How To Feel Better A to Z: Mental Health Addition
Phrases like “unprecedented times” and “new normal” can just feel like a bandaid over the incredible stress that this past year has been. The pandemic hasn’t been easy and we don’t want to underplay everything going on in the world right now.
It can feel like every day there is a new headline that is more anxiety-inducing than the last. Before the pandemic, one in ten people reported having anxiety (1). Today, it’s quadrupled. That means that four in ten of our community members are feeling more anxious than normal. So we decided to gather all of the best mental health advice we could find and create a list from A-Z of self-care activities that can help you feel better.
If you feel like you’re struggling to keep your head above water, we want to be there for you. If you had asked us a year ago if we thought we could make it through a pandemic, political unrest, and economic depression we probably would’ve told you no. But, here we are today still standing. (And we should be proud of ourselves for that 🎉.) Since we want to keep it that way, let’s cut the chit-chat and get into some proven ways to feel better, calmer, and safer in a world that can be hard to handle.
Ways to Feel Better A-to-Z
Acupuncture or Acupressure
In this systematic research study, researchers found that acupuncture can help control anxiety. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, anxiety can be caused by imbalances within the Zang organs. Acupuncture can help stimulate certain pathways throughout the body to help restore balance within each organ. If acupuncture seems a little much, acupressure and ear seeds are both less invasive options. (2)
The mind-gut connection is real. The bacteria in your gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurochemicals that your brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes like your mood. In fact, those gut bacteria make about 95 percent of the body's supply of serotonin, which helps regulate your mood and is one of our “happy hormones.” (3)
Eating a gut-healthy diet includes a lot of whole grains, a wide range of different fruits and vegetables, fermented foods, probiotics, and lots of legumes and beans. Try going to an international grocery store and searching for fruits and vegetables you might not usually add to your diet. It could be a fun way to boost gut health and your mental health at the same time.
Cultivating compassion for yourself and others has a ton of incredible benefits. Research shows that expressing compassion can increase our perception of happiness, fight against stress, reduce cellular inflammation, and increase feelings of social connection (4). All of these play a huge part in our health and well-being. So how do you cultivate compassion? One of the best ways is through a meditation practice called Loving-Kindness Meditation. One study found that listening to a 30-minute guided audio meditation caused increased empathy, emotional regulation, and positive emotions. (5)
Deep breathing is one of the best exercises for lowering stress in the body. By focusing on your breath and taking in more oxygen, you’re sending signals to your brain to relax. If you’re ever feeling completely overwhelmed with stress or anxiety, deep breathing can be one of the best ways to settle down. We share three of our favorite breathing exercises here, but there are a ton of different breathing techniques, so feel free to search until you find the best one for you.
Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that uses plant extracts like essential oils to promote well-being. Scents like lavender, rose, frankincense, jasmine, and valerian can all be used to feel calmer. These oils can be diffused with an oil diffuser, enjoyed in a bath, or even rubbed directly onto the skin. Just make sure that the essential oil you’re using is safe for your skin and that you either dilute it first or don’t use too much. (6)
Friends and Family
Feeling connected to loved ones can help us have a sense of belonging, which will have a positive impact on mental health. While it’s not always easy to connect to those around you, loneliness is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Try scheduling time with your family and friends into your day or making a conscious effort to do relationship-building activities. Having a close-knit group of people you can depend on can really boost your mood. (7)
Even Harvard agrees that there is a positive association between gratitude and happiness. Multiple studies show that people who are consistently practicing gratitude are more optimistic and feel better about their lives. You can cultivate gratitude by writing thank-you notes, keeping a gratitude journal, and counting your blessings. (8)
Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, ginseng, and holy basil have all shown to help our bodies resist mental and physical stressors. Rosewater can also help our bodies fight against stress. One study found that rosewater can have strong antidepressant and antianxiety properties. Enjoying a cup of organic rose tea can be an easy way to get some of these anti-anxiety benefits. (9)
Indulge a little
Don’t go overboard, but if you need a little pick-me-up, indulge in something you love. It can be a piece of your favorite cake, but it can also be re-reading your favorite book, re-watching your favorite movie, or indulging in a trip to the spa. Treating yourself to something small can help you feel better.
