Simple Ways to Protect Your Mental Health During Stressful Times

The holiday season can bring unwelcome guests — stress and depression. The extra demands of shopping, cooking meals, buying gifts and even worrying about staying healthy and safe at family gatherings due to COVID-19 can wreak havoc with mental health.

But according to the Mayo Clinic, there are simple tips that can help minimize the stress while staying mentally healthy and strong. These “happiness habits” can get you through a rough spot but are not meant to replace professional help for serious depression, acute anxiety, or other clinical issues. If your seasonal blues continue, see your doctor for expert advice.

• Clear clutter. According to WebMD, studies have shown that your brain is affected by visual chaos. Clutter may also raise the stress hormone cortisol, especially in women. Plan to tackle one room, or even just one counter, at a time. Sort unused goods to be given to charity.

• Treat yourself. Retail therapy can boost your mood, especially if you buy something nice for yourself. We’re always thinking of others during this season, but why not buy something special just for you? Even a lovely, scented soap can perk you up.

• Read something uplifting. A good read is a great mental escape hatch if it’s pleasant and riveting. Studies have associated reading with improvements in depression symptoms and improved mental clarity, says WebMD. Try to avoid reading about the news or something controversial and escape with a good, juicy book

• Pet a furry friend. College students who petted a cat or dog for just 10 minutes had lower levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone. You don’t need to adopt or own a pet to benefit, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. Offer to walk a neighbor’s dog, cat sit for a friend, or volunteer at a local animal shelter.

• Listen to music. Studies have shown that listening to your favorite music, whether it is Mozart or classic rock can lower both blood pressure and heart rate. Put on the headphones and enjoy your groove!

• Eat the Mediterranean diet. A peer-reviewed study found that following the Mediterranean diet that features fish, whole grains, nuts, and lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, eased depression in older adults.

• Exercise. The experts at Harvard Medical School say that exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression — in some cases as effective as antidepressants. “For some people it works as well as antidepressants, although exercise alone isn’t enough for someone with severe depression,” says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor of psychiatry. “Start with five minutes a day walking or any activity you enjoy. Soon, five minutes of activity will become 10, and 10 will become 15.” Walking in nature has a double bonus. According to WebMD, a 2015 study found people who take nature walks have lower activity in the parts of the brain that contain negative thoughts.

• Laugh. Laughter not only reduces stress and anxiety, but it can also bolster your immune system, says Healthline. Find the things that make you laugh whether watching silly videos, funny podcasts, or jokes from magazines. Laughter is one of the best mood lifters around.

• Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek support from a trusted friend of family member. It’s helpful to address your anxieties and concerns rather than keep them bottled up inside. Offer to help others as well. Some research has found that it can be even more uplifting to give support than to get it.

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