Pandemic pressures of the last two years and new global concerns are taking a toll on our community’s mental health. In Oregon, about one in four adults have a diagnosable mental health illness, and nationwide data shows about 40 percent of adults have experienced a mental or behavioral health issue during the pandemic.
With COVID-19 restrictions easing up locally and in other areas of the country, some people may have heightened feelings of anxiety or stress heading into spring.
While we cannot control what comes next, springtime offers a chance to reset and breathe deeply knowing that, literally, brighter (or at least longer) days are ahead. The change of the season reminds us of starting anew and forming new habits to ignite healing and support for living our best lives, no matter what is happening in the world.
Here are five tips to help manage your mental health and come out stronger this spring.
Curate connection with others
Humans are social creatures. We need community. Social engagement is associated with a stronger immune system and better physical and mental health. We challenge you to consider saying “yes!” to the next three social opportunities that arise for you.
You might also value joining a group based on shared interests, such as a hiking group, cooking club or tie-flying team. Not only will this help reintroduce you to group activities, but can also help normalize feelings of loneliness, anxiety and stress during the pandemic.
Think of food as information
Each bite of food feeds your cells for better or worse and has the power to turn on healthy signals or bad ones. The next time you are feeling stressed or sad, steer clear of sugary or high-fat comfort foods. Although these foods may bring temporary highs, multiple studies link high sugar diets with depression.
Instead, opt for whole foods that offer nutrient-dense calories far more effective in fostering healthy functioning be it mind or body. Also take note of how fast you eat. We digest better when we are in a relaxed, calm state. Imagine food and drink as fuel for maximum energy and clarity.
Slow down and be present
A mindfulness practice can sound intimidating, but at its core it’s quite simple. Being mindful means staying in the present and really feeling and experiencing the current moment. Research shows that being mindful can help lessen the stress response and calm a person.
So, how to start? The next time you brush your teeth, focus on what it sounds like, feels like and tastes like – take these mental notes the whole time you are brushing. Or the next time you walk your dog, skip the podcast and instead observe the natural beauty on your walk, what the air smells like and the neighborhood sounds. Notice what comes up for you as you take these mindfulness moments and observe how/if it changes your stress response.
Reset in nature
We spend most of our lives in shoes with rubber soles disrupting our energetic connection with the earth. Now that the days are longer and the weather a bit more cooperative, take yourself on a walk, hike or bike ride and enjoy a different view.
Forest bathing is the latest trend that shows walks in nature can reduce stress by lowering blood pressure and certain hormones. Not all of us have access to the forest, but many of us have access to the outdoors and can find a grassy or sandy area to ground our feet and get moving.
Above all, seek support
There is absolutely no shame in needing support. It can be lifesaving in severe cases, but can also teach us to listen to ourselves, reframe our thoughts and unveil patterns and scripts we’ve held onto that are no longer needed.
Seek the support you need whether that be meeting with a licensed therapist or having a regular coffee date with a trusted friend or confidant who can give support just by showing up consistently. You should never have to work through things alone.
If you are in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 800.273.8255. Press 1 for the Veterans Helpline.
Applying these tips can help you navigate this spring, a season of change, to usher in a stronger mind and body with a new outlook for a healthy, balanced and abundant year.
Derek Crain, LICSW, is co-founder and CEO of Mindful Therapy Group.