Many individuals are aware of the necessity of exercising their bodies; however, it is just as important to exercise your mental wellbeing.
Mental health exercises, just like physical exercises, are great aids for living a happy and healthy life. To truly flourish, you will want to exercise your mental health. This can be done in various ways, with or without a professional, and can be as lengthy or simple as you like.
Just what are mental health interventions, and should you be doing them? What are some ways we can improve and preserve our positive mental health? Read on to learn several research-based mental health exercises for optimum mental health.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
Mental health encompasses emotional health, psychological health, and social wellbeing. It goes without saying that mental health contributes to overall health, and exercising this domain will reap countless benefits.
On the other end of the spectrum, mental health exercises have the potential to relieve mental health ailments such as anxiety and depression. Mental disorders are a primary cause of disability, and the consequences are undoubtedly severe (Zhu et al., 2021).
Approximately 7% to 12% of adults experience mental disorders (Stănescu & Vasile, 2014). The purpose of these exercises is to help intervene before a situation turns into a crisis. Mental health exercises can be used to address issues that arise from trauma, tragedy, or underlying psychiatric disorders.
As such, mental health exercises have two purposes: to help those challenged with mental illness when used as part of therapy and also to improve mental wellbeing.
What Are Mental Health Interventions?
Mental health interventions are designed to help individuals cope.
These activities can improve mental health by decreasing anxiety, depression, stress, and distress (Enkema et al., 2020; Pascoe et al., 2021; Puzia et al., 2020; Zhu et al., 2021).
The evidenced-based exercises we share with you are designed to strengthen and maintain aspects of mental health.
Mental health interventions are just this; tasks you can practice to improve your mental health.
Typically, these exercises may be recommended by a social worker, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Engaging in wellness activities can have a positive effect on your health and wellness, as well as your sense of inner peace. These practices will contribute to an overall happy and healthy life.
5 Examples of Evidence-Based Mental Health Interventions
In choosing a mental health intervention, it will be imperative that the exercise is evidence-based to get the most bang for your buck. Don’t worry; we already did the work for you and found five effective interventions for positive mental health: physical activity, mindfulness, meditation, mood trackers, and gratitude.
Further, there appears to be a reciprocal relationship between the two. Fossati et al. (2021) note the importance of physical activity to maintain mental wellbeing, as well as the importance of healthy wellbeing in maintaining physical levels, particularly in athletes’ sports performance.
In times of high stress, even short amounts of physical activity seem to reduce anxiety symptoms (Pascoe et al., 2021). To keep your mind healthy, it is crucial to keep a healthy body as well; therefore, consider getting out there and breaking a sweat, getting that heart rate up, or pumping some iron.
There is a positive association between mindfulness and mental health (Enkema et al., 2020). Mindfulness involves an intentional, nonjudgmental focus on the present (Enkema et al., 2020). This practice reduces symptoms of depression, distress, stress, and anxiety (Enkema, et al., 2020; Zhu et al., 2021).
Zhu et al. (2021) found mindfulness practices to be beneficial for individuals during the COVID-19 outbreak. Through online questionnaires, these researchers found that mindfulness practitioners scored lower levels of pandemic-related distress than non-practitioners. Further, those who practiced mindfulness more frequently reported improved depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms.
To start, please see our 3-Step Mindfulness worksheet to foster a mindful state that you can carry with you throughout the day.
Meditation can be an effective tool for promoting mental health (Damião Neto et al., 2020). Meditation is a mental exercise that commands your attention and awareness.
Puzia et al. (2020) specifically analyzed the effects of a meditation app called Calm. Cancer patients in their study who used this app reported reduced depression and anxiety.
Combining mindfulness and meditation could be very effective in maintaining mental wellness. Originally a Buddhist practice, mindfulness meditation involves cognitive flexibility and inhibition (Sleimen-Malkoun et al., 2023).
To really pack a punch, perhaps you could try yoga, which integrates physical activity, mindfulness, and meditation — three effective mental health interventions in their own right.
4. Mood trackers
If your clients experience a roller coaster of moods throughout their day or week, they might benefit from intentionally tracking their moods.
