8 Tips for Improving Your Mental Health
We know this is a challenging time. Continue reading to learn about improving your mental health during social distancing.
1. Check out the "Happiness Lab"
Now is the perfect time to binge on a podcast that can improve your emotional well being and happiness. Let me suggest that you start off with listening to this podcast in which Yale professor Dr. Laurie Santos will take you through the latest scientific research and share some surprising and inspiring stories that will forever alter the way you think about happiness. The Happiness Lab (free!) has helped thousands all over the world and Dr. Laurie also recently released a COVID-19 series that can be found here. https://www.happinesslab.fm/coronavirus-bonus.
2. Start a Gratitude Journal
When life becomes crazy and unpredictable, it can be easy to forget everything you have to be grateful for. Pick up an old notebook you have lying around and start by writing a list of what you are grateful for around you (your pets, good home cooking, etc.) Continue to maintain a gratitude journal by taking 10 minutes out of each day to write about something you are thankful for. Something I like to do is write letters to people who have positively impacted my life. Consider writing one to your academic adviser, an administrator who has helped you, or a classmate that makes you smile.
This simple practice will keep you centered on the positives happening around you. When you are feeling down, read through your gratitude journal and remind yourself of what you are thankful for. You can share your gratitude by making collaborative lists with friends or sending out some of your notes.
3. Soak Up Some Sun
Social distancing doesn't mean that you have to lose out on Vitamin D. Create space in your schedule to soak up some rays or breathe in the fresh air. When the weather is nice, head outside for a picnic on your front lawn. If you are missing your friends from school, call them to chat! If you have a chapter to read for class, why not sit outside to do it? You will be staying productive while giving your body some much-needed sunlight.
Sunshine is known for its Vitamin D, which is a key way serotonin levels increase! In addition, heading outside can provide a much-needed change of scenery that will keep you motivated, healthy, and happy.
4. Limit the Negative News (and look for positive news!)
Getting swept up in all of the negative news is easy when you are constantly surrounded by it. Try to limit yourself to 30 minutes of news each day. Setting boundaries is an essential tool in managing your stress. I like to stay informed, but too much news can make me feel helpless, especially when it is primarily negative.
If seeing notifications on your phone for news sources is dragging you down, consider shutting them off for the time being. Studies show that even 24 hours notification-free can help reduce your stress. It is more than okay to opt-out of these notifications to improve your mental health. Additionally, try not to look at your phone within the first 15 minutes of being awake. Taking this time to adjust will help get you motivated, and drastically impacts your mindset going into the day!
Remember that even through all of this, there is still good news out there, so consider following some positive news sources. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/ shares positive news stories every day! Controlling your daily intake of news can help you keep a good perspective on the world - and on life in general.
5. Keep Up (Or Start) That Exercise Routine
Sure you might not have access to all the equipment a gym might, but that doesn't mean you can't keep working out. YouTube and other streaming services are full of instructor-led videos that you can do right from your living room. It is an easy way to stay active and increase endorphins that will help with your mental health and overall well-being. Here is a list of my favorite free online workouts.
If working out more was one of the New Years Resolutions that you just hadn't gotten around to yet, now is a great time to get active. Develop a routine that works for you; whether that's walking around your house or doing a full workout circuit in your room. Make a playlist that gets you motivated and start moving. Bonus points if you can get your friends to work out remotely with you!
6. Establish What Needs to Get Done - and Then Do It
Now that you have more time on your hands, you may feel a little lost in everything that needs to get done. In order to balance courses, outside work, and socializing, you'll need to be pretty organized. Take some time to think about all that you need to get done over your time at home. Make a list of the tasks you need to complete and prioritize the order in which you need to complete them.
Once you've established what you need to get done, start working through your list. Procrastination is tempting, especially with a more open schedule, but leaving things looming will ultimately lead to more stress and anxiety. If you are really struggling to cross items off your list, dedicate certain times in the day to completing your tasks. Maintaining structure is key to staying productive and relieving stress.
7. Spend Some Time Alone
Technology does a great job of keeping us all connected, but now is a great opportunity to get some alone time. Consider using this period as a chance to meditate a little more, read a book for fun, or cross something off your bucket list. Time alone is valuable in processing your emotions. It is important to acknowledge how you are feeling and reflect on how you want to move forward.
Challenge yourself to pick up one new hobby. We all have something that we've wanted to do but haven't had the time to explore yet. Stay curious and seek out a new activity or adventure that you have been putting on the back-burner! Maybe you'll stumble across a newfound passion.
8. Prioritize Your Sleep
Reaching REM cycles is super important in helping to manage stress and improve overall well-being. The CDC recommends that college-age students get an average of 8 hours of sleep a night and a minimum of 7 hours. Keeping a regular sleep schedule will help you stay structured, and also keep your circadian rhythms balanced; circadian rhythms are crucial for regulating your body and health. Getting a better sleep schedule will help improve your course performance and reduce your stress.
In order to maintain a good sleep schedule, try to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day. Getting good exercise throughout the day (see tip #3) and limiting caffeine before bedtime can help regulate your sleep schedule. If you are having a hard time going to sleep, put down the phone and pick up a book! Reading a chapter can help relax your mind and get you to bed quicker than your over-stimulating smartphone.
Above all, it is important to continue taking care of yourself throughout this time. Check-in on your friends, family, and peers. If you are struggling, do not hesitate to reach out to remote mental health resources or counseling services.