7 Mental Health Activities You Can Do at Home
If you’ve been looking for ways to feel calmer, happier and stronger this year, you’re not alone. More than one in five adults in the U.S. recently rated their own mental health as only “fair” or “poor,” according to CNN, and about one in five people said they were often or always depressed or lonely over the past year.
It’s worth taking the time to care for yourself, since little habits over time can add up to better days. Here are some at-home mental health activities experts recommend for maintaining good mental health and overall well-being.
1. Deep breathing
Proper breathing is important for a number of your body’s functions. However, you may have developed, without even realizing it, habits of shallow or “chest breathing,” which are associated with increases in anxiety and tension, according to a Harvard Health article. “Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious.”
You can train your body at home to breathe more deeply through some simple exercises.
“First steps. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. First, take a normal breath. Then try a deep breath: Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural).
Breath focus in practice. Once you’ve taken the steps above, you can move on to regular practice of controlled breathing. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, blend deep breathing with helpful imagery and perhaps a focus word or phrase that helps you relax.”
Making time for breathing as part of your daily routine may be helpful. Try to practice your breathing one or twice a day at the same time, for about 10-20 minutes each time, according to the article.
A lot of people love to read as a way to relax and unwind. However, reading may be even more beneficial, as cracking open a good book may help you discover a feeling of overall well-being and may be one of many relaxing at-home mental health activities.
“Bibliotherapy, quite simply, is about books as therapy. It’s not meant to take the place of medicine, but it can complement it,” Dr. Paula Byrne told Stylist. “…Books can take you to a different place. They can relax you and calm you, and they can offer wisdom, or humour, or both.”
One of the symptoms of depression can be withdrawing from the world and relationships. Yet, reading a fiction book may be a way to connect with feelings without having to interact with other people.
“People with depression often feel isolated and estranged from everyone else. And that’s a feeling books can sometimes lessen,” according to a Healthline article. “Reading fiction can allow you to temporarily escape your own world and become swept up in the imagined experiences of the characters. And nonfiction self-help books can teach you strategies that may help you manage symptoms.”
If reading’s not your thing, some experts say heading out into the yard and connecting with the earth can yield better mental health.
“Gardening has been shown to have a positive impact on mood and brain chemistry,” according to an article on the University of Minnesota Extension website. “It allows us to get out into the fresh air and breathe. Gardening is a mindfulness practice where you can just exist in the moment. Use your senses the next time you are outdoors. See the colors around you, smell the fresh air, listen to the birds, touch the plants, and taste what the garden has to offer.”
Simply getting your hands dirty may have benefits all its own – including as one of many mental health activities.
“Surprisingly, the soil can help to improve mood. One kind of bacteria found in the soil has been found to stimulate areas of the brain and produce serotonin which helps us to feel good. The next time you are in the garden, get dirty. Dig your feet and hands beneath the soil and become a part of the Earth. It can improve your mood,” according to the article.
4. Get your body moving for mental health activities
Getting your body moving – indoors or out – is another mental health activity. The Mental Health America (MHA) website lists getting physically active as one of its top 10 tools to help you feel stronger and more hopeful.
“It’s not clear exactly how exercise boosts mood, but experts say it:
- relieves pent-up muscle tension
- stimulates feel-good hormones
- burns off stress hormones
- increases blood flow to the brain,” according to the article.
If you’re pressed for time, know that it may not take much to start seeing positive effects of exercise. Mental health activities may not take too much time.
“No time for a major workout? Just break your exercise into 10-minute chunks-and break up some blah parts of your day too. Try
- really running errands: Walk a bit faster or further in the parking lot when you stop at the store.
- playing: Race the kids. Shoot some hoops. Remember, you don’t have to be good to get fit.
- scrubbing: Instead of a few wipes here and there, clean energetically for 10 minutes
- dancing: Pull down the shades and let loose; if it’s fun, you’re more likely to do it
- watching TV: Yes, watching TV – while walking in place, doing leg lifts or punching the air,” according to the website.