Steel et al. (2023) used a specific mood-tracking system called imagery-based emotion regulation to examine anxiety and mood instability. Their findings concluded that using this method of mood tracking helped to reduce distress and improve the quality of life for individuals with bipolar disorders and at least mild levels of anxiety.
Our Thought Record Worksheet may help determine the cause of specific moods or negative thoughts. This worksheet encourages the client to monitor and record their thoughts and emotions in conjunction with the day, time, and situation they are experiencing. Further, this worksheet explores alternative thoughts as well.
Gratitude strongly correlates to wellbeing (Jans-Beken et al., 2020; Wood et al., 2010). Being grateful makes you a happier person and bolsters relationships.
Beginning a gratitude journal may be an advantageous practice for you. If you’re unsure where to start, check out our Gratitude Journal worksheet, which contains prompts followed by bullets to fill in items you are thankful for.
4 Mental Health Exercises for Groups
Many of the above-mentioned evidence-based mental health interventions may also be used in a group; however, here are a few more ideas.
1. Cognitive distortions
Sometimes situations are not what they seem, and cognitive distortions occur. To help prevent this from happening, we must teach ourselves to think differently.
Try the Exceptions to the Problem Questionnaire to analyze a problem. In this worksheet, you will compare the dilemma to a time when things were better and determine how to get back to this good feeling.
2. Coping skills
Coping skills are vital for successfully overcoming adversity, and they can just as well be taught in a group setting. In a therapy session, try introducing the following coping skills: thought challenging, releasing emotions, practicing self-love, distracting, tapping into your best self, and grounding.
Using the Coping Skills Inventory, have participants think of examples to record. Reviewing this mental health exercise in a group can elicit countless strategies, as it encourages individuals to brainstorm.
3. Interpersonal skills
Communicating with others is vital in our society, and understanding interpersonal skills is necessary. To improve these abilities, as well as manage mental health disorders, Dialectical Behavior Therapy is often deployed.
One worksheet you may consider using in your practice is an Interpersonal Skills Acronyms worksheet. This exercise familiarizes clients with acronyms to help them remember skills related to object, relationship, and self-respect effectiveness.
4. Couples and relationships
If you’re searching for an intervention for your couples therapy or relationship counseling, try implementing a Conflict Resolution Checklist. This worksheet will be invaluable in solving conflict equitably within a relationship. The elements contained in this checklist ensure that both parties’ voices are heard and that conflicts are viewed more as discussions.
Applying Mindfulness-Based cognitive therapy to treatment
4 Therapeutic Mental Health Exercises & Interventions for Adults
Sometimes to switch our outlook, we may need to take a more structured, therapeutic approach. These services may be best met by a professional in the field and may include combatting automatic negative thoughts, cognitive restructuring, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, and psychotherapy.
The Getting Rid of ANTS worksheet may also be beneficial in minimizing or even eliminating the negative impact of these intrusive thoughts. This worksheet will help you identify the trigger, assign an automatic negative thought that accompanies this trigger, and create a replacement adaptive thought.
2. Cognitive restructuring
If you frequently have intrusive thoughts following an event, you may consider using cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring involves reconstructing distorted and biased thoughts into more objective and balanced thoughts (Shidara et al., 2022).
Our Cognitive Restructuring of an Event worksheet will help restructure thoughts about an event by positively framing or accepting what has happened. Addressing these thoughts can help prevent you from worsening a situation that has already taken place.
3. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a behavioral treatment that shows the connections between thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and the behaviors that follow. CBT effectively treats many mental health concerns, such as eating disorders (Kaidesoja et al., 2023) and fatigue following a coronavirus infection (Kuut et al., 2023).
You may find that your clients make a situation worse because of their tendency to negatively frame what has happened.
To address cognitive distortions, our If, Then Planning Worksheet would benefit individuals that need to regain control over a situation by identifying what could go wrong, thus reducing catastrophization.
Psychotherapy, which is also referred to as talk therapy, can be used to help treat individuals with emotional difficulties and mental illnesses. This method involves dialogue and psychological techniques between the psychologist and the client.
Finch et al. (2023) examined the effects of single-session psychotherapy sessions on graduate and undergraduate students. Their findings were that students currently receiving psychotherapy saw more improvement in coping self-efficacy than their non-treatment-receiving counterparts.
