14 Expert-Backed Ways to Improve Your Mental Health Every Day
Your stress may feel overwhelming, but these expert-backed tips can help relieve the pressure.
If the coronavirus pandemic—and the ensuing months spent indoors—has been anything but beneficial for your mental health, you're not alone. According to an April 2020 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45 percent of respondents said the stress and worry they've experienced amid the pandemic has had a negative effect on their mental health.
Unfortunately, the mental health outcomes may be even worse for those who contract the virus; a May 2020 study published in The Lancet Psychiatry reveals that in previous outbreaks of coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS, approximately 15 percent of hospitalized patients still had lingering anxiety or depression three years after their discharge. However, even if things seem grim right now, there's still hope. With the help of experts, we've rounded up easy-to-follow tips for boosting your mental health on a daily basis. And for more ways to improve your wellbeing, check out these 17 Mental Health Tips for Quarantine From Therapists.
Get comfortable with discomfort.
Most of us think of anxiety as something to avoid, but it can actually fuel positive change. "Anxiety is a natural emotion that lives in the gap between where we are and where we want to be," explains Robert Rosen, PhD, founder of Healthy Companies International and author of Just Enough Anxiety: The Hidden Driver of Business Success, who notes that anxiety can be transformed into "productive energy" with the right mindset. And if you need incentive to get your mental health in check, discover these 23 Terrifying Ways Stress Wreaks Havoc on Your Body.
Reframe setbacks as opportunities to change for the better.
It can often feel like there's no light at the end of the tunnel after an emotional, financial, or physical setback. However, reframing those challenges as opportunities can help you move forward instead of continuing to feel burdened by them.
"A crisis is an opportunity to escape programmed living and transform yourself," says Mel Schwartz, PhD, a psychotherapist in Westport, Connecticut. "The more creative and participatory you feel when forced outside of your comfort zone, the more balanced and happy you will ultimately be."
Stop comparing yourself to other people.
A preoccupation with comparing ourselves against our friends can easily get us into mental-health hot water. "People who have a problem with anxiety get lost in judging themselves," says Schwartz. "The critical voice is enslaving," he says. "To escape, you need to accept yourself and like who you are." And if you want to boost your self-esteem, start with these 17 Effective Tips on How to Be More Confident.
Make your personal life a priority.
Securing balance between the three main areas of your life—home, work, self—will create an automatic buffer against stress. "If one goes down, you have two others to hold you up," explains Mounir Soliman, MD, assistant vice chancellor and executive director for Health Services International at UC San Diego Health. Eager to stop making work your everything? Check out The 50 Top Secrets of a Perfect Work-Life Balance.
Don't be afraid to admit you're struggling.
It's great to be able to handle challenges head-on, but it's every bit as admirable to admit when you need a hand. "Successful people have friends they can lean on in times of need," says Robert Maurer, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine. "Our culture tends to value stoicism, self-reliance, and independence, but your mind naturally wants to draw strength from others." And for more helpful information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Think back on your past successes.
Things may seem bleak now, but you've likely felt this way before—and persevered. "We have a much greater capacity to weather disappointment and change than we think we do," says Giovanna Zerbi, PsyD, director of the UCSD PACE Program at the University of California at San Diego. Being mindful of your feelings and remembering how you triumphed over past setbacks can give you the confidence to face whatever may be lurking around the corner.
Recognize your triggers and do a self-reset.
When people worry, they tend to spin stories in their minds that perpetuate their fears, says Tahir Iftikhar Bhatti, MD a psychiatrist with the UC San Diego Health. "That's where self-awareness helps: If you recognize yourself doing it, hit the brakes."
Tackle one problem at a time.
When faced with a seemingly impossible challenge, immediately pinpoint at least one piece of the problem that you can control and then attack it. "When you shift into take-charge mode, you meet the challenge from a position of strength rather than feeling at its mercy," explains Michael Kahn, PhD, a psychologist in Maryland. And if you're ready to improve your life, start by ditching these 26 Things You're Doing That Are Hurting Your Mental Health.
Focus on somebody other than yourself.
Instead of continuing to think about yourself and your problems, try directing that energy outward.
"Can you find ways, while you are so self-absorbed, to be considerate?" asks Kahn. Showing respect and appreciation for others has an amazing ability to defuse obsessive behavior and anxiety.
Know your breaking point.
Kahn says that efficient people tend to be very sensitive to the feeling of becoming overwhelmed and they know how to react before stress paralyzes them. If you're struggling, Kahn recommends taking the following steps: first, recognize signs of distress, including muscle tension, sweaty palms, a rapid pulse, or irritability. Second, disengage by taking a walk or doing a breathing exercise. Third, identify the stress source: Is it a project, a deadline, a personal interaction?
Map out your day.
"Planning is the most important thing a [busy worker] can do to avoid stress," says Kahn. Plan by the day, week, month, and year—and habitualize each planning session. For, example, check your daily schedule every morning before reading your e-mail; preview your week on Sunday nights; and preview the upcoming month every 27th.
Practice your ABCs.
Kahn says a former client gave him this tip that's stuck with him: "If you make a list of all the things that need to be done, you get them out of your head and don't have to think about them." To gain a sense of control over those upcoming tasks, prioritize them using the old A-B-C theory: A's need to be done, B's ought to be done, and C's can wait until later.
Ask others to call out your behavior.
You may not immediately realize when you're in a heightened emotional state—but make no mistake, others do.
Select a trusted member of your inner circle "and instruct him or her to pull you aside when he notices that you're raising your voice," says Kahn. "[They] can help make you aware of certain behaviors that you are trying to minimize."
If you're feeling stress take over your body, take a few minutes to work out those mental and physical kinks with some gentle stretching. Doing so may even yield dividends for you professionally. According to a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, office workers who took a 15-minute stretch break felt calmer and were more productive afterward.