08/31/2015 10:47 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2016

Pilates for Your Mind

Most of us spend a lot of time caring for our bodies. Some of us get gym memberships and workout regularly. Others run marathons. There are even some who stop eating gluten or limit their carbs in an effort to be as physically healthy as possible.

But how often do we consider the best way to care for our mental health? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 18.6 percent of U.S. adults experience mental illness in a given year. Given that statistic, it makes sense for all of us to pay a lot more attention to how we care for our minds.

In the same way that we need good habits in order to have healthy bodies, we need good habits to be emotionally healthy. To that end, below are some things that you can do each day to stay mentally on track. Consider them to be jogging for your brain...

1. Prayer or Meditation: The world is a noisy place. All day long we are bombarded with information from the television or the Internet. In addition, we spend large parts of our day listening to the needs of others. Add to that the non-stop commentary that goes on in our brains, and our minds rarely get a break. That is why it is important to take time to just sit in silence. Through daily prayer or meditation, we can quiet our minds and give them the rest that they so desperately need.

2. Friendship with a Straight Shooter: We all can go down the path of wrongheaded thinking. There is nothing wrong with that. However, there is something wrong with staying on that path. That is why we each need a good friend who is willing to tell us when we are off course. For most of us, that shouldn't be a spouse or a parent. Those relationships are too sensitive to withstand brutal honesty. Instead, we need a trustworthy friend who is willing to set us straight. I have a dear friend who I've known for 30 years who is very willing to tell me if I am being unreasonable, or if he thinks I am just plain wrong. I value his opinion, and on many occasions, he has put me on the right path when I've mentally veered off course.

3. Accomplishments: We were made to work. I don't care if you are 5-years-old or 95-years-old, as human beings we were made to accomplish things. So when we don't meet even simple goals, we naturally get frustrated. That is why watching television and surfing the Internet can be depressing. If we spend hours in front of a screen and accomplish nothing, it feels hollow. That hollow feeling is the result of watching other people accomplish things while we've merely observed. Make a habit of setting big life goals and small daily goals. Then make progress toward achieving those goals each day. You will find that the more you accomplish, the happier and more confident you will feel.

4. Physical Exercise: Exercise is not only important for our bodies, it is beneficial for our minds. When we exercise, our bodies release chemicals which make our brains feel good. Moreover, when our bodies are healthy, we move more easily and our clothing fits comfortably. We even look better. And that whole package makes us feel better about ourselves.

5. Accept Life As It Is: Life isn't fair. If life was fair, Bill Gates and Jennifer Lawrence wouldn't have stupid amounts of money while children in poor countries don't have enough to eat. If life was fair, really nice people wouldn't get cancer nor would they get divorced. The sooner you accept that life is by definition unfair, the happier and more mentally balanced you will be. Why? Because you will stop obsessing about how things should be (or should have been) in your life, and instead you'll start enjoying your life for what it is, even with all its imperfections.

Having poor mental health will not prevent you from fitting into your favorite pair of jeans, but it will make you incredibly unhappy and unpleasant to be around. There is nothing wrong with trying to lose 10 pounds or fit into a smaller pair of pants. However, while you are working toward those fitness goals, make your emotional health a priority as well. Your pay off will be great relationships and a happy life.


Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.