With the increasing challenges of modern life, it is more important than ever to nurture your mental health. Friends, family, and your health care providers can be valuable sources of emotional support, but you can also take simple steps at home each day to uplift your mood and find a sense of calm.
If you find yourself struggling with anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, or any other mental health condition, know that you are not alone and that you will get through it. Even if you feel fatigued or down, try to start small by incorporating one of the suggestions below into your day as much as possible, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. In doing so, you may find a new outlet for your energy, and it may turn out to be a valuable tool for promoting your wellness and recovery.
Originally used by religious communities in order to better understand sacred mysteries, meditation is used today as an aid for the reduction of stress and as a way to find inner peace. It can be practiced privately or in groups, and some participants find it useful to perform guided meditations with an app.
Some of the most popular types of meditation include mindfulness meditation, guided meditation, chakra meditation, and loving-kindness meditation. All types of meditation aim to quiet the mind and help individuals release stress. Deep breathing, mantras, and even gentle stretches such as those in yoga or tai chi can be integrated into any meditation practice.
A growing body of medical and psychological research suggests that meditation has long-lasting benefits that may lead to improved long-term mental health. Some of these potential benefits include increased self-awareness, the development of an ability to focus more on the present than on the past or the future, a decrease in negative emotions, the attainment of a new perspective on a difficult situation, and increased patience. Further research suggests that meditation can be particularly effective in the management of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and high blood pressure.
While meditation is generally considered safe, it should be used only in conjunction with conventional medical or psychiatric care, not in place of it. Persons with pre-existing health conditions of any kind should discuss the use of meditation with their health care provider, and they should let their meditation teacher know about any health conditions they may have.
Cut Back on Social Media Use
Social media allows users to keep in touch with friends and family around the globe, and it can be a tool for positive growth if used carefully. However, a number of studies have linked long hours on social media with an increase in anxiety and depression. This correlation was found across several major social media networks, and it has been observed in multiple age groups.
In addition, research points to decreased self-esteem among long-term social media users. Other studies have suggested that cutting down on or even taking a break from it for a few weeks may help social media users reduce the symptoms of depression and feel less lonely. Scientists suggest that 10 minutes per day is a safe limit for social media use.
Take a Walk
Physical exercise like walking releases endorphins that help elevate mood, and exercise has been shown to be as effective as medication for the treatment of mild depression in some patients. Experts suggest aiming for 30 minutes of exercise per day. While walking outdoors may be especially soothing, walking at a gym may be more feasible during periods of particularly cold or hot weather.
To get started with walking or another form of exercise, visit your physician first to have a checkup and make sure that exercise is safe for you. If you prefer to exercise with others, you may wish to consider joining a walking club or participating in a gym class. If you have a pet, consider him or her as a walking buddy.
Listen to Music
Listening to music allows you to take a mental break from daily stressors. Research shows that listening to slow classical music is particularly effective in the reduction of stress, and it can help individuals explore their emotions.
Music therapists recommend making a playlist of music that you enjoy, even if it’s not classical music. Start your playlist with songs that are familiar to you, perhaps those that remind you of happy times in your life. Then, intersperse new songs, including some without words, to which you relate and which you feel express your feelings.
Read a Book
While many of us are bombarded with emails and news updates throughout the day, reading for pleasure can rapidly reduce stress. In fact, a study from the University of Sussex found that reading something pleasant lowers stress by as much as 68 percent. Researchers concluded that it takes as little as six minutes for the stress-reducing properties that come with reading for pleasure to be felt.
To maximize the stress-reducing effect of reading, scientists suggest reading anything that you enjoy, including magazines, novels, short stories, or plays. In selecting your reading material, choose a subject that interests you, and avoid anything that might be potentially upsetting. For example, experts advise avoiding daily news stories.
Grow a Garden
Starting and tending to a garden combines several natural stress relievers. It enables participants to get outside in nature, encourages them to exercise, and gives them a sense of accomplishment as their seeds blossom into beautiful vegetables or flowers. It can also reduce isolation by allowing individuals to connect with other gardeners.
A recent study on gardening and stress relief required participants to engage in a stressful activity, and this was then followed by 30 minutes of gardening or another activity. The results demonstrated that 30 minutes of gardening enabled participants to significantly reduce their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. The gardeners were also able to completely restore the positive mindset that they had prior to being exposed to the stressful task in the experiment.
