I am a chronic illness warrior who is always on the lookout for scientifically proven ways to support natural wellness.
Mental Health Issues Are On The Rise
Because life moves so quickly in our modern world, we’ve become increasingly susceptible to mental health issues. According to Mental Health America, 1 in 5 adults (that comes out to 43 million Americans) suffers from a mental health condition. Social media use is also on the rise as well, with no evidence of slowing down and thanks to FOMO and comparison, it has the potential to really screw with our moods. According to Psychom, teens who spent more time on social media had more than twice the risk of reporting eating disorders.
Fortunately, self care and mental health are becoming part of the global conversation. Even if our mental health is good, we can all fall into “slumps” now and then. If you’re feeling down, try some of these easy (and cheap) methods to boost your mood.
Take a Walk
Walking has long been a proven method of releasing endorphins. Among other things, the simple act of interacting with our neighborhood gives us a feeling of connectedness as few other things do. Tracking steps is an easy way to get motivated too, and besides the actual benefits of walking, you can also enjoy the satisfaction of reaching a goal. So just how affective is taking a walk? According to a study from the Archives of Internal Medicine, people with depression who took a daily walk felt just as much improvement in their mental state as those who took medication.
Did you know dirt is excellent for your mental health? Turns out, Mycobacterium Vaccae, a nonpathogenic bacteria that thrives in soil has some surprising health benefits. According to Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, president of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, “There is a growing recognition that the microbiome can impact health in general and, more specifically, mental health.” Nicknamed “outdoorfins” for its impressive emotional benefits, M Vaccae has also been shown to improve the moods of those with late stage cancer. No wonder the smell of dirt after the rain is almost universally recognized as one of the most soothing smells there is.
Read a Book
According to a University of Sussex research study, reading can reduce stress levels by up to 68 percent. It can also help you improve your memory and unwind after a long day. For best results, try an actual book with real pages, especially if reading before bed as screens can interfere with melatonin and circadian rhythms. Reading is also a well known way to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
There’s some actual science behind Marie Kondo’s famous method of decluttering. Among other things it offers almost instant gratification as well as long term satisfaction when you open your junk drawer and discover it neatly organized. If getting rid of everything that doesn’t “spark joy” seems like too much, a simple decluttering of your space has scientifically proven mood boosting benefits. High cortisol levels in females have been linked to the density of household items, so tackling the excess stuff can provide powerful stress relief. Also, less stuff to take care of means more time you can spend on things you enjoy. Start small with a coat closet or junk drawer and let the inspiration carry you from there.
Get a Pet
Research shows that people with pets are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than those without pets and that playing with pets can instantly raise serotonin and dopamine levels. (No wonder those programs with tiny horses in hospitals are so popular!) A pet can also be a great motivator to get outside and take that walk. Humans also tend to respond positively to taking care of another living thing as it provides purpose and satisfaction.
Get a Houseplant
Not ready for a pet? If that seems like a lot, try starting out with some easy beginner houseplants! As we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, plants do the opposite providing us with a more oxygen rich environment. Among other benefits, extra oxygen increases creativity, memory and focus while decreasing headaches and asthma by ridding the air of toxins such as formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. So how many plants do you need in order to reap these impressive benefits? According to former NASA research scientist Bill Wolverton, two plants per 100 square feet should greatly improve your indoor air quality.
Take a Bath
Baths are one on of the easiest DIY cure-alls. They benefit almost all the body systems, from the nervous system to the gastrointestinal system. Warm baths have also been linked to increased sleep quality which is sure to improve mental health in the short and long term. The warm water offers similar benefits to those of a tight hug, and and can even help balance hormones such as melatonin and cortisol. As poet Sylvia Plath said, “I am sure there are things that can’t be cured by a good bath, but I can’t think of one.”
Smell Some Essential Oils
Essential oils are extremely powerful oils distilled from plants that have been used in holistic medicine for thousands of years. While they should be used with caution and with the approval of a qualified physician, they can have profound effects on mood as they impact the limbic system directly by way of inhalation. One study showed that "aromatherapy showed potential to be used as an effective therapeutic option for the relief of depressive symptoms in a wide variety of subjects." Lavender, for example, has been shown to improve sleep quality and overall mood. Clary Sage is said to cause feelings of euphoria and calm.
Get Your Vitamins In
Another method of harnessing the power of nature is through vitamins. Vitamin D is a critical vitamin for mental health and according to some estimates up to fifty percent of the American population may be deficient. Vitamin B levels also have a marked effect on moods. While you could certainly pop a supplement (with the blessing of your doctor) vitamins and minerals are more effective and better absorbed when they come from diet. Focus on colorful fruits and vegetables, fish and lean meat.
Go Gluten Free
Did you know there’s a connection between gluten and depression? An Australian study recently showed that even though you may not have celiac disease, gluten could still be affecting your nervous system and thus your mood. There has also been a link between Celiac disease and schizophrenia that has been fairly well known since the ‘50s. Gluten is also considered an “inflammatory food” and lower inflammation almost certainly equals a happier you!
Skip the Drinks
Alcohol is a well known depressant, meaning it surpasses the function of your central nervous system. Because it blocks the messages your nerves are trying to send to your brain it can initially make you feel relaxed, but long term alcohol consumption can make you up to four times more likely to experience a depressive episode according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Many alcohols also contain high amounts of sugar which can suppress your immune system as well.
Because the human brain is 75 percent water, hydration has a big impact on mental health and a positive mood. Dehydration can lead to delirium, or more commonly, a general feeling of “fogginess.” Drinking enough water can help you think clearly which leads to productivity as well as an overall sense of well-being that comes from being in tune with your environment. Try drinking a glass of water first thing after you wake up (and before that first, dehydrating cup of coffee) as well as before meals and watch your mood improve.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Dominique Cantin-Meaney from Montreal, Canada on January 06, 2020:
Amazing tips and easy ways to relieve stress.Thanks for sharing this info.
Abigail Hreha (author) from Oregon on May 21, 2019:
Thanks so much, Lorna! I’m so happy that you enjoyed it!
Lorna Lamon on May 21, 2019:
This is a really informative article full of great tips which can be incorporated into our daily lives. Thank you for sharing