggle

Mental Health Habits | Katharine Chestnut

If you’re a perfectionist, you might find that building habits is an exercise in patience with yourself. The struggle is real! 

We often judge ourselves harshly for our habits. Just like how I might have “bad” habits that I stick to, instead of “good” ones. And that’s still consistency, if you consider it. 

That’s because our brains love habits (of all kinds). In fact, it’s the way we’re wired. “When your brain recognizes a pattern, such as a connection between action and satisfaction, it files that information away neatly in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia,” writes Stacey McLachlan for Healthline. “This may be what makes habits so hard to break. They come from a brain region that’s out of your conscious control. You’re barely aware you’re doing them, if at all.”

The good news is that you can hack your brain into getting used to new habits that are more supportive for your mental (and overall) health. “Instead of going cold turkey, it’s far more effective to start replacing or adjusting small parts of the habituated action,” writes Stacey. That might mean replacing your time scrolling on social media with ten minutes of meditation, or trying seltzer water instead of soda on occasion. 

Make Space for Habits

When I don’t make time for my journaling habit, I really start to feel it. I tell the story of how I built my journaling habit in my recent book, Inner Affirmations. I went through a very dark and challenging period during my life—an experience so all-consuming that I stopped journaling. 

One of the biggest steps toward getting back my consistent journaling practice was setting aside the time and space for it. I needed to create a ritual around it: a signal to myself that my journaling habit was sacred. Here’s what that ritual can look like for me: 

  • I frequently (although not always) journal in the mornings when I can have some quiet time and won’t be disturbed (except occasionally by my cats).
  • I pull an oracle card, if I want to start my session and need a little inspiration. 
  • I practice EFT tapping before I start. Tapping is a mindful exercise that can help to balance energy and has been used to successfully treat PTSD, anxiety and depression symptoms. 

There are a lot of ways you can make space for your new habit. Perhaps buying a beautiful journal, setting a reminder for a specific time each day, or setting up a room so that you can start a yoga practice. Make it fun! And make it sacred.

From Order Comes Chaos

While I have a creative side that loves to explore and play with new ideas, I also have a very practical, organized approach to the work that I do. I’m know for saying, ‘from order comes chaos’. (Forgive me Nietzsche for changing that up).

My experience in marketing has shown me that having a structure around my ideas achieves the best results. Whether that’s a social media campaign or blog. The only way I can get creative is if I know what the process or framework will be. 

And really, all creativity and play needs this kind of structure. There’s a study from 2006 on the impact of fences on children’s activity at a playground:

“Teachers were to take their children to a local playground in which there was no fence during their normal recess hour. The kids were to play as normal. The same group was to be taken to a comparable playground in which there was a defined border designated by a fence.

In the first scenario, the children remained huddled around their teacher, fearful of leaving out of her sight.  The later scenario exhibited drastically different results, with the children feeling free to explore within the given boundaries.”

When we have guidelines like this, we have the freedom to be creative and explore. The habits we create can act as this kind of structure. They support for our creativity and mental health in that way. 

Want More Support?

If you want help with creating a journaling habit that supports your mental health, don’t hesitate to follow me on Instagram or sign up for my newsletter. I offer writing prompts, Live sessions, and even guided meditation to support my followers, and I’d love to have you join us!

For even more support (and an awesome community), join my LNAL Life Slack community