According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 6 people in the US are diagnosed with mental illness, in one form or another. The burden of mental disorders continues to grow; as a society, it’s crucial to raise the awareness about the need for mental health resources.
Keep reading below for a few simple things that you can do every day to stave off anxiety and boost your feel-good hormones!
INVEST IN LIGHT THERAPY
The use of light therapy as treatment for SAD is relatively new. While it’s steadily become more and more popular, not all doctors endorse this product as being foolproof.
However, the science behind it is real; light therapy works because it has a similar effect on the brain as some mental-health-related medications.
“Research suggests that using a light box to deliver intense, bright light (between 2,500 and 10,000 illuminance, or lux) early in the morning (7 a.m. or earlier) is effective in lifting the winter blues,” says Jonathan Prousky, chief naturopathic medical officer at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.
Being exposed to a light box every day can help improve circadian rhythm, boost serotonin levels, and help regulate melatonin production. This will not only improve your mood, but it will allow you to get better sleep. You can find a list of the best light boxes for SAD therapy here!
Exercising doesn’t have to mean going to a gym, it can mean a myriad of different things! By simply taking your dog on a walk, running down the block, taking the stairs, or parking a little further at the grocery store than normal, you are releasing stress-relieving and mood-boosting endorphins into your body. Experts advise that most people should participate in at least 30 minutes of activity every day. If it’s easier, try three 10-minute sessions and see how you feel. In addition, spending time being physical outside in nature is a proven stress reducer. Start by taking a walk, or dancing to your favorite song in your backyard!
You can also grab a few of your closest friends and get involved in local workout classes. Yoga, barre classes and spinning classes are great because it helps you be more active and it gets you socializing with other like-minded people who are looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
GO TO BED EARLY
Getting enough sleep has been proven time and time again to be vital for emotional wellbeing, as well as physical health. Americans are notoriously sleep deprived, and those with psychiatric conditions are even more likely to be effected during the day. Experts suggest that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
To sleep longer, consider these suggestions:
- Set a regular bedtime. Consistency is key, so maintaining a scheduled bedtime helps your body prepare for bed and helps you falls asleep and stay asleep in the long run. Plus, you’re more likely to get plenty of sleep if you schedule rest like other important tasks.
- Cut back on caffeine. The caffeine that you drink during the day to stay awake may also keep you up at night as well. Try cutting out coffee permanently to see if your sleep improves. If you don’t want to cut it out altogether, be mindful of not drinking caffeine at least six hours before bedtime.
- Make your bed a safe place. Refrain from paying bills, answering stressful emails, having tough conversations, and brainstorming in your bed. Experts also recommend that you try music to relax, but if you’re not sleepy, get up until you feel more tired.
- Meditate. You can’t simply turn off your mind. However, by learning to control your thoughts and still your mind, you can coax your body into a more peaceful state that’s more conducive to sleeping peacefully.
You can also look for winding-down activities that won’t work against you (the way staring at your phone or Netflix might), like coloring, journaling, or reading (as long as you set a stopping point in advance).
One of the most important ways to keep yourself mentally healthy is to recognize when you’re not feeling well and to know when to ask for help. It’s easy to feel isolated and alone when you’re feeling the worst. However, this feeling of loneliness is often just an illusion. The people in our lives are a huge part of our mental health. If things are getting to be too much for you and you can’t cope, your family and friends might be able to offer practical advice or a listening ear.
Others can’t help you if you don’t ask, so give people an opportunity. This can be in many forms; childcare, grocery shopping, managing day-to-day chores, and just being there to talk. Sometimes it’s not always possible to see someone in person, so give them a call or write them a letter. Keeping personal lines of communication open is good for everyone involved!
EAT GOOD FOOD
Binge-eating junk food can temporarily make you feel better, but the long-term effects it has on your health can be devastating. People respond differently to different kinds of food depending on genetics and other health factors, so try experimenting. The best place to start is by cutting out “bad fats” and replacing them with “good fats” that support brain-health.
Our modern diet is significantly different from that of our ancestors. We can blame busy lifestyles, food manufacturing and the affordability of processed foods, but most of us can make changes to counteract these influences; for example, increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables, limiting processed foods that come from bags and boxes, and cooking meals from scratch. There are two ways nutritional interventions can help mental health: by increasing healthy habits and reducing unhealthy ones. For the best outcome, you have to do both. Here are some foods to add to your diet, and maybe replace some unhealthy choices:
- Chia seeds
- Organic Eggs
- Brazil Nuts
- Wild Berrie
GET PLENTY OF SUNLIGHT
Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D, which is important for our bodies and our brains. It helps our brains release chemicals which improve our mood, like endorphins and serotonin. It is advised that we get about 30 minutes to two hours of sunlight a day.
During the winter, some people can become depressed because they aren’t getting enough sunlight. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. During the months when there is a shorter supply of natural sunlight, you can use light-therapy lamps to help alleviate some symptoms and give your body a boost. Some people also take vitamin D supplements when they don’t have as much access to the sun. Before adding a supplement to your routine, it is always vital to talk to your doctor to see if this route is good for you.
WHEN YOU’RE STUCK IN A NEGATIVE THOUGHT SPIRAL, WRITE DOWN TWO GOOD THINGS.
It’s hard to think of anything else when you’re becoming upset or frazzled, so this exercise is mostly about hitting pause and broadening your focus. Try thinking of two or three positive things in your life in this moment; something that brings you joy, something you’re proud of, someone who loves you. This can help ease your feelings of angst and frustration. Even being thankful for a hot shower can help you reset.
Of course, this list is no substitute for getting help from a licensed mental health professional who can walk you through individual strategies that can help you. But hopefully this gave you a few ideas that you can use the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Remember, don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health specialist if you need it. Your mental health is as important as your physical health, and maintaining it can be just as challenging. But by following the steps above, and being mindful of your mental health, you can overcome even the most challenging of days, and live your life to the fullest!