Listening to your favorite music has been shown to boost your mood. This is because listening to music releases a chemical called dopamine, which can help improve your mood and reduce anxiety. Music can also help produce cortisol, which helps reduce stress and increase joy. (10)
Random acts of kindness have been shown to increase happiness. Similar to most medical antidepressants, kindness helps stimulate the production of serotonin. The feel-good chemical heals your wounds, helps you feel more calms, and makes you happier! Even just witnessing someone do something kind for another person can boost levels of serotonin, which can increase our self-esteem and optimism as well as our overall heart health. (11)
This fake-it-till-you-make-it technique might not be for everyone, but adding laughter into your day can be a great way to feel better. Laughter enhances our intake of oxygen-rich air, which stimulates our heart, lungs, and muscles. It can also help us de-stress, boost our immune system, and decrease feelings of anxiety and depression. We know that when you’re feeling down the last thing you want to do is laugh, but consider watching a funny movie or doing a laughter yoga session.
Meditation can help reduce stress, control anxiety, and regulate emotional health. A regular meditation practice actually rivals antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication with its efficacy. While meditation certainly won’t magically make all mental health symptoms disappear, it is great at helping people manage their symptoms. If you want to add in meditation to your daily routine, consider starting off with just a couple minutes each day and don’t get down on yourself if you can’t completely clear your mind. It can take a while to keep the thoughts from coming! Apps like Headspace can also help.
The benefits of spending time outdoors are pretty incredible. A study of 20,000 people found that participants who spent two hours a week in green spaces, like local parks, were way more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who didn’t. And the two hours don't have to be at the same time, which means you just have to spend 20 minutes in nature a day! But, the two hour time frame is set in stone. There wasn’t any benefit for people who spent time in nature, but didn’t reach the two hours per week. (12)
When our lives feel like a mess, our minds usually follow suit. You don’t have to go selling everything you own at a yard sale, but reducing clutter can help relieve some stress. In general, the more you have going on around you, the more you have to think about, and the more you’re stressed out. You’ll be surprised how a quick 10-minute tidy of your bedroom or even a day-long spring cleaning can help you feel less overwhelmed. If you’re already super clean, get into a flow state and do some laundry, light a candle, or rearrange your furniture to give your space a refreshed feel. (13)
Not only will staying active throughout the week help you live longer, but it will also help you live better. Regular exercise can help people feel happier, more relaxed and less anxious. Generally, adults should be doing 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week to get these benefits. If you’re already struggling to leave your house, start off with really small goals like a 5-minute walk and you’ll usually find yourself wanting more after a few days. Plus, for an added emotional boost, you can get your daily exercise outside. (14)
If you live in a city, you are regularly exposed to noise above 85 decibels, which can eventually lead to hearing loss. Traffic, industrial activity, sirens, and airports all contribute to this noise pollution. But, when urban life isn’t peaking at 85 decibels, it’s still at an average of 60 decibels. While that might not seem like a lot, constant exposure to sounds of 60 decibels can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, stress you out, and even negatively affect your sleep. (15)
So what do us city dwellers do about it? Head to quieter places like libraries and bookstores or gardens. You might also consider walking up earlier in the morning to spend some more time in silence before the day begins. Getting some much-needed quiet can help us feel less stressed.
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Rituals and routine
Having a daily wellness ritual has been shown to increase overall well-being. It can be hard to get into the habit of participating in wellness activities, but once you make it a part of your daily routine, it’ll be much easier. In general, having a routine leads to lower stress levels, less anxiety, and improved mental health. We love our whole flower tea ritual because it makes adding daily wellness as easy as drinking a cup of tea, but here are some of our other favorite wellness rituals.
