You’ve probably heard about psychotherapy, but what exactly is it? Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, helps people with mental health concerns. It helps people eliminate or manage psychological problems so they can function better, improve their mental wellness, and heal from past trauma. Psychotherapy encompasses multiple types of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and psychodynamic therapy.
While most people consider psychotherapy as a last resort when they’re experiencing mental health concerns, the fact is that happy, productive people can also benefit from therapeutic techniques. Talk therapy isn’t just for people with mental illnesses—it can be a useful tool for anyone looking to cope with stress, find emotional support, or learn different ways to deal with anxiety.
If you’re trying to improve your mental wellness, here are some proven techniques to help you navigate difficult situations, build resilience, and start feeling better.
Keep a Daily Journal
Getting into the habit of regularly writing down your feelings can improve your mood, self-esteem, and ability to live in the present moment. Mindful journaling is all about examining whatever is going on in your head and then expressing it. Just like a therapy session, journaling is a valuable opportunity to be truly honest with yourself and confront issues that you might otherwise try to avoid.
If writing a diary every night doesn’t feel right, try keeping a morning journal instead. Start every day by writing your thoughts on paper. You don’t need to form sentences or censor your writing—it’s for your eyes only, so write whatever comes to mind. Try writing in a stream-of-consciousness style to get all of your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and emotions onto the paper.
The physical act of writing with ink on paper helps draw you into the present moment. It’s a useful tool to clarify your mind, navigate specific challenges, and make a positive change in your mental health. You don’t need an expensive journal or fancy pens to reap the mental health benefits of journaling—it’s all about forming a habit. You might start by writing about something you noticed today, or try setting some intentions for the week ahead.
Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a combination of cognitive and behavior therapy, seeks to identify how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors interact, giving us the tools we need to change existing patterns.
With each of us experiencing more than 6,000 thoughts per day, there’s plenty of room to interpret these thoughts negatively. Negative thought patterns can become entrenched, which can seriously affect our feelings and behaviors, leading to low self-esteem, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. CBT reminds us that our thoughts are not facts. Instead, they can be changed, leading to more positive feelings and behaviors.
When your inner self-critic takes over, CBT therapeutic techniques can help you combat negative thought patterns in three steps:
- Notice them. We often internalize our negative thoughts and beliefs, which can make it harder for us to notice and change them. When you’re acting because of a negative belief you have about yourself, try to take a step back and focus on your awareness of that belief. Are you making a genuine and honest assessment of your capabilities, or are you accepting something without questioning it?
- Challenge them. Don’t let negative thoughts fester. Once you’ve recognized a negative thought, try to approach it objectively and replace it with a more positive thought. Look for evidence that runs contrary to your self-limiting beliefs and take note. You’re more capable than you give yourself credit for!
- Turn it around. Beliefs based on evidence are much more durable than those we simply acquire. Once you’ve changed your self-limiting beliefs, keep showing yourself your own capabilities. Try new things and celebrate your successes, no matter how small. With time and practice, you’ll replace your negative beliefs with more positive ones.
Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
Research shows that mindfulness and relaxation training are powerful therapeutic exercises that can help improve your mental health. In fact, meditation can help individuals sleep better, cope with symptoms associated with mental health conditions, and even improve some functions related to cognition and behavior. Relaxation training can also improve your relationships, help you cope with challenging situations, and gain insights into your mental health.
By allowing your mind and body to be still, meditation helps you stay centered and avoid stressing over things that aren’t within your control. To start practicing meditation, set aside some time once a day to sit somewhere quietly, without any distractions, and focus on the present moment. Depending on your preferences, you might meditate on the floor in your bedroom, outside on the patio, or on an empty chair in a dark room—it’s all about finding a safe environment where you feel comfortable.
Instead of thinking about what you “should” be doing, spend some time relaxing your mind and sitting peacefully still. Try to welcome any thoughts that come into your mind, but don’t spend too long on them. You don’t need to unpack them or over-analyze them. Instead, allow them to float past you. As time goes on, you’ll be able to calm your mind and sit in peace without ruminating on stressors.
Build Your Social Support Network
Often, the best way to calm your mind is by sharing your problems. By talking through your challenges and concerns with a trusted friend or family member, you’ll find a quick source of emotional support and stress relief. Why not schedule a phone call with a family member or close friend and spend some time addressing any built-up feelings?
Although talking to your friends and family members about your mental health concerns can help you feel better, it’s important to remember that they’re not mental health professionals. Even though they can provide helpful advice, it’s no substitute for psychotherapy. By working with a licensed therapist, psychologist, or counselor, you’ll learn healthy therapy techniques that you can use in everyday life.
Talk therapy isn’t about complaining endlessly—it’s about helping you find the strength to navigate difficult situations and manage your mental health, whether you’re living with traumatic stress, specific mental health conditions, or high stress levels. Throughout the therapeutic process, you’ll work with your therapist to reflect on your life and overcome destructive patterns of behavior and thinking. And if in-person therapy isn’t your scene, you can still improve your mental health with online therapy sessions.
Of course, the success of your mental health treatment depends on your therapeutic relationship, or the relationship between you and your mental health professional. Whether you’re seeking therapy for substance abuse, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness, it’s essential to take your time to find the right therapist.