4 Easy Ways to Boost Your Mental Health This Spring
After months of cold, dark, dreary days, it’s no wonder that you’re feeling stressed, unmotivated, and generally bleh. That’s why I love spring so much –– with longer days, more sunshine, mild weather, and the ability to get outside for some fresh air, I feel like I’m escaping the winter prison I’ve been living in for the last few months.
That’s also what makes spring such a great time to focus on improving your mental health. As the world around you wakes up again, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to get your brain up and moving, too. And the best part is that it doesn't take tons of time or energy to see big gains in the mental-health department. All it takes is a few simple practices to improve feelings of depression and anxiety, increase mental focus, help to create an overall sense of wellbeing. Ready to get started? Here are 4 simple things you can do each day for a big payoff in the mental health department.
Stress is a part of life we all have to deal with. Whether it’s pressure at work, the demands of family life, or even the monumental expectations you set for yourself, it’s something that’s pretty tough to escape. And in addition to making you feel like you’re running around in circles all the time, stress can also have a huge impact on your mental health.
Not only is it a huge contributor to feelings of anxiety and depression, it also has a connection to physical symptoms –– excessive fatigue, immune system suppression, and weight-gain, just to name a few.
Now, the reality is that you’re never going to have a completely stress-free life, but you can develop skills for a healthier stress response. And the great news is there’s a simple way to start this process through the use of deep breathing techniques. While there are tons of deep-breathing methods you can learn, I think the easiest place to start is by bringing air through your nose to completely fill your lungs, followed by a slow exhale from your mouth. As this happens, your heart rate will slow and your blood pressure will begin to stabilize. You’ll also be bringing additional oxygen to your brain, which helps to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and induce feelings of calm.
Not only is this great to use in high-stress situations, but you can also practice deep-breathing techniques throughout the day to improve overall feelings of mental wellbeing and to help keep those stressful feeling from escalating in the future.
Exercise on the regular.
If you’ve been with me for awhile, it’s probably no surprise to you that exercise is on this list. In fact, with all the years I’ve spent in the fitness industry, I’ve learned that there aren’t too many things in life that can’t be made better with physical activity. But the truth is, there’s probably no place that this is more evident than when it comes to mental health. And it’s not just anecdotal, folks –– research has shown that exercise can be used as a high-effective intervention strategy for mental health issues, particularly anxiety and depression.
And the best part is that it doesn’t take hours at the gym to see an improvement. In a 2019 psychiatric study, 15 minutes of vigorous exercise, like HIIT or circuit training, or an hour of moderately-paced walking reduced feelings of depression by 26%. And this adds up over time, too. In fact, individual who exercise 150-300 minutes per week (about 20-45 minutes a day), reported feelings of happiness that were 52% higher than people who were sedentary.
So, while it’s great if you’re motivated to hit the gym 5 days a week, it isn’t required to reap the mental health benefits of moving your body. Something as simple as taking a 30-minute walk after dinner each night can still have a big payoff.
Sleep it off.
Here’s another one you’ve heard me mention time and again, but I’m going to keep repeating it till the message sinks in –– one of the most important things you can do for both your mind and body is to improve the quality of your sleep. Period. Sleep has been shown to affect everything from your stress and anxiety levels, to your mental clarity, to your immune system and your ability to control cravings. And it’s not getting enough sleep isn’t the only problem (although it can be a big one) –– the quality of your sleep and getting too much sleep can also impact both your mental health and your physical wellbeing.
So how do you start getting better sleep? By creating a healthy sleep routine. Start going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Cut out caffeine and other stimulants after a certain time. Shut down your devices 30 minutes before bedtime. Turn down your thermostat at night. As your body adapts to your routine, you’ll fall asleep fast, sleep deeper, and wake up feeling refreshed (you’ll probably even start to wake up without an alarm). Not only will you have more energy throughout the day, but you’ll also help to improve your mental fitness along the way.
While there’s lots of science involved, the easiest way to explain this is that learning new things improves communication between brain regions, resulting in better memory function and less mental decline.
So check out an exhibit at your local art museum or deep-dive into an educational documentary (and take a break from the serial killers and tinder swindlers for a while). Add 15-20 minutes of personal development reading to your morning routine. Swap the podcasts for a language learning app on your daily commute. Find an online course (or even a YouTube video) and learn to draw, or knit, or whatever. It really doesn’t matter what it is –– all that matters is you’re engaging your brain. Not only will you be helping to create new neural communications and pathways, you might just find a new subject or activity that you love, increasing feelings of happiness and giving your a new outlet to relieve your daily stress. Talk about a win-win, huh?
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