We can't feel our best 100% of the time. Daily stresses, unexpected events, and busy schedules burn us out, and it can feel like an uphill battle to restore our cognitive and emotional vitality.
When our mental health cannot be improved by small lifestyle changes, it is always important to reach out to a health professional. But if you find yourself stuck in a rut, these are some basic natural solutions that can boost your mood, vigor, and most importantly, mental wellbeing.
The amount of sleep recommended for adults can range by age according to the National Sleep Foundation, but averages about 8 hours a night. Even when you can’t feasibly devote 8 hours to snoozing, you can at the very least improve the quality of your sleep (and that’s got to count for something, right?):
Nearly everyone has hopped on the essential oil bandwagon. While the benefits of using EO’s can be blown out of proportion (please, if you have ebola, go to a doctor... not your local, pyramid scheme EO marketer), there’s growing evidence of the benefits of using oils in certain applications like aromatherapy. Lavender is probably the most well-known EO associated with calming and sleep-inducing effects, and several scientific studies have reported calculable nervous system responses when people smell lavender, including lower heart rates and blood pressure, and changes to brainwaves correlated with feelings of calm and restfulness. Other studies have shown similar results with clary sage, ylang ylang, and bergamot.
Meditation and stretching
We all know how important it is to stretch before exercising to loosen your muscles and prep your body for physical exertion, but the gentle stretching and breathing exercises incorporated in restorative yoga routines can help you sleep, too. Practicing controlled breathing and mindfulness (rather than “Did I pay that bill today? Did I send that email? What are we going to do for dinner tomorrow?”) can improve sleep patterns as well. In this way, even meditation, with or without stretching, can help you ease your overwhelmed brain into sleep mode.
2. Get outside
Have you ever noticed that you feel generally ill and fatigued when you're stuck in your office all week? Maybe you get over it by breaking out a pint of ice cream and settling in to watch Office Space to make yourself feel better, there's a lot more to it than simply feeling frustrated and unmotivated with the daily grind. Sick Building Syndrome, or SBS, is a nonspecific health condition that can be characterized by a wide range of symptoms, from sluggishness to respiratory issues, caused by long durations spent indoors and exposure to chemical contaminants from paint, upholstery, carpeting and flooring among other things. Even the artificial lighting can disrupt our health on a biological and psychological level. If you can, get some time outdoors!
Studies show the connection between levels of Vitamin D in our bodies and our moods and emotional wellbeing. While there are supplements available that you can buy, getting some sun time – safely! – is an easy and affordable way to make your day a little happier.
If you live in an area where you can get out of the house or gym to exercise, do it! Some studies suggest that exercising outdoors can improve your mood and decrease feelings of stress and anger even more than exercising inside. Exercise has been shown to have positive psychological effects, for a variety of possible reasons, from increasing serotonin levels in the brain, to normalizing sleep patterns, to simply giving us something to feel accomplished about!
3. Draw out the poison
It’s always helpful to express our concerns and worries, whether by talking to a friend or therapist, or even just with yourself. Still, there are even more ways to allow your mind to process all of the heavy data you collect in your stress-filled day and help you draw out that poison:
You don’t have to do it daily to get the benefits of journaling. Taking a little time to free-write about the things that are bothering you can help you clarify your feelings and broaden your perspective about struggles in your life. If you want a little more structure, try writing down a few things that you are grateful for or made you happy today. People tend to remember negative events – minor or major – with far more impact than the positive things that happen throughout the day and our lives. Scientists call this our “negativity bias.” While it serves a purpose evolutionarily (risk assessment and aversion helps us survive!), it can be overwhelming when we are holding onto to negative sentiments over things that may not be directly harming us, like rude drivers or unlucky days. Writing about the good things that happen make us pay attention to the positive, and can keep us from falling into a defensive, default survival mode.
If journaling isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other avenues for processing our stressful thoughts. Draw or paint, dance to a favorite song, knit, doodle, or write a poem. Studies show that getting creative helps improve your mental state more because of the process itself, not the end product. And it’s fun to do with friends – another great way to boost your mood!
Help someone else
It may seem counter-intuitive, but when you're stressed out and feeling like you need all the help you can get, science says that helping other people reduces your own stress levels, too. Not only can small performing small acts of kindness mitigate your tension and help you respond to new stressors with less negativity, it can make you feel even better than receiving help yourself.
There’s never a more difficult time to relax when you’re already stressed out, but that’s exactly when you’ve got to make a conscious effort to do so. Meditation and stretching can help with that, of course, but if you can carve out a chunk of time to devote to yourself, try one of these:
Take a bath
Taking a warm soak in the tub can lower blood pressure, improve circulation, encourage slower and deeper breathing, and help ease physical pain. And that’s just with water alone! When you add key minerals and oils, it can help your mood even more. Salts – especially magnesium-rich Dead Sea Salt – can ease muscle tension and soreness and soothe the skin, while those aroma-therapeutic essential oils like lavender and bergamot help your brain let go of the tension from the day.
Listen to music
Listening to music has been proven time and again to benefit our mental health. Faster songs can motivate and rejuvenate us, while calming and slow songs can help us relax and unwind. Best of all, listening to music can easily be incorporated into any calming routine. Play some soothing music while you take a bath, stretch, meditate, or journal, and save the upbeat and happy songs for your morning walk in the sun.
You work hard every day, and sometimes it can feel like everyone else's needs come first. But always remember to take care of yourself - and get professional help when needed! - so you can continue being the best you can be.