The 5 Habits To Work On In Your 20s For Good Mental Health

The best advice I’ve ever received about mental health came from my housemate. After yet another unsuccessful 10-minute meditation at the end of a yoga class, I’d arrived home frustrated and ready to vent.

“It’s simple,” she’d told me. “Think of your mind like a puppy you need to train to not wander off where ever it pleases.”

The metaphor – one I later learnt was actually quite well known – struck a chord with me because I realised it was a useful way to think of the mind in general. With an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts circulating through our brains every day, we’ve each got one very excited animal on our hands. Teaching it to behave can be a daunting task, but adopting these five habits is an easy place to start.

#1 Learn how to solve problems

Problems – whether they’re big or small, we face them every single day. And, in the instances where they seem too overwhelming to tackle, structured problem solving (SPS) can help.

A four-step process that helps you step back from the situation, look at it calmly, and not rush into finding a quick fix, this ‘thinking skill’ often used in personal coaching can be incredibly useful for solving even the trickiest dilemma.

Other times, however, an issue may be impossible to resolve. In that case, beyondblue clinical advisor Dr. Stephen Carbone says it’s best to accept you can’t control everything.

“This doesn’t mean you have to like or agree with things that are unfair or wrong, but sometimes agreeing to disagree or walking away from a bad situation is better for your mental health than dwelling on things and getting down or anxious,” he says.

#2 Find out who you are

We’re social creatures by nature and wanting to fit in and be liked by others is part of that – particularly in our teens and early twenties. As we peel ourselves away from our parents, we rely more heavily on the opinions of our friends and worry more about what others think of us.

This can be both good and bad, says Dr. Carbone.

“If others like you, it can be a real boost to your self-esteem, but if they seem to dislike or reject you, it can be a blow to your confidence.”

He adds that the other consequence of being surrounded by mates is that we begin comparing our lives with theirs, which is rarely helpful. If that’s the case, he says, it’s essential to realise there will always be someone better off than you. Or, at least, they’ll make out to be.

“Be yourself and try to feel comfortable in your own skin. Choose what’s important to you rather than trying to live up to other people’s or society’s expectations.”

#3 Set realistic goals

Despite being told ‘no one’s perfect’ from a young age, we still can’t help but try to be. But given our interpretation of ‘perfection’ changes as we mature, we’re only chasing our tail aiming for it.

Instead, Dr. Carbone suggests setting goals to help you focus on the aspects of your life that make you feel most content and fulfilled.

“Goal setting is most helpful and rewarding when we consider what is do-able, realistic, and meaningful. Working towards attainable goals gives you motivation and a sense of purpose,” he says.

On the flip side, setting unrealistic ones will inevitably make you frustrated and miserable. If that does happen, recognise you’re feeling that way because the task you set yourself was more than you could reasonably manage. And therefore, it was impossible to succeed.

#4 Learn how to handle change

If your eyes roll when you hear ‘if there’s one guarantee in life, it’s change’, you’re definitely not alone. But clichéd as the phrase is, it’s true – change is a given and there’s no reason to fear it. However, it’s imperative to identify whether it’ll have a positive or negative impact on your life before conciously deciding whether to embrace or resist it.

“It’s good to recognise that you have power over many changes that happen your life. If you think an event or decision will make your life or the lives of people you care about worse, you can find ways to change your outcomes, adapt to a new situation or fight an injustice,” says Dr. Carbone.

He adds that if you do discover yourself facing a life alteration that will do more harm than good, seek advice from friends, family or experts on how to address it.

#5 Focus on your own needs before pleasing others

Everyone craves happiness, but striking the balance of finding it for yourself while still helping those around you have it too can be difficult – especially when you doing so is intertwined with your own journey.

“Sometimes, in order to feel well-liked, people go out of their way to please others. If others aren’t offering you the same level of kindness and generosity, it can also leave you feeling tired, mistreated or even exploited,” says Dr. Carbone.

To strike the ideal give-take balance in relationships, he suggests always aiming to be helpful and respectful of others, but to ensure they’re doing the same to you. There will, of course, be times where friends or family will need to ask for more from you when they’re facing a tough challenge, but this should happen in waves.

Sangeeta is a Sydney-based writer originally from Washington, D.C. She enjoys spending full days at the beach, browsing plant shops, and eating macaroni and cheese. You can check out her enthusiasm for clichéd sunset photos on her Instagram @sangeetatatiana.