Making your mental health a priority is always important. However, during challenging times, it can be easier to forget to take care of our minds. Additionally, when recovering from negative experiences or traumatic events, mental recovery may take longer than physical recovery. Leaning on daily activities to help improve or maintain our mental well-being can be key. Let’s jump in! 

Cook

Clean

Listen to music

Spend time in nature

Help others

Practice the 5 pillars of health

Cook to relax and explore your creative side

Although experts place a large emphasis on the nutritional value of cooking (yes, you’re more likely to consume more nutritious foods when you cook), there are also many psychosocial benefits of cooking. A recent study  suggested that cooking made people feel happy, relaxed, and provided an overall sense of mental well-being. Cooking is often used to ease feelings of anxiety, panic, or depression. It can serve as a distraction because it requires a lot of attention on the task at hand. Cooking also requires setting a goal to work toward, so cooking can be therapeutic for people with depression. Additionally, a study found that adolescents who reported higher levels of cooking skill also reported lower levels of depression and greater levels of mental well-being. It also turns out that cooking is considered a creative activity, and creativity is associated with higher levels of mental well-being.

Choose simple recipes with small ingredient lists whenever possible. Start small. If you don’t cook at all, maybe start by cooking two times a week for dinner. Cook foods that you are familiar with, and you can experiment more later. Most importantly, have fun!

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Clean to feel accomplished and in control

Dirty or disorganized spaces can cause feelings of depression or anxiety. But feelings of depression or anxiety can lead to dirty or disorganized spaces, too. The act of decluttering and cleaning up can actually help ward off these feelings. Like cooking, cleaning can serve as a distraction as one takes part in repetitive tasks like folding the laundry. A clean and organized space can also put your mind at ease. 

“When [people] are faced with other problems that maybe they can’t address at the time or [when] they’re just kind of overwhelmed, they find that cleaning helps them restore a sense of control,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Dawn Potter on the Cleveland Clinic’s video podcast, “Health Essentials”.

So if you’re someone who turns to cleaning when you are stressed, you are not alone and there’s some science behind it. It’s good to clean and organize to help with your mental well-being. On the video podcast, Dr. Potter also addressed that cleaning produces real, tangible results. This can create feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment–which are both huge for mental well-being.

Are you someone who is overwhelmed by the idea of cleaning for mental clarity? I’ve been there, too. What about the junk drawer in your kitchen? Could it use some decluttering? Start there. You don’t have to clean your entire house, including the baseboards, to reap some mental health benefits from cleaning. Pick a small cleaning task each day and focus on completing it. 

Cartoon vector illustration of open open refrigerator

Listen to music to improve your mood and reduce stress

Listening to music, playing an instrument and singing are all great for mental well-being. Music reduces stress and improves mood. How? Well, one study suggests that listening to music can lower our heart rate, enhance overall well-being and serve as a distraction from our feelings of stress or anxiety. 

During the early stages of the pandemic, 127 Australians were asked about their pre- and during-pandemic media consumption behaviors. Life satisfaction was positively associated with listening to music, indicating the potential for music to be beneficial for times of social isolation

Music therapy has been shown to decrease levels of depression, especially in people with chronic illnesses. One study even looked into the use of music therapy in people undergoing chemotherapy; the results showed a positive correlation between listening to music and the reported mental well-being of the patients

So turn on some music while you cook or clean or pull the guitar out of the garage and give it another go. 

Spend time in nature to enhance your memory and self-esteem

Spending time in nature has been associated with better overall mental well-being. You only need to spend 10 minutes sitting or walking in nature to see benefits, according to a study involving college-aged individuals

It doesn’t matter where you are, but engaging nature in the form of bird-watching is beneficial for your mental well-being. Specifically, looking out the window at vegetation and birds is associated with a lower prevalence of depression, anxiety, and stress. Additionally, gardening and being around plants can increase happiness, enhance memory and improve self esteem.

Nature is great—I challenge you to take notice of your natural surroundings even if it’s checking out a small piece of grass growing through a crack in the sidewalk or stepping outside when it rains to focus on the sound and smell it brings. 

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Help others to increase your satisfaction with life

Volunteering not only improves one’s community but can also boost mental well-being. Results from a survey conducted in the UK in June 2020 suggested that volunteering during COVID-19 led to increased well-being as well as reduced feelings of depression and anxiety.  

When you help other people, a certain part of the brain is activated and you receive a rush of feel-good chemicals (endorphins). In a study of over 70,000 adults from the UK, participants who volunteered reported better mental health and more satisfaction with their life than those who did not volunteer. Volunteering can also reduce negative feelings about aging, improving overall well-being. 

And volunteering doesn’t have to require you to leave your home or see other people. You can help organizations with clerical work, answering phone calls or emails and much more! Many organizations have developed creative ways to keep volunteers involved in the comfort and safety of their homes. You can check out some virtual volunteer opportunities here.

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Practice the 5 Pillars of Health

It’s probably not a surprise that activities like eating healthy, exercising, meditating, fasting and sleeping well are good for your mental health. At LIFE Apps, we focus on these 5 Pillars of Health and encourage you to track these activities. 

When you feel like you are at a plateau with weight loss or nutrition, consider focusing more on the way you feel rather than the number on the scale. The benefits of the 5 Pillars of Health are endless, and people may forget about their benefits for the brain! Let’s talk about it.

Eat 5 servings of fruits and veggies daily

What we eat matters for how our brain can function and operate–and we want to give it quality fuel! Leafy greens, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and legumes are all great for your overall health and your mental well-being, too! 

Overall, consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is beneficial for adults’ mental well-being. A recent study found that children who eat more fruits and vegetables are more likely to have better mental health, too! We also know that the Mediterranean diet has shown promising results for lowering one’s risk of developing dementia

Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night

Sleep is a little tricky because your mental health can affect your sleep—and sleep can affect your mental health. However, let’s focus on the latter. Many adults don’t know how important getting enough sleep (7 to 9 hours for adults) is to their overall health. People who sleep six or fewer hours a night have a 30% higher risk of developing dementia compared to those who get seven hours of sleep. Insufficient sleep is also associated with depression and overall mental distress.

Fast for at least 12 hours overnight

 Intermittent fasting, also known as IF, is the process of giving your body a break from metabolizing food for a certain period of time. Have you ever set a goal and felt an immense amount of satisfaction once you achieved it? For many intermittent fasters, this is a huge benefit for their mental well-being. Additionally, fasting has huge benefits on your brain like improved memory and decreased depressive symptoms. Fasting has also been associated with giving people a feeling of mental clarity

Aim for 20 minutes of mindfulness daily

Just a few minutes of mindfulness or meditation a day can reduce stress. You can also try yoga. Yoga can decrease anxiety and improve brain function and mood.

Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day

 Instead of telling you for the 500th time that exercise is incredibly beneficial for your mental health, I’ll tell you that it is even more important as we get older. Exercise increases older people’s ability to clearly think, learn, and remember–and it’s protective against Alzheimer’s.

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