Written by Erica Prime, M.A., LLP, CSP, parent and lead psychologist at Bradford Academy, Dove Academy, Four Corner Montessori Academy and Macomb Montessori Academy with the Detroit Institute for Children
1. Show Yourself Some Love
Engaging in self-care refers to “taking action to improve one’s health”. Though many think of self-care as being “self..ish”, it is really about doing that which mentally, spiritually, or physically refills your cup. So, find what brings you joy and get busy doing it.
2. Get Some Zzzzzz’s
According to the CDC, adults need 7 or more hours of sleep each night, but 1 in 3 adults don’t get the recommended amount. Since sleep can have a direct impact on our emotional and physical well-being, we should strive to make sleep a priority by keeping the bedroom quiet, cool, and dark, and eliminating brain-activating blue light created by television, smartphone, and tablet screens.
3. Take Baby Steps
Any large goal begins with one small step. So, instead of starting the year by making grand resolutions, focus instead on creating or changing small daily habits that will get you to your ultimate goal.
4. Where Do You Want to Go
Beginning each day by setting an intention, or a guiding principle about how you want to be, live, and show up in the world, leads to positive perceptions of experiences and confidence to handle whatever comes up. Having a clear intention with you at your fingertips can help guide your actions as you move through the day, instead of letting the day sweep you away, and create feelings of calm and control.
5. Let The Sunshine In
Getting sunlight first thing in the morning is believed to boost your mood and improve your sleep. Especially in the winter, when sun exposure is at a minimum and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) can negatively impact our mood, a few minutes of sunshine (or a lightbox) in the morning can benefit our mental health.
6. “Just Say No”
It’s not just a slogan. Stress is often the result of being overscheduled, overworked, and overwhelmed. Prioritizing necessary responsibilities, reducing or eliminating unnecessary tasks, and just saying “no” to those chores and people that can wait will help to reduce stress, improve mental health, and promote well-being.
7. Pay it forward
Acts of kindness towards others can actually contribute to our own health and well-being by boosting our happiness and positivity. Studies suggest that, as we demonstrate kindness to others the chemical oxytocin is released, which reduces blood pressure, and decreases depression and anxiety.
8. Spend Time In Nature
Research suggests that spending time outside walking, hiking, or gardening, for example, can reduce stress levels, improve quality of sleep, and increase feelings of health and well-being.
Scheduling regular time away from social media is a healthy practice that is important for our mental health. Because of its emphasis on what others are doing and what they have, social media can lead to feelings of loneliness, envy, and dissatisfaction. Taking a break from social media allows us to feel gratitude for what we have, and can increase our feelings of happiness and life satisfaction.
10. Say Thank You.
It turns out that Mom was right. Research suggests that by saying thank you and expressing gratitude for the things and people that we appreciate, we are better able to focus on the positive things in our lives and increase our overall happiness. By keeping a gratitude journal, listing 3 things that we are grateful for each day, or sharing the high point of your day with a loved one, we can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
11. Take Pen To Paper.
There are times that, despite our best efforts, we can’t shake our feelings of anger or sadness. It can be helpful to let it all out…..on paper. Writing a letter to an imaginary friend, in which we express all of our feelings, can serve to help us address built-up emotions, process our struggles, and find some peace.
12. Stop Holding In Your Stomach
How can doing something that makes us look better in our jeans cause stress and tension you ask? Well, holding in our stomach muscles to create that flat stomach look results in shallow “chest” breathing, which in turn increases anxiety in the body. So, if you want true relaxation let your stomach go so that you can engage in deep abdominal breathing to ultimately slow the heartbeat, lower blood pressure, and reduce stress.
13. Draw The Line
With so many of us working from home it can be hard to properly disconnect from work at the end of the day. Making clear distinctions between work time and free time and setting boundaries pertaining to responding to the constant barrage of emails, phone calls, and texts, can reduce stress and improve our mental health.
14. Dance It Out
Dancing combines the therapeutic power of music with physical activity to create a boost of endorphins (the feel-good chemical) and decrease levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). So, close the blinds, turn on your favorite music, and get your groove on.
15. Let The Music Play.
Though we don’t need studies to prove that music can impact our mood, research does indeed suggest that musical patterns affect the parts of the brain that are involved with memory and emotion. By making a playlist of our favorite songs to listen to when feeling down we can tap into the areas of the brain that bring us joy.
