The stigma surrounding mental health has been getting weaker over the last several years. If there was one “positive” thing to come out of the pandemic, it was that mental health and self-care were brought to the forefront for many people.
Granted, much of that was out of necessity. We don’t yet know the full scope of how the pandemic will impact people’s mental health on a long-term basis. But, early research has already shown that people experienced higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression throughout lockdown.
Because of that, more people have been making mental health a priority. That includes everything from going to therapy (or teletherapy) to making positive lifestyle changes.
However, not everyone can make major leaps in their mental health care. Sometimes, something as simple as getting out of bed to take a shower can feel overwhelming when you’re trapped with anxiety or depression.
Thankfully, you don’t have to dive in head-first. There are small steps you can take every day to improve your mental health at your own pace. The smallest things can end up making a big difference.
If you’re not sure how to get started, we’ve got a few suggestions that can help.
Spend Time Outside
According to the American Psychological Association, spending time in nature can greatly improve your mental well-being. Some of the benefits include:
- Increased happiness
- Reduced stress
- Better concentration and memory
- Greater self-esteem
Being outside can also alleviate the symptoms commonly associated with stress and depression. You’ll naturally get a boost of Vitamin D from the sun, and if you decide to get active while outdoors, you’ll enjoy a spike in serotonin, too.
The best part about getting outside is that there are countless ways to do it. Head to a local park with your dog or have a picnic with someone you love. Go on a weekend camping trip or an afternoon hike.
You can even create your own personal backyard oasis at home. Putting together an outdoor living area will give you a safe, relaxing space to turn to whenever you’re feeling stressed or anxious. You can include things like outdoor sofas, hammocks or swing chairs, and a fire pit for s’mores nights with the family. Think about some of the things you love most about being outdoors, and include them in your space. Stepping outside is a great way to give yourself a much-needed break, and it’s scientifically proven to give your mental health a boost.
You’ve probably heard about mindfulness at some point over the last few years. It’s become something of a buzzword, but there are good reasons for that!
Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the present. It’s closely linked to meditation since you tend to focus on your breathing and how your body feels in the given moment. You don’t need to do any special chants or spend hours of your day practicing. A few minutes of mindfulness each day – especially when you’re overwhelmed – can help to calm your anxiety or worries and put you in a better mood.
The practice of mindfulness will take some getting used to. It’s not easy to sit still with your own thoughts, but the point is to let those thoughts pass by like clouds you can’t hold onto.
You can make things easier on yourself by setting up a relaxing, non-distracting environment. Pick a place in your home where you feel comfortable, and turn it into your mindfulness/meditation area. Consider bringing nature inside with a few house plants. They can improve the air, reduce stress, and help you to stay more focused as you clear your mind and focus on staying present.
Be a Healthier Human
Self-care has taken on many forms throughout this pandemic, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But, some people seem to think self-care consists of lavish trips across the world or buying expensive things.
In reality, self-care is about, quite literally, taking care of yourself. Getting enough exercise each day and eating a healthy diet can make a big difference in your mental health. You’ve probably heard about “stress eating” or the stereotypes of digging into a pint of ice cream when you’re depressed. Unfortunately, those choices will only serve to make your mental state worse. If you want to know what to include in your diet for better mental health, consider foods like:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Cold-water seafood
Make sure you drink plenty of water each day, too. If your body becomes dehydrated, it’s easy to feel fatigued, which can exacerbate symptoms of certain mental health conditions.
When it comes to exercising, you don’t need to go out and run a marathon. Even a ten-minute walk each day will be better for you than not doing anything. Exercising gives you a chance to boost your self-esteem and the opportunity to reflect on your fears and where they might be coming from.
Managing your mental health shouldn’t be overwhelming. Keep these small steps in mind to start putting them into practice, and you can hardness your mental well-being instead of letting it completely control you.