Between covid lockdowns, the election, and the promise of a long, dark winter in the headlights just ahead, it’s no wonder that anxiety and depression rates are through the roof. There’s comfort in knowing we’re all in this together, but when your heart is pounding or you’re losing sleep, you need a tactical strategy to help you feel better.
The answer isn’t always to increase productivity – although that’s certainly a great feeling. The fact is that as we age, stress takes a toll on our health and well-being, according to the Harvard Health Letter. And reducing stress doesn’t just help our health. It’s also a more enjoyable way to live your life.
Here are seven ways you can influence your mental health for the better.
Memorialize what you can’t control – and what you can
The covid outbreak and the contentious 2020 election cycle are two examples of stressors over which we have limited control. In fact, an American Psychological Association poll conducted by Harris found that 68% of respondents acknowledged that the presidential election is a “significant source of stress in their lives.”
Besides wearing a mask, washing your hands, and voting or volunteering, what can you do about covid or the election? In terms of stress, the answer is to acknowledge and move on, the APA recommends.
Yet you can apply the “acknowledge and move on” lesson to any stressor, not simply covid or the election. Start by writing down your thoughts in a journal or setting concrete goals in a planner. A goal planner is especially useful for memorializing your ideas and staying accountable for the promises you make to yourself, ultimately helping you achieve a healthier work-life balance.
Go outside every day
Multiple independent studies prove the restorative effects of spending time outdoors. One Science Daily study found that as little as 10 minutes per day getting fresh air is enough to improve mood and outlook. And Stress.org reports that going outside “amp up one’s creativity, productivity, and focus.”
Clean up and get organized financially
It’s hard to enjoy a dirty home or relax in a disorganized office – especially if you suspect there may be a forgotten, unwelcome surprise hidden under your couch or behind your desk. Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and a renowned consultant and tv host, recommends eliminating any clutter from your life that doesn’t “spark joy.”
Keep in mind that emotional clutter, especially if it’s financial or debt-related, can build up even in the most physically organized office setting. If this describes you, consider refinancing your mortgage, applying for an education debt relief scholarship, or figuring out how to pay off high-interest credit cards.
Long story short, eliminating “clutter” means ripping off the band-aid that covers the wounds caused by disorganization. Getting a handle on your physical surroundings and financial well-being frees mental space, letting you refocus on really important goals and priorities. (And during covid times, disinfecting high-touch surfaces will help keep you and those you know safe from infection.)
Tweak your inner voice
Improve your inner monologue and your well-being will benefit, according to the American Heart Association. Instead of convincing yourself you’ll never be able to pay for your teen’s college tuition bill or improve your website rankings, reframe your thoughts with a can-do spirit.
In other words, correct your inner voice when it complains, “I can’t believe this dumb mistake I made.” Instead, reframe your thought: “Now that I know to pay attention to this, I can try again and do better next time.”
Adopt a shelter pet (or any new hobby)
The AHA also recommends picking up a new hobby that can keep you busy and distracted. Adopting a dog, going on a daily walk, or taking up container gardening are proven ways to boost mood and relieve stress. And because they’re outdoor activities, you can take two stress-busting actions at the same time.
Each of these suggestions works great when they’re actually put into practice. But ultimately, these tips won’t work without a disciplined approach. That’s why using a goal-setting planner is invaluable. Scheduling time for exercise, answering emails, or consuming social media, for example, will help you take concrete actions to achieve your goals while wasting less time on activities that will harm your well-being.
Surround yourself with soothing influences
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of soothing influences. Listening to music and lighting a scented candle can have remarkably restorative effects – especially when enjoyed in a clean and organized home or office.
Ultimately, you’ll need to decide where toxicity lives in your life. Perhaps it’s a certain someone whose unhelpful attitude you could do without. Maybe it’s cleaner eating habits or cutting down on alcohol consumption. But even in the darkest of times, remember: This too shall pass.
Lisa Bigelow writes for Bold and is an award-winning content creator and self-described “stress monkey.” In addition to Companion Link, Lisa has contributed to OnEntrepreneur, College Money Tips, Finovate, Finance Buzz, Life and Money by Citi, MagnifyMoney, Well + Good, Smarter With Gartner, and Popular Science. She lives with her family in Connecticut.