According to the World Health Organization “mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.”
Here are a few small but mighty hacks to improve your mental health.
1. Open up and depend on others more emotionally, sharing vulnerable feelings, like sadness or fear or loneliness.
2. Check in with others regularly. Having connections, even sending or receiving ￼a simple text or a good morning, has been shown to improve mood and decrease anxiety.
3. A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. It could be a five-minute pause from virtual learning or zoom office meetings to stretch, a half-hour lunch break at work, or a weekend exploring somewhere new. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you. Give yourself some ‘me time’.
4. Do something you’re good at. What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? Enjoying yourself can help beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it, and achieving something boosts your self-esteem.
5. Helping others. Volunteering, helping an elder or neighbor, even taking the time to help a friend with tech support, pet sitting, or picking up groceries: caring for others boosts our mood, a win-win.
6. Emotional eating, in a good way. Boost brainpower by treating yourself to a couple pieces of dark chocolate every few days. The flavanoids, caffeine, and theobromine in chocolate are thought to work together to improve alertness and mental skills. Marine based omega-3 foods are also great for mood, attention, and alertness.
7. Spend some time with a furry friend. Time with animals lowers the stress hormone – cortisol, and boosts oxytocin – which stimulates feelings of happiness.
8. Set your morning foundations. Meditate, yoga, work out, check in with loved ones, check your to do list, pray, read. It creates the tone for the rest of the day.￼
9. Let it all out…on paper. Writing about upsetting experiences can reduce symptoms of depression. The psychologist James Pennebaker did a series of elegant studies that found that writing stream of consciousness in a journal even 10 minute a day, reduced acute symptoms of depression commensurate with taking an antidepressant.
10. ￼ Relax in a warm bath once a week. Try adding Epsom salts to help soothe aches and pains and help boost magnesium levels, which can be depleted by stress. Taking a hot shower or a warm bath before bedtime, followed by the cooling of the body, actually mimics REM sleep, during which time your body temperature drops and creates a sense of relaxation.￼
11. Take time to laugh. Hang out with a funny friend, watch a comedy, or check out cute animal videos online. Laughter helps reduce anxiety.
12. Go off the grid. Leave your cell phone at home for a day and disconnect from constant emails, alerts, and other interruptions. Spend time doing something fun with someone face-to-face or alone time.
13. Take 30 minutes to go for a walk in nature – it could be a stroll through a park, or a hike in the woods. Research shows that being in nature can increase energy levels, reduce depression and boost well-being. Sunlight synthesizes vitamin D which is not naturally stored in the body. When it is depleted, it can contribute to feelings of depression.
14. Practice planning. ￼ Try meal prepping or picking out your clothes for the work week. You’ll save some time in the mornings and have a sense of control about the week ahead. ￼
15. Organize. I have my clients keep a master day planner, not just Google Reminders and calendars. Using different colored pens, ￼account for all of your activities: work, academic, social, medical, family, recreation, and self care. Having it all in one place is powerful, and a reminder to be mindful to all different aspects of life.￼￼
16. Practice my clinical strategy, stones across the river. Pay mindful attention￼ to the small things that happen every day that can bring moments of satisfaction or joy. When they are strung together, they provide a path that doesn’t seem obvious at first, but can ford the rapids.