You may also be interested in trying more regular aerobic activities, such as walking, running, riding a bike or playing a sport that gets your heart rate up. If you’re ready to try exercising more regularly, it may be a good idea to check with your doctor, especially if you haven’t been physically active for a while, according to the MHA website.
“For your mood, aim for 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise or a combination of aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening three to five days a week. Some research shows that even lower levels of activity may offer mental health benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”
Would you consider tapping into a more Zen frame of mind through yoga? Some research indicates that the practice of yoga, and the way it connects body and mind, may have strong mental health benefits.
It may be so effective, in fact, that some research has indicated that yoga may help in reducing anxiety and depression, according to Tracy S. Hutchinson, Ph.D., in an article she wrote for Psychology Today.
“Yoga is a great complimentary therapy whether it is ‘prescribed’ by your therapist or not. Luckily, no real prescription is necessary! Finding the right program may consist of some trial and error as there are several types of yoga to choose from (hot, yin, hatha, yang, etc.). Some enjoy the more physical active styles (yang) like vinyasa or bikram. Others may enjoy a slower-paced practice (yin) or a combination of both. Regardless of the type of yoga you choose, its numerous physical and psychological benefits can make it an important part of your therapeutic process,” according to the article.
Research has shown yoga to be helpful with the following, according to the article:
- “Reducing anger”
- “Reducing anxiety”
- “Improving sleep”
- “Reducing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms”
- “Improving mood”
6. Eat a balanced diet and hydrate
What you eat and drink through the course of the week can contribute to good mental health.
“A paper published this year in Psychosomatic Medicine offers one of the most up-to-date snapshots of diet and mental health – specifically, how diet might play a role in depression,” according to a Greater Good Magazine article. The paper reviewed 16 different studies of more than 46,000 participants.
“The results? Overall, adopting a healthier diet did lead to reduced symptoms of depression –less hopelessness, trouble sleeping, and disconnection from others – compared to engaging in other self-improvement activities or going about life as usual. ‘Including more non-processed foods, more whole foods – fruits, vegetables – is very beneficial in terms of your psychological well-being, particularly mood,’ says Joseph Firth, the lead author of the paper and a research fellow at Western Sydney University.”
A healthier diet may help calm feelings of anxiety.
“There aren’t any diet changes that can cure anxiety, but watching what you eat may help,” according to Craig N. Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P., in a Mayo Clinic article. According to the article:
- “Eat a breakfast that includes some protein.”
- “Eat complex carbohydrates.”
- “Drink plenty of water.”
- “Limit or avoid alcohol.”
- “Limit or avoid caffeine.”
- “Pay attention to food sensitivities.”
- “Try to eat healthy, balanced meals.”
7. Take your sleep seriously
Getting your beauty rest isn’t just for external looks. Sleep deprivation can negatively affect your mental health. After all, we are all a little grumpy and off our game when we don’t get the amount of sleep we need.
This connection between sleep and mental health is extremely important. An article published in Preventing Chronic Disease found that “participants who averaged 6 hours or less of sleep per night were about 2.5 times more likely to have frequent mental distress when controlling for confounders.”
Sleep helps restore your body by removing toxins and processing what you learned during the day.
“Without enough sleep, you lose brain plasticity, which means your brain can’t adapt to stimuli the way it should,” according a CNet article. “This brings us back to the connection between mental health and sleep. When your brain can’t solidify memories or learn new things, you don’t feel great mentally.”
See a mental health professional
Maintaining good mental health is important, and there are many at-home mental health activities that can help. But sometimes it isn’t enough.
If you’re worried about your symptoms, or they aren’t going away, see a healthcare professional. They can tell you if you’re experiencing a mental illness, like anxiety or depression, that could benefit from professional treatment. Together, you can determine a course forward for better days ahead.
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