As of July 16, 2022, people simply press three numbers, 988, to reach the US National Lifeline for Suicide Prevention when they need help during a mental health crisis.
Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression were a leading cause of global health problems even before the spread of COVID-19; however, they got worse. Since the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of anxiety and depression around the world have increased by 25%. In the USA, 4 in 10 adults reported symptoms anxiety or depression during the pandemic, compared to 1 out of 10 from January to June 2019.
Research suggests that the pandemic has exacerbated the impacts of loneliness. Moreover, people fear of missing out, also known as FOMO, hasn’t diminished even since in-person social gatherings have become less frequent. But small daily actions — like a short walk, a break from social media, or even a nap — can add up to impact mental health. Separately, advice, therapy and medications prescribed by health care providers are effective treatments for people with mental illness.
The Conversation US has collected four essential readings that explore some daily habits and practices that have been shown to improve mental health. These are food for thought, not guidelines or medical advice, but reading these articles could be the first step towards a healthier lifestyle.
1. A short break goes a long way
Reducing screen time can alleviate feelings of isolation, loneliness and envy, which may stem from social media scrollingaccording to Jelena Kecmanovic, assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown University.
“Several studies have shown that even a five-day or one-week break from Facebook can reduce stress and increase life satisfaction,” she writes. “You can also cut back without getting upset: Using Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat for just 10 minutes a day for three weeks reduced loneliness and depression.”
2. Exercise is like medicine for the brain
Arash Javanbakht, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Wayne State University, shares the science behind the link between exercise and mental well-being as well as his personal experience with the positive impacts of physical activity.
“Exercising regularly really changes the biology of the brain, and it’s not just ‘go for a walk and you’ll feel better,'” he explains. “Regular exercise, especially cardio, changes the brain. Don’t think of it as hit or miss. It doesn’t have to be an hour’s drive to and from the gym or the bike path for an hour-long workout rather than sitting on the couch.
“I always tell my patients, ‘One more step is better than none, and three squats are better than no squats.’ When you’re less motivated or just starting out, just be kind to yourself. Go the extra mile. Three minutes of dancing to your favorite music still counts.
3. Do you think therapy consists of looking at your navel? Think again
People in need of therapy and counseling have long suffered from the social stigma associated with mental illness, but these services are essential to protecting and improving our health.
“Decades of research show that psychotherapy is effective in relieving the most common forms of psychological suffering, such as anxiety and depression. But wellness is about more than reducing suffering,” writes Steven Sandage, Professor of Psychology of Religion and Theology at Boston University School of Theology “Positive psychology-informed counseling can be effective in improving well-being and increasing qualities such as forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude.”
4. Do Nothing
While it might not always seem plausible or even comfortable, slowing down and giving yourself some dedicated downtime can do wonders for mental well-being, especially when speed and efficiency seem like a big part of our lives.
“In the 24/7 era, the prospect of doing nothing can seem unrealistic and unreasonable. But it has never been more important,” writes Simon Gottschalk, a sociology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“Equating ‘doing nothing’ with non-productivity betrays a short-sighted understanding of productivity,” he explains. “In fact, psychological research suggests that doing nothing is essential to creativity and innovation, and a person’s apparent inactivity might actually cultivate new ideas, inventions, or melodies.”