3 steps that can help improve your mental health at home

Here are some simple things you can do to manage your mental well-being while sheltering in place
Woman meeting in an online support group

Mental health is definitely top of mind these days. As we all do our best to deal with the realities of COVID-19, it’s common to feel mentally drained, anxious, depressed, or stressed. Or all of the above.

Knowing that others are experiencing the same issues you’re dealing with may provide some comfort. Despite our society’s longstanding stigmas about speaking openly about mental health issues, they’re actually fairly widespread. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year.

If you have a mental health condition, your first step should always be to consult with a medical professional to determine the best treatment for you. Your doctor will develop a personalized treatment plan that may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

But starting today, you can also take advantage of simple at-home techniques to help you through these challenging times. Here are three tips that have the potential to bring positive change in your overall mood and mental state, as well as your physical well-being.

  1. Practice mindfulness

    It’s a simple fact that there’s nothing you can do to change the past. Likewise, you just can’t control everything and anything the future may bring. While that may feel daunting, especially with all the uncertainty around COVID-19, it could actually help you find peace right now.

    Mindfulness is a practiced skill that allows you to be fully present in each moment as it’s happening; instead of focusing on what’s happened in the past or what may potentially happen down the line, you bring your attention to what is occurring right now.

    An added benefit of mindfulness? It can have positive effects on your physical health. Studies have shown that mental relaxation techniques can actually lower your blood pressure.

    Try it right now while you’re reading this article. Take note of your breathing. Is it fast or slow? Deep or shallow? There’s no right or wrong here; your only goal is to become aware of it. Once you’re focused and in tune with your breathing, try deeply inhaling through your nose, then slowly exhaling through your mouth. Repeat a few more times, thinking about nothing else except your breathing.

    Hopefully, you’re now experiencing a moment of stillness. This is mindfulness at work.

    If you like how it feels and want to try going more in-depth into mindfulness, try a guided meditation with the Sanvello app (eligible members can access Sanvello through Wellvolution®).* Sanvello offers clinically proven therapies for dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as tools for mood assessment, sleep tracking, and exercise tracking. There are a wide range of options available to you, including self-care, peer support groups, and even one-to-one coaching with professionals trained in cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

  2. Socialize while physical distancing

    No matter how much you may appreciate your alone time, self-isolation and physical distancing can be trying, and even potentially affect your physical health. It’s important to always remember that you’re doing the right thing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Thankfully, given all the technology available to us right now, self-isolation doesn’t have to mean total social isolation. Anytime you’re feeling lonely is a great time to reach out to the people you care about.

    Prioritizing connections, even when they’re virtual, may be helpful for keeping your mental well-being on track. In fact, healthy human relationships are closely linked to our overall wellness. Still, sometimes feeling lonely can make you feel less social. This means you may need to give yourself a little extra encouragement to reach out and connect with others. It’s often the times when you least feel like connecting with other people that you – and they – need that connection the most.

    There are many ways you can reach out to friends and family for a live chat, whether by video or a plain old telephone call.

    If you’re really not in the mood to talk, send a quick “thinking of you” text or email to someone in your life. Even the smallest act of reaching out may help boost your mood, and theirs.

  3. Move a little more every day

    It’s no secret that exercise is vital for general physical well-being. But did you know that workout routines can also impact mental well-being? A study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that 15 minutes of running, or one hour of walking, every day can reduce the risk of major depression by 26%. Some sources even say that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression just as effectively as antidepressants, but without the potential side effects.

    While the gym may not be an option right now, there are lots of ways to get active each day. Here are some simple things to work into your daily routine (check with your doctor before starting any new activity to ensure it’s safe for you):
    • Stretching for a few minutes when you wake up and before going to bed.
    • Walking or jogging a few laps around your neighborhood (wear a mask if you live in a densely populated area).
    • Taking short activity breaks throughout the day. This is especially important if you’re sitting at your computer for many hours when you work.
    • Setting an hourly alarm to remind you to get up and move. Every time it goes off, do a few minutes of a different exercise – jumping jacks, squats, and sit-ups are all easy to do at home without any equipment.

What’s most important is that you simply get moving. If you can only commit to one thing, let it be that every day, you move just a little bit more than the day before. Remember, all those small steps add up to significant results over time.

Taking care of your mental health is important all the time, not just during global pandemics. The more you practice activities that support good mental health, the easier it will be to stay in a good place. Of course, don’t forget about the other important ways to protect your mental well-being, including getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food, and spending time doing the things that bring you joy.

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