How to stay mentally healthy

How to stay mentally healthy

If watching the recent news unfold has left you lying awake at night, you’re not alone. On average, more than three quarters of adults have experienced stress symptoms such as headaches and sleep disruption, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). 

“Humans like control and like being in charge,” says licensed clinical health psychologist Dr. Robyn Pashby, PhD, founder of DC Health Psychology, a counselling practice in Bethesda, Maryland. “In times like these, stress is primarily driven by lack of control, lack of predictability, and fear of harm or danger to oneself or loved ones.” 

Sound familiar? While it’s impossible to control much of what you see in the news, employing self-care techniques that make you feel grounded and connected can protect your mental health in spite of the current climate. 

If anxiety is seriously impacting your daily life (i.e., you wake up not wanting to get out of bed), a mental healthcare visit should be on your agenda. Otherwise, these coping strategies can help you mind your mental health:

Expert tips for staying mentally healthy 

1. Prioritize sleep hygiene

The average adult needs about seven to nine hours of sleep per night. But stress and anxiety can make it difficult to clock that much let alone get good quality rest, Dr. Pashby explains. The thing is, poor sleep doesn’t just leave you with droopy eyelids—it can contribute to mood dips and heightened anxiety. What’s more, skipping zzz's can mess with your insulin sensitivity in a way that increases your appetite, according to a review article in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep.

To outsmart stress and get ample shut-eye, try to: 

  • Develop a restful and relaxing bedtime ritual such as shutting your laptop and stowing your phone out of reach, turning off the news, and taking a bath or stretching.
  • Get into bed at the same time every night. Not sleepy? Only then should you get out of bed and read a book or magazine until you begin to feel tired. To that point: Swiping through your phone isn’t the same as turning pages since the blue light that emanates from your device may suppress melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep/wake cycles, and keep your brain on high alert.
  • Avoid excessive caffeine consumption. Typically, it takes four to six hours for your body to metabolize half of the caffeine you’ve consumed. So if you drink a cup of coffee at 3 p.m., you may still feel remnants of the buzz around 9 p.m.
  • Opt for non-alcoholic beverages. While alcoholic beverages may initially make you sleepy, having even one drink in the evening may affect your second and most important stage of sleep, leading to sleep disruptions throughout the night, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 
  • Expose yourself to bright sunlight first thing in the morning. Natural sunlight supports your natural circadian rhythm, or internal clock that regulates your sleep/wake cycles. Research suggests that exposure to daylight can also improve the duration and quality of sleep.
  • Get out of bed at the same time every day. Even if you didn’t sleep too well the night before, maintaining a consistent wake-up time and resisting naps over 30 minutes helps your body develop and stick to a natural sleep schedule.  

2. Maintain your regular routines

When things feel unpredictable and out of your control, your body may produce an abundance of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Over the course of weeks or months, a chronic surge can heighten your risk of depression, heart disease, and obesity. However, sticking to a typical schedule, i.e., eating lunch at the same time every day rather than grazing all day when you’re working from home, can help you feel more in control and rein in hormonal fluctuations, Dr. Pashby says.  

3. Amp up your physical activity

Exercise can help reduce stress—one reason why it’s smart to follow the CDC’s guidelines and get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 weekly minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity every week. Because spending 20 to 30 minutes out in nature may help lower cortisol levels, taking your exercise outside can deliver a double-whammy. 

4. Reframe self talk

Stressors can trigger negative thoughts (i.e., “I can’t handle this” or “I feel out of control”) that reinforce pessimistic beliefs and attitudes, according to the American Psychological Association. To reverse the effects, Dr. Pashby recommends taking four to five deep breaths and then reframing those thoughts to feel less catastrophic (i.e., “I’m feeling very anxious about what is going on around me, but I am taking as many precautions as I can to keep me and my family safe.”). 

It can also be helpful to give yourself a personalized reality check when negative thoughts around food and eating arise. If you’ve noticed yourself thinking “There’s no way I can stay on track when I’m cooped up at home,” or “I might as well eat anything, who knows when this will end!", imagine what you would say to a friend or a fellow WW member if they said this to you. Use that response to help you form a new thought that’s more likely to keep you on track. 

5. Avoid emotional isolation

Interacting with other people—whether it’s a phone call, video chat, or text message—can ease the symptoms of stress and to help you cope, according to a small 2015 study of 77 healthy adults published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science. Can’t fight the urge to hole up by yourself? Think of others: Reaching out to neighbors or elderly friends with an offer to prepare a meal, pick up a prescription, or walk a dog can help you feel more in control—and helpful, Dr. Pashby says. Goodbye, stress!  

