This year has truly impacted everyone's mental health in every aspect. People of color may have found themselves stressed or discouraged in light of social and racial issues in the United States. Americans have found themselves anxious about the pandemic, the election, and financial uncertainties. So, here are eight ways to improve your mental health and furthermore, your lifestyle amidst this year's struggles.
1. Stay active.
Exercise has many benefits attributed to mental health including reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood while also improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Increased energy and stamina, reduced tiredness, and an increase in mental alertness are also some mental health benefits.
For example, schizophrenia patients who participated in a three-month physical conditioning program showed improvements in weight control, reduced blood pressure, and increased perceived energy levels.
You don't need to run a marathon to feel the benefits of exercise. Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise is sufficient for these health benefits. These 30 minutes don't need to be continuous, either, meaning three 10-minute walks are equally useful as one 30-minute walk!
2. Talk about your feelings.
Many people view talking about your feelings as a sign of weakness, but talking about your feelings and having someone actively listen to them can improve your mental health. Having an empathic listener can make you feel supported and less alone, and perhaps by opening up the person you are talking to will do the same.
Whether you're talking to a therapist, a close friend, a family member, or just journaling, talking to someone you trust can be a step toward having a healthier mind.
3. Eat well.
Maybe you don't want to exercise as much; I get that. According to Dr. Cora, a board-certified psychiatrist, sticking to a diet of healthy food can help set yourself up for fewer mood fluctuations, an overall happier outlook, and an improved ability to focus. Furthermore, unhealthy diets have been linked to an increased risk of dementia or stroke.
A diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oily fish, dairy products, whole grain bread, and plenty of water can benefit your mental health by making you feel better and healthier. You are what you eat, and if you try eating healthy foods, perhaps you'll have a healthier mind!
4. Take a break.
As we continue through the holidays and finals season, taking a break by a change of scene or a change of pace can be great for your mental health. From a 15-minute break from being with your family to a 30-minute break from studying for exams, taking a break can give you time to de-stress and refocus.
A key to this tip is listening to your body. If you're feeling hungry, maybe taking a snack break would be best. If you're stressed, go for some yoga or mediation. My personal favorite yoga instructor is Yoga With Adriene, who focuses on mediation and mindfulness as well. If you're feeling tired, try taking a nap. Without a good amount of sleep, our mental health can suffer and our concentration especially can go downhill fast.
5. Ask for help.
Outside of talking to those you trust, there are many local services that are also able to give you the help you might need. Examples of these services include joining a support group to help make beneficial changes to your life, finding a counselor to help you make a new start, or visiting a Citizens Advice Bureau if you need advice on debt.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline handles many crises, not just serious ones. The Trevor Project's LGBTQ-focused helpline is also beneficial, as well as the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses' hotline, and the National Sexual Assault Hotline.
Mental health continues to have a strong stigma attached to it worldwide, so it's understandable if you're feeling nervous or scared to reach out. By asking for help, you're already taking a big step of significant courage and bravery.
6. Do something you're good at.
Enjoying yourself can be a key part of beating stress and boosting your self-esteem. Concentrating on one of your favorite activities such as jogging or playing board games can help you forget your worries and change your mood for the better.
Participating in something creative like drawing or painting can help you express yourself creatively. Doing something active and social such as rock climbing or playing football with friends gets you both active (Tip #1!) and gives you the opportunity to meet new people.
7. Care for others.
With the skills mentioned above, perhaps volunteering for a local charity or organization might be for you! Helping others can make us feel needed and valued. Helping your loved ones or caring for a pet can improve your mental health too. Volunteering can help us see the world differently and therefore put our own problems in perspective.
Taking care of a pet more specifically can bring structure to your day and benefit your social life as many fellow dog walkers tend to chat. My personal favorite volunteering activity is working with puppies who are training to be service dogs at my college.
8. Keep in touch.
Strong family ties and supportive friends can help you through many aspects of life and help you develop a healthy mindset. They can help you feel included and cared for, as well as keeping you grounded and provide help in solving practical problems.
Giving someone a call or shooting a quick text will keep lines of communication open and build these relationships further. If you have been feeling distanced from your loved ones during COVID-19, maybe reaching out with a phone call could build your relationship up again.
Conversely, if you think someone is damaging your mental health, it would be beneficial to take a break from them or even end the relationship if it feels that bad.
Whether you're feeling stressed from feeling cramped in your home during quarantine or feeling tired from studying for exams, there's something for everyone in relation to having better mental health.