Try using our I Will Survive worksheet in your practice. This exercise is an excellent starting point to help clients identify their coping skills and support system to handle life’s setbacks and difficulties.
3 Quick & Easy Mental Health Exercises for Mental Wellbeing
Mental health exercises don’t have to be lengthy or complicated.
Sometimes a quick or easy mental health exercise is just what you need to improve your mindset. Practicing specific breathing, mindfulness, or meditation exercises may just do the trick.
Breathing is a valuable tool for improving blood circulation and digestion, as well as managing stress and anxiety.
Understanding the three types of breathing that comprise deep breathing will be paramount. Refer to our Three Steps to Deep Breathing exercise to learn more about abdominal, thoracic, and clavicular breathing.
Mindfulness is an effective method to take a temperature check of your life. While putting aside the time and space to practice mindfulness may not always be feasible, you could try the following five actions to cultivate a mindful state:
Notice five things you can see.
Notice four things you can feel.
Notice three things you can hear.
Notice two things you can smell.
Notice one thing you can taste.
Learn more about these procedures in our Five Senses Worksheet. If you are really pressed for time, try only identifying three things with each of your senses.
Meditation is a powerful intervention; however, it may also be difficult to perform this exercise quickly and easily.
Meditation for Radical Acceptance is a mental health exercise that, once learned, can help you face distressing situations and events with more ease. It helps you release pent-up emotions and enjoy the present moment.
3 Best Mental Health Ideas for Kids
Mental health exercises are not only necessary for adults, but they are equally important for youngsters. In promoting positive mental health, it will be critical that children understand and manage their emotions, identify and practice coping skills, and build self-awareness.
1. Understand emotions
Emotions are an important concept for children to understand and be comfortable sharing. Emotions are relatively short-lived responses to stimuli (Van Kleef & Côté, 2022); however, children can have intense emotions and may need help to navigate these phenomena.
Our Inside and Outside worksheet will help kids identify emotions and explore their bodily reactions to these emotions.
You could also have a child create an emotion mask using our Emotion Masks worksheet. This activity excellently explains what we may do when we hide our emotions.
2. Teach coping skills
In handling big emotions, coping skills are critical and should be taught explicitly. Various coping skills must be introduced to children, enabling voice and choice in selecting a method that works best for them.
Concerning COVID-19 stress, adolescents who used active coping, problem-focused coping, and engagement coping reported fewer mental health problems and greater psychological adjustment (Foster et al., 2023). Coping skills may include goal setting, problem-solving, and breathing, just to name a few.
Breathing exercises are one coping skill that helps children and adults to center and relax themselves when feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps try the teaching script in our Deep Breathing for Kids worksheet to model as you teach children how to breathe deeply.
3. Build self-awareness
Self-awareness is looking at yourself both subjectively and objectively (Carden et al., 2022). Children who are self-aware are more emotionally mature. They can consider the perspectives of others and exhibit self-control.
Alternatively, if you’re only interested in a small sampling at the moment, consider this signature collection of science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing. It contains 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.
A Take-Home Message
As you know, you need to take care of your body to take care of your mind. It is just as important to take care of your mind as it is to take care of your body.
As we discussed, it is imperative to practice periodic mental health exercises to strengthen and maintain healthy mental wellbeing. Whether your clients are young or old, mental health interventions are critical for a flourishing life. Here, we have presented a multitude of mental health exercises and worksheets to help strengthen and maintain mental wellbeing.
What are some of your favorite mental health exercises? What is your reason for practicing them? Please share in the comments below.
Carden, J., Jones, R. J., & Passmore, J. (2022). Defining self-awareness in the context of adult development: A systematic literature review. Journal of Management Education, 46(1), 140–177.
Damião Neto, A., Lucchetti, A. L. G., da Silva Ezequiel, O., & Lucchetti, G. (2020). Effects of a required large-group mindfulness meditation course on first-year medical students’ mental health and quality of life: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 35, 672–678.
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About the author
Tiffany Sauber Millacci, Ph.D., is an educator for both university students and elementary-aged students. She is a continuous learner who seeks facts through research and enjoys sharing her learning through her writing.