Mental health fluctuates in everybody, just as physical fitness does. Most people show some mental disorder symptoms under stress at some time or other. Want to keep in good mental health? Then remember it depends almost entirely on yourself. Here is a step-by-step plan toward a way out of anxiety and tension.

More than 30 percent of the hospital beds are occupied by victims of mental illness. Of the others, many physical ailments such as heart disease, asthma, strokes, diabetes are suspected often of having stress as a contributory cause.

These outside factors can be lessened. How? Start using this 11-step plan and you will be on the right road to preserving mental health.

Step 1: Picture yourself

Picture yourself exactly as you want to be – a healthy, happy, useful person in a harmonious circle of family, friends, and community.

Step 2: Off to the doctor

Tell him you are showing neurotic symptoms – get a physical check-up. Often we are half-worried about some lump or pain, and yet have not asked about it, for fear of ridicule.

Make a list of every physical and nervous symptom, however trivial, and ask. Sometimes unsuspected physical trouble saps our energy and nerves. If anything like this is discovered, half the battle is won.

Suppose you’re in perfect physical shape and all your worries were groundless, all that is lost is a load of fear, some pride, and a little money. It gives a lift to know you’re in good physical health.

Step 3: Take a holiday

Much advice given to help relieve the blues, seems to involve heavy spending of two scarce resources, energy and money. Take a holiday, get a new hairdo, hat, hobby, job, and so on.

Poverty is recognized as a fertile breeding ground for neuroses, but financial management on the average income also involves considerable tension.

The following suggestions have been selected and proved by experience to require the minimum of effort and expense for a maximum result.

If you cannot afford a holiday to escape dailiness, try the NERP idea. NERP stood for New Everyday Routine Plan. Each day you think of as many minor changes in routine as possible.

  • Walking a different route to work;
  • Having a shower instead of a bath;
  • Watching a different type of play;
  • Changing round the furniture.

While there is no guarantee if you follow the NERP system, it does stimulate and enliven the personality, so that for very little extra effort you may relieve the blues.

Step 4: Have faith

Human beings everywhere have found the greatest single aid to mental health is faith. If you come to believe in someone or something bigger than yourself, and outside yourself, it will lift your emotional level above the petty irritants.

Step 5: Fight off depression

We wake up and worry over any of a dozen ills, chronic ill-health, financial trouble, and so on. Often we combine a feeling of guilt with our sorrows: “If only I’d done this or been more kind it might not have happened!

This type of thinking feeds depression. But how to occupy our minds enough to chase gloom away, yet not so much as to discourage sleep. Some well-proven methods are:

  • Think out a story unrelated to your worry.
  • Picture the most beautiful scene you have ever set eyes on. Describe it minutely. Then imagine another more beautiful one. Describe it in detail. Use all senses to imagine with. Sounds, smells, touch, even perhaps the taste of fruit on a tree. This game carries a bonus. Each day you will find yourself on the lookout for beautiful scenes to describe at night.
  • This game is somewhat similar. Think of any object, e.g., a horse. Think of how the word impresses your different senses, and in what order the sight, sound, smell, feel of a horse comes to mind.
  • Take an imaginary trip around the world.
  • Think of a proverb. Then think of a proverb which contains the opposite thought, e.g., “Look before you leap,” and “He who hesitates is lost.”

Step 6: Think more of others

Often when undergoing severe stress, your relationship with other people suffers. Each self-centered entity progressively became more tightly wrapped in itself, growing smaller, and drifting away into darkness.

During times of strain, it is easy to think others are distant and cold just at the time we need them most. This is often because we ourselves become less outgoing, easygoing, and affectionate at such times.

Don’t allow an unkind thought of anyone to lodge in your mind. Chase it away immediately by a vivid mental picture of a good point of the person concerned.

As a lifelong habit, cultivate the old “Threefold Rule of Tongue.” Before you express an opinion of anyone, think: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? And only if the opinion passes these rules should it pass your tongue.

However, if you still feel mean about someone, even though you say nothing, try this: Picture yourself as that person – living with all his problems.

See the situation which made you sore, from his point of view. The Red Indians have a saying “Judge no man until you have walked in his moccasins for two weeks.

Step 7: Start something new

Learning any new skill, and especially using it to help others, satisfies our need for achievement and recognition.

If you are pretty much shut-in, looking after small children or an invalid, learn to phone visit. A call daily, or even twice-weekly to a different friend or relative demands little effort or money, and gives joy to both parties.

Keeping up a regular letter-writing habit, preferably with two people, gives a lift.

Step 8: Go to bed worry-free

Experts say that the time immediately before bed and on waking should be as pleasant as possible.

Many find that reading a psalm each night just before turning out the light induces a hopeful, serene frame of mind for sleep. Certainly don’t look at your bills, or you’ll go to sleep troubled.

The TV news after a pleasant dinner is often disturbing and depressing. The woes of the entire world, fears of war, murders, horrible accidents, are not just blasted into our ears as in wireless days, but the camera now takes us right into the heart of many a tragic disaster.

If you are in a depressed state of mind, it is often helpful to skip the news for a few nights.

On waking, our attitude to the whole day can often be influenced for the better if we spend a few moments thinking of a pleasant feature of the day.

If the sun is streaming into the room it is not hard to visualize a happy day. Otherwise plan something pleasant to do, such as seeing a friend or cooking a favorite recipe.

Step 9: Don’t take on too much

Use foresight to avoid situations which are sure to overtax your nervous system. Steer clear of the long engagement; the double mortgage; combining a job with a university course plus building a home all in one hit.

Be as careful in the selection of your reading matter as you are of what you eat. Some books are mental poison. Good whodunits, travel, humor, and adventure usually have a wholesome influence.

Step 10: Practice laughing

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine. Try to imagine your next nerve-racking situation as a sketch on TV. This often saves the day. Get into the habit of looking for the funny side in every happening.

Step 11: Try a safety-valve

Circumstances can force us into long-term trying situations. If this happens, make it an inflexible rule to have one hour a day to spend just as you please.

An old-fashioned recharger of mental batteries is coming back into fashion. It is the quiet time. Half an hour, preferably near the beginning of each day, is set aside for prayer or meditation.

Taking these 11 steps may be difficult for about a week. After that time they’ll be a habit. And you’ll have a happier, better-balanced personality.