Have you ever taken note of the words you’re saying to yourself? Well, our self-talk really affects our mental well-being. Positive self-talk has been linked to increased life satisfaction, better physical well-being, and reduced stress. If you’re looking for a way to reset your negative self-talk, our four-week spring cleanse has weekly exercises to help reset your mindset plus weekly positive affirmations.
Being in a pandemic means a lot of us are lacking the daily touch we’re used to. These days there are a lot less hugs, pats on the back, and workplace handshakes and it can actually affect our well-being. Studies show that touch can help us feel safe and secure and can even calm cardiovascular stress.
Touch from a loved one can also reduce brain activity in regions associated with threat and stress. If you think you’re experiencing touch starvation, you might be feeling more anxious, stressed or depressed than normal. To combat it, you can try getting a massage, spending time with animals, getting a haircut or your nails done, or doing dance lessons. (16)
If you watched The Social Dilemma, you might have wanted to kick your cellphone to the curb for at least a few days. The negative side-effects of social media and screens can be pretty scary, which is why unplugging from technology from time to time can be so beneficial.
Unplugging can decrease feelings of anxiety and stress, reduce feelings of loneliness, and help us focus more on the things we’re grateful for. If you find yourself doom scrolling or not being able to go anywhere without your phone or computer, try getting an alarm clock and sleeping with your phone outside of your room or putting a limit on how long you’re allowed to spend on each of your apps. (17)
In 2010, Harvard Business School conducted a survey of happiness in 136 countries. All around the world they found that people who donated money were the happiest overall. It can be as simple as donating $5 every month to a cause you’re passionate about, but it also doesn’t have to be about money. Volunteering can help combat depression and increase self-confidence. (18)
Ah, the magic drink. Everywhere you go it can feel like someone is telling you to drink water to lose weight, get clear skin, or have more energy. While staying hydrated isn’t going to completely change your life, it is super important. Not only is drinking water important for your overall health, but being near or in bodies of water can actually help you feel more relaxed, improve brain health, provide stress and anxiety relief, and help us sleep better. (19)
X-amine your feelings
We slightly cheated on this one, but xylophones and x-ray machines aren’t really helpful when trying to combat anxiety. Examining your feelings is a key part to beginning to feel better. It can be easy to ignore everything that is going on around you, but instead of avoiding it, facing whatever is making you feel anxious or depressed can actually be super beneficial.
The idea of something actually tends to be a lot worse than the thing itself. Every day we stress about things that might not even happen, but our body still recognizes these imaginary stressful situations as stress. Don’t be afraid to cry, journal about what is really bothering you, and accept that things aren’t easy right now, but that things are going to be okay eventually.
There are so many benefits of yoga that we won’t be able to fit them all in this little blurb. But, yoga is especially beneficial for people struggling with their mental health because yoga naturally relaxes you, connects you with a community, and helps you manage stress. Plus, yoga is a great form of exercise, which means you also get all of the benefits of physical activity.
If you made it through our A-Z list of how to feel better, you might need a little power nap. But seriously, everyone could benefit from a little more sleep. When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to experience mood changes like feelings of stress, anxiety, and irritability. We know that these days sleep isn’t always the most important thing on our to-do list, but getting 7-9 hours of sleep should be one of your priorities. If you struggle to get sleep at night, you might want to check out our blog post where we share 29 of the best natural remedies for deep sleep.
We wanted to share the most important piece of advice for last as a plus one for our A-Z list: speak to a doctor before trying to take care of yourself on your own. If you’re suffering from crippling anxiety or depression, it is always best to talk to a professional. They’ll be able to refer you to a psychologist, give you medical advice on things like your sleep, exercise and diet, and maybe offer suitable medication.
No matter if you decide to add some of these self-care rituals into your life or not, we hope that you will be feeling better soon.