May is Mental Health Awareness Month!! In an effort to help everyone who has access to the internet feel better, I'm writing this post to do just that - help everyone feel better! The information below will help with everything from anger to anxiety. All of the resources listed below are free, and natural.
Here are five actions you can take to improve your mood immediately!
"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate."
- Carl Jung
Ask yourself why you're feeling how you're feeling. Sometimes our emotions are an obvious, immediate response of something that just happened (for example, you're upset after an argument with a loved one). Sometimes, a mood can be more mysterious - maybe you're agitated about something but can't put your finger on it (perhaps an ongoing event triggered an old wound). Carl Jung, Swiss Psychiatrist and major contributor to early psychological theory said, "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." I'm not sure that you're calling it fate, but I do know that if you're having thoughts, feelings or urges that you're unaware of, that those things can drive your conscious thoughts and behaviors without you knowing. Taking some time to check in with yourself every day is helpful to keep a consistent mood, and helps you become aware of your own internal patterns.
2. Deep breathing
Deep breathing helps to calm the body and elicit the relaxation response (it activates the parasympathetic nervous system). Deep breathing is used in all kinds of modalities from yoga to biofeedback. There's a plethora of data that supports breathwork as a skill to reduce blood pressure, anxiety, stress, depression and other negative emotional states. To get started, just find a seat in a comfortable chair, make sure your spine is long and straight, and take some long, deep, slow breaths in and out. Try it for 60 seconds and see how you feel. If you like it and want to increase it, you may want to try meditation.
This article takes a deeper dive into the power of deep breathing, and gives specific technique and instructions.
Breathing and meditation often go hand in hand - some meditation asks you to focus on your breath. A pubmed search for the term meditation and mood yields almost 1000 peer reviewed articles. The first article listed shows that brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators. There are many ways to meditate, including several apps like Calm and Headspace. I use my Oura Ring to track meditation times, HRV, pulse, and skin temperature when I meditate.
This spotify playlist is a really nice place to start if you like guided meditation. It is Deepak Chopra's 21 day Abundance Meditation. Each are under 15 minutes.
Meditation is not for everyone. Sitting with yourself when you're feeling bad can sometimes exacerbate those negative feelings instead of alleviating them. Start with short, guided meditations and explore different styles of meditation. Find what you like, and keep doing it. I frequently fall out of practice, but I know that it always makes me feel better. I have never once regretted it, but sometimes lack the discipline to actually go do it.
4. Step outside
Being outside has so many positive effects on emotional and physical health. There are two main sources of awesomeness when you venture outside: the Sun, and the Earth.
☀ The Sun does miraculous things when it comes into contact with our skin to create natural, immune boosting, musculoskeletal supporting Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps regulate calcium and phosporous, and oral Vitamin D supplementation has been shown to decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. You've probably had your Vitamin D levels checked if you've had annual blood work done with your primary care doctor in the past decade or so (though this was not a common lab when I was a young adult). Merck Manual says that the most common reason for Vitamin D deficiency is lack of exposure to sunlight. If you know your Vitamin D levels are low and you're having any health issues, it's even more important to make sure you're getting proper amounts of Vitamin D. Since the pandemic, I've made an effort to get out in the Texas sun regularly! I have been supplementing orally for years, but didn't see a real jump in my serum levels until I made a regular commitment to get outside in the sun. My labs from 2018-2020 ranged from 24 ng/mL (too low) to 36 (the cutoff is 30 but really that's too low, too). In 2021, after dedicating most weekends and some lunch times to sun exposure my Vitamin D level finally jumped up to 60 ng/mL. There's an app called dminder that I use to track sun exposure and calculate the amount of Vitamin D I'm getting. It helps to get the right amount of sun exposure without burning!
🌍 Earthing is the practice of grounding yourself by exposing yourself to the Earth's surface. It is known that the surface of the Earth has a limitless supply of electrons. What does that mean and who cares? When human bodies are exposed to electrons they act to neutralize free radicals. Neutralizing free radicals in the body helps with all kinds of things, including mood. Here are a few journal articles about earthing and electrons acting as antioxidants. There is at least one study that also concludes that being in contact with the earth significantly improves mood. If it's been a while, try walking barefoot in the grass for 5 minutes and see if you notice a difference in how you feel.
Moving your body is good for your mental health - and not just your mental health, but your overall health. I'm sure you've heard the phrase "sitting is the new smoking." We know that being sedentary is linked to chronic disease and early death. Technology makes it easier for us to control our surroundings from our devices (I don't even have to get up to answer the front door anymore), and can encourage less physical movement. It has been stated that there is a global issue with sedentarism, and a third of the world is considered inactive. I know that our recent pandemic also negatively impacted movement for some - we all started working remotely and weren't even getting the normal steps in that it would take to get from the parking lot at work to our desks! For me, the key to regular movement has been finding physical activities that I look forward to and enjoy - walking the neighborhood with Gigi is more fun with a podcast!
I hope that you've found these tips helpful, and maybe you've even learned something new!As always, take what is helpful and resonates with you and leave the rest! I would love to hear your feedback in the comments below!