None of us are strangers to stress and anxiety, but 2020 has proven especially challenging to our mental health. Between a global pandemic and an election year, it’s no wonder why we’re struggling.
In times like these, it’s important to invest in your mental health. While reaching out to a professional is never a bad idea, most garden-variety issues can be addressed with lifestyle changes.
There’s a surprising amount you can do at home to improve your headspace. Here’s where to start:
1. Get outdoors every day
Outdoor physical activity is a great way to de-stress. Not only is exercise helpful for mental health, but time in nature is associated with greater wellbeing.
If you’re not exactly an Olympic athlete, try bicycling. Consider an electric cruiser bike to help you climb the hills until you’ve built up some leg strength. The uniform, repetitive movement of cycling has a relaxing effect on the brain, stabilizing both physical and mental health.
2. Find your creative outlet
If you’re getting outside and cycling, you’ve checked the physical hobby off your list. But balance is key: You need a creative outlet.
Creative hobbies are all about doing something you love, which is a great way to bolster your mental health. If you’re not sure what you like, try out a few activities to see what you find the most relaxing.
Try writing, knitting, woodworking, or playing an instrument. Adult coloring books can also relax your brain and help you de-stress. If you can do so while social distancing, invite a friend over to engage in a creative hobby together.
3. Invest in essential oils
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to improve your mood, mental state, or health. Made from plant parts like roots, seeds, leaves, and blossoms, these compounds are proven to fight depression.
As with creative outlets, experiment until you find a scent that speaks to you. Lavender, peppermint, and chamomile are some of the most popular scents for relaxation and mood improvement. Other popular essential oils include sandalwood, citrus, sage, rose, bergamot, and jasmine.
4. Download a mental health app
While therapy is a great mental health solution for some, it’s not necessary for everyone. In fact, trying to find the right doctor, scheduling an appointment, and making time to go to those sessions regularly may even add to your stress.
Instead, try a self-guided alternative: a mental health app. By letting you move at your own pace and keeping your information confidential, these apps can cut your stress down to size.
Here, it’s important to find an app that’s grounded in psychiatric principles. Look for one based on cognitive behavioral therapy. This non-pharmaceutical approach helps you reframe negative thoughts into healthier alternatives, use breathing techniques for relaxation, and more.
5. Make changes to your home
There are many factors that affect a person’s well-being and mental health, and one of those factors is your environment. Making simple changes to your living space can have a significant impact on your mental health.
In 2020, this is more important than ever. You may be working from home due to the Covid-19 crisis, or simply going out less than you once did.
If so, make your living space more conducive to your mental health. Start with these easy tweaks:
Clear the clutter
A messy house can cause you to feel anxious or depressed. Get rid of anything in your home you do not love or need. Donate these items to people in need. Be proactive to avoid clutter from building back up.
Let in natural light
Natural light is essential for your mental health. The more sunlight you get, the more serotonin — a feel-good neurotransmitter — your brain will produce. Scientists think that this might be why people who get too little sunlight are at risk for seasonal affective disorder.
Find the right decor
Does your home feel like “you”? If not, change up your home decor.
When buying new things for your home, pay attention to their color. Short-wavelength colors — greens, blues, and purples — are soothing. White adds brightness while creating a sense of space.
Also, be aware of your space itself. For example, people are more focused, creative, and have an improved mood in rooms with higher ceilings. Additionally, furniture should be organized in a way that does not create “dead space.” As is true of other clutter, donate and replace any home furnishings that you don’t love.
Get some greenery
Believe it or not, simply being around houseplants can improve your mental health. Houseplants are inexpensive, easy to care for, and can bring the outdoors to you when the weather makes it difficult to spend time outside.
Look for low-care houseplants. Succulents, such as aloe vera, require almost no effort. Palms, cacti, and canes are also easy to care for. Although flowers do not tend to fare well indoors, they can add a pop of color to your space and improve your mood.
6. Eat more whole, natural foods
Eating right isn’t just about staying fit. What you fuel your body with can also affect brain function.
Studies have shown that a healthy diet can even help with symptoms of depression and anxiety. You don’t have to go on a crazy 500-calorie diet; just eat more whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
Foods with lots of antioxidants are also great inflammation fighters. Mental health disorders ranging from depression to bipolar disorder are often associated with inflammation. Leafy green vegetables, berries, and salmon can all help fight inflammation. The more you can work into your diet, the better.
This year has been especially difficult for all of us. If there’s one thing that we can all agree on, it’s that we deserve a mental break.
The good news is, there’s a lot you can do to boost your mood, de-stress, and improve your overall mental health. By all means, speak to a mental health specialist if you need to do so, but don’t discount just how much of a difference these everyday changes can make.