16. Say Om
Research shows that mindfulness meditation, which focuses on attention (directing awareness to our breath, our thoughts, our physical sensations, and our feelings), and acceptance (observing those thoughts, physical sensations, and feelings without judgment and aiming to note them and let them go), improves mental health by increasing activity in the areas of the brain associated with positive emotions and emotional regulation.
17. Spend time with family and friend….maybe
Though it is certainly difficult during the pandemic, finding safe ways to spend time with family and friends (i.e. enjoying socially distanced gatherings outdoors, going for walks with friends, or getting together on video platforms) decreases feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and increases feelings of community and connection and is of great important to our mental health. Unless, of course, your family IS the of your source of your stress. In that case….it may be easier to spend time with a four legged friend.
18. Light A Candle
Certain smells such as lavender and bergamot can have a calming effect, helping to reduce anxiety and depression. Since the olfactory sense has a direct link to the area of the brain associated with emotions and memory, pairing calming smells with positive experiences can trigger relaxation and positive emotions.
19. “Failing To Plan is Planning To Fail”
In addition to increasing productivity, taking just a few minutes each day to plan our activities and tasks for the day ahead can increase our mental energy. Disorganization, worries about things we need to do, and nagging thoughts about forgetting to do something important can drain our mental energy and leave us feeling overwhelmed. Daily planning gives us a greater sense of control, decreases our stress hormones, and leads to lower levels of anxiety.
20. Lower The Bar…Just A Bit
We are often our own greatest critics, putting unrealistic demands on our time, performance, and accomplishments. By holding ourselves to realistic expectations, demonstrating self-kindness, and treating ourselves as we would a good friend, we ultimately promote mental health and ultimately productivity.
21. What Have You Done For Me Lately
Our to do lists are often too long and leave us feeling like we haven’t accomplished anything. By simply listing 3 things that we were able to accomplish at the end of each day we can decrease our feelings of being overwhelmed, and increase our sense of confidence and success.
22. Nothing Breeds Success Like Success
Find something….anything…..well, almost anything that you are good at and do it every day. Experiencing daily success can help us build our self-confidence and positive emotions, which in turn helps improve our mood and feelings of happiness.
23. “Everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten”
Grab those colored pencils and that coloring book and get busy. Similar to meditation, when we are focused on the simple activity of coloring our can brains relax, switch off our troubling thoughts, and focus only on the moment, calming our restless minds and easing our anxiety.
24. Clear It Out
Living with clutter and disorganization not only impacts our physical health, but also negatively affects our overall well-being. Being surrounded by piles of “stuff” can take a toll on our mood, sleep, and overall happiness. Organizing our surroundings and letting go of items that no longer serve us are productive ways to regain a sense of control when we feel overwhelmed and, like exercising, the action of sorting and organizing our space provides a way for us to let off steam, hit the refresh button, and ultimately manage stress.
25. Create An Evening Routine
Doing the same, relaxing thing every night, whether it’s curling up with a book, listening to calming music, or taking a warm bath, will signal to your body that it’s time to settle down and help improve the quality of your sleep, ultimately improving your physical and mental health.
26. Stick To A Daily Schedule
The sudden change to our schedules as a result of the pandemic has left many of us feeling as though we are lacking in structure, motivation, and control. Adopting and maintaining daily schedules for when to wake, eat, work, exercise, have fun, and sleep, can provide us with much-needed structure, give us a sense of accomplishment, and can help us feel a sense of control.
27. Let It Go…Let It Go
Holding on to anger about small transgressions (i.e. being cut off in traffic) can, over time, lead to toxic emotions which can be harmful to our mental health. Research has shown that simply deciding to let go of past hurt or resentment can result in reduced anxiety, depression, and physical health symptoms, and increased positive mental health outcomes such as peace, joy, and happiness.
28. Variety Is The Spice Of Life
The physical and mental health benefits of physical exercise such as running, swimming, cycling, yoga, and martial arts have been extensively researched and are very well known. However, what is not as well-known is the importance of engaging in a variety of different types of exercise to develop a well-rounded level of fitness and keep your body on its “toes”. In addition, doing a variety of exercises decreases boredom and increases the likelihood of continued participation in those activities which leads to improved mental health and wellness.