Maintaining Mental Health Is Crucial: 6 Science-Backed Ways To Do It
At the end of each year, we all get a glimpse into how the world has been thinking with Google's Year in Search recap. And in 2021, along with less consequential queries like how to move with plants and what is retrograde, the question of how to maintain mental health was on people's minds and search fields more than ever before.
This rise speaks to the importance of resilience during a time when a lot is out of our control. If you—like so many others—are wondering how to stay steady as we enter another year of uncertainty, here are six ways to maintain mental health daily:
Set small challenges for yourself.
Whether it's conquering a new fitness goal or learning a new language, positive psychiatrist Samantha Boardman, M.D., says that setting daily challenges for yourself will help you build resilience and mental strength. As she explained on a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, there's research to show that the more experience we have overcoming small, self-inflicted obstacles, the better prepared we are to stay steady in the face of future problems that feel higher stakes. These daily challenges can also increase our sense of confidence and trust in our ability to navigate hardship.
Stand up more.
While sitting in front of a Zoom screen all day may seem innocuous enough, new research published this year1 found that sitting for too long can harm mental health. The study in Sport Sciences for Health found that even people who were getting the recommended 30-plus minutes of daily exercise had worse stress levels, mood, and overall well-being after staying seated for more than eight hours a day. All the more reason to shell out for a standing desk, or at least break up long bouts in front of the computer.
Eat a Mediterranean-inspired diet.
The gut-brain connection is real, and researchers are now confident that certain foods can promote mental health. In her article published on mindbodygreen this summer, holistic psychiatrist Nicole Lippman-Barile, Ph.D., recommended loading up on leafy greens, olive oil, berries, and seafood due to their mix of brain-supporting vitamins, fatty acids, and healthy fats.
Pair your Mediterranean-inspired diet with exercise, mindful practices like meditation, and a stress-easing supplement to further tend to the mind-body connection.*
Reflect on your wins.
Another important tidbit we learned this year: Reflecting on previous accomplishments can make us more resilient to future stressors. A February study in the journal Emotion found that people perceived negative experiences as less distressing after thinking about a time when they overcame a challenge. Those who just reflected on positive memories that did not involve a sense of accomplishment fared worse. When obstacles arise, trusting in your ability to navigate them is key, so consider this your reminder to reflect on your wins often.
Call a friend.
We've all felt our mood lift after a phone call with a friend—and now we have research to back the feeling up. In one small study published this spring2, having a conversation with a friend seemed to actually lower women's cortisol levels during challenging times. There's nothing like a friendly phone call a day to keep stress at bay, so go get dialing.
Take walks in greenery.
It's not hard to believe that spending time in nature can work wonders for mental health and mood. And one study this year really demonstrated just how restorative outdoor access can be. The research3, conducted in Germany, found that the more trees that lined the streets of a neighborhood, the lower the prevalence of mood-balancing aids used by its inhabitants. If you needed another reason to immerse yourself in—or at least gaze out at—greenery today, this is it.
The bottom line.
Given the current burden of suboptimal mental health in our nation, there's an urgent need to make mental health services and strategies available to those who need them most. As we do, it pays to remember small ways to tend to mood and mental well-being daily. We hope that these six help you field any curveballs that come your way in 2022 with perspective, confidence, and resilience.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.