Want to Improve Your Mental Health? Think Outside the Box

Healthy Living

May 15, 2019

If you’re someone who struggles with anxiety or depression, you’ve probably had countless well-meaning people tell you that you’d feel better if you’d just improve your diet and get more exercise. While both healthy eating and fitness activities can improve mood, they’re not the only tools that you can use for addressing your mental health concerns. Along with medication, therapy and other traditional approaches, you may be able to ease your mind with the help of some out-of-the-box techniques. Check out the following creative self-care tips that could help to alleviate the fog of stress, anxiety or depression.

Pick Up a Coloring Book

When it feels like your brain just won’t shut off, anxious thoughts can escalate – quickly. Refocusing your attention gives you a break from that incessant barrage, which may help your stress levels return to a healthier level.

One simple thing that you can do to help