6. Side-step stress-eating

While digging into a pint of ice cream or another treat that’s high in fat and sugar may temporarily distract you from stress, indulging won’t stomp out the source of it, says public health consultant, certified health coach, and yoga instructor Allison Rose, MHS. Before you reach for a handful of chips or a second serving of lunch, ask yourself: Is your stomach really grumbling, or are feelings fueling your appetite? If you’re dealing with complicated emotions rather than actual hunger, calling a friend, going for a walk, or doing another non-eating activity may help you feel even better than a pint-sized, sugar-laden pick-me-up.


31 Tips To Boost Your Mental Health

1. Track gratitude and achievement with a journal. Include 3 things you were grateful for and 3 things you were able to accomplish each day. 

2. Start your day with a cup of co­ffee. Coff­ee consumption is linked to lower rates of depression. If you can’t drink coff­ee because of the caff­eine, try another good-for-you drink like green tea.  

3. Set up a getaway. It could be camping with friends or a trip to the tropics. The act of planning a vacation and having something to look forward to can boost your overall happiness for up to 8 weeks! 

4, Work your strengths. Do something you're good at to build self-confidence, then tackle a tougher task.  

5. Keep it cool for a good night's sleep. The optimal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. 

6. "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." - Martin Luther King, Jr. Think of something in your life you want to improve, and figure out what you can do to take a step in the right direction. 

7. Experiment with a new recipe, write a poem, paint or try a Pinterest project. Creative expression and overall well-being are linked. 

8. Show some love to someone in your life. Close, quality, relationships are key for a happy, healthy life. 

9. 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. 

10. There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.  -Maya Angelou. If you have personal experience with mental illness or recovery, share on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr with #mentalillnessfeelslike. 

11. Sometimes, we don't need to add new activities to get more pleasure. We just need to soak up the joy in the ones we've already got. Trying to be optimistic doesn't mean ignoring the uglier sides of life. It just means focusing on the positive as much as possible. 

12. Feeling anxious?  Take a trip down memory lane and do some coloring for about 20 minutes to help you clear your mind. Pick a design that's geometric and a little complicated for the best effect.  

13. Take time to laugh. Hang out with a funny friend, watch a comedy or check out cute videos online. Laughter helps reduce anxiety. 

14. Go off the grid. Leave your smart 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. 

15. Dance around while you do your housework. Not only will you get chores done, but dancing reduces levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), and increases endorphins (the body's "feel-good" chemicals). 

16. Go ahead and yawn. Studies suggest that yawning helps cool the brain and improves alertness and mental efficiency. 

17. Relax in a warm bath once a week. Try adding Epsom salts to soothe aches and pains and help boost magnesium levels, which can be depleted by stress. 

18. Has something been bothering you? Let it all out…on paper. Writing about upsetting experiences can reduce symptoms of depression. 

19. Spend some time with a furry friend. Time with animals lowers the stress hormone - cortisol, and boosts oxytocin - which stimulates feelings of happiness. If you don’t have a pet, hang out with a friend who does or volunteer at a shelter. 

20. “What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when you bring what is within out into the world, miracles happen.” - Henry David Thoreau. Practice mindfulness by staying "in the present."   

21. Be a tourist in your own town. Often times people only explore attractions on trips, but you may be surprised what cool things are in your own backyard. 

22. Try prepping your lunches 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. 

23. Work some omega-3 fatty acids into your diet–they are linked to decreased rates of depression and schizophrenia among their many benefits. Fish oil supplements work, but eating your omega-3s in foods like wild salmon, flaxseeds or walnuts also helps build healthy gut bacteria. 

24. Practice forgiveness - even if it's just forgiving that person who cut you off during your commute. People who forgive have better mental health and report being more satisfied with their lives. 

25. "What appear to be calamities are often the sources of fortune." - Disraeli. Try to find the silver lining in something kind of cruddy that happened recently. 

26. Feeling stressed? Smile. It may not be the easiest thing to do, but smiling can help to lower your heart rate and calm you down. 

27. Send a thank you note - not for a material item, but to let someone know why you appreciate them. Written expressions of gratitude are linked to increased happiness. 

28. Do something with friends and family - have a cookout, go to a park, or play a game. People are 12 times more likely to feel happy on days that they spend 6-7 hours with friends and family. 

29. 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. 

30. Do your best to enjoy 15 minutes of sunshine, and apply sunscreen. Sunlight synthesizes Vitamin D, which experts believe is a mood elevator. 

31. "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." -Albert Einstein. Try something outside of your comfort zone to make room for adventure and excitement in your life.