A Norwegian study also demonstrated that gardening for six hours a week substantially reduced depression symptoms in patients with bipolar II disorder, depression, and persistent low mood. The researchers documented that this reduction in depressive symptoms was maintained for three months after the end of the research period.
Bake a Cake
Baking a cake or any other homemade bread or baked goods can help increase mental wellness and promote a greater sense of balance. The act of baking centers the mind and helps individuals focus on the present moment. Bakers often feel a sense of joy at seeing their finished goods, and the activity can be tailored to all interests and to the amount of time one has available. Trying new recipes can increase one’s imagination and sense of creativity, and this can elevate mood.
Individuals who cope with anxiety may find that the structure of baking and the precision of the measurements give them a sense of control, and this can help their recovery. If you’d like to try baking for its mental health benefits, you might wish to start by making a familiar recipe or one that has particular sentimental value for you. You may also enjoy finding recipe inspiration from online blogs or cookbooks, and joining a cooking or baking class can enable you to share your baking interests with others while socializing and learning new skills.
Talk It Out
Having a support network of some sort is very beneficial in the maintenance of mental wellness. Isolation has been shown to have harmful effects on mental health, often leading to depression, cognitive decline, and even hallucinations. Experts believe that having some kind of social connection is vital for a sense of balance.
To increase your sense of belonging and connection with others, try to communicate with at least one person each day, ideally in person. If you live alone, you might try to speak to a neighbor while on a morning walk, or you could consider volunteering your time at a local charity or club to increase your interaction with others. Nurture family connections, and try to make time to develop new friendships, too.
While friends and family are important sources of support, talking to a therapist can often provide valuable insight and help individuals learn healthy stress management techniques to overcome challenges in their lives. Therapists are trained to provide a non-judgmental atmosphere where clients can feel safe sharing their thoughts and experiences. They can help individuals modify their thought processes and heal from anxiety and other painful experiences. Individuals who do not have health insurance may be able to get reduced or no-cost therapy at a university counseling center, and they may also wish to try online counseling.
Get a Pet
Having a pet is associated with improved mental wellness. The companionship provided by a pet enables individuals to feel needed and valued, and this can reduce rates of depression. It also fills the day with a sense of purpose and structure, both of which are linked to mental well-being.
Studies have shown that having a pet gives people a stronger sense of identity and self-worth while providing existential meaning for their lives. Additionally, pet ownership provides individuals with a sense of stability and continuity, which are both vital in the management of mental health conditions.
If you are hoping to adopt a pet, you might consider adopting a rescue animal from your local animal shelter or humane society. If you are in an area or home where you cannot have large pets, consider adopting a small animal such as a guinea pig, hamster, or fish. These animals can provide companionship and benefit mental health in the same ways as larger animals. If adopting a pet is out of reach, you could consider temporarily fostering an animal or volunteering to walk or care for animals at a local pet facility. Cat cafes provide an opportunity to visit and spend quality time with cats in your area, too. People who enjoy dogs might wish to volunteer as a dog walker.
Start a Gratitude Journal
Keeping a gratitude (or gratefulness) journal can help individuals shift to a healthier, more optimistic mindset over time. Gratitude has been shown in multiple studies to increase feelings of happiness while reducing feelings of jealousy and symptoms of depression. Keeping a gratitude journal can also increase an individual’s sense of empathy for others, and it reduces aggression. Additionally, research suggests that the practice increases feelings of self-esteem, builds resilience, and helps individuals reduce the amount of social comparison that they do.
Keeping a gratitude journal is a simple activity that can be done through an online journal or a paper one. To begin, you list three to five things for which you are grateful that day or week. For maximum benefit, experts suggest writing in a gratitude journal once a week rather than every day. Where possible, writers should aim to keep each item on the list to one sentence, and they should try to make it as meaningful as possible. For example, a gratitude journal can be especially useful when participants focus on the gratitude they have for the people in their lives, and experts encourage writers to focus on the blessing of people rather than things. It can also be beneficial to write about surprises instead of routine events.
Integrating these tips into your routine can take time, so try to start with the one that you think will bring you the most joy. Most of all, remember to be kind to yourself, take your time, and always reach out for help from friends, family, and health care professionals. While the suggestions above can make a positive difference in your life and mental wellness, they are not a substitute for proper medical and psychiatric evaluations and treatment; they are to be used as adjunct therapies only. Always consult with a trusted health care provider for any concerns related to your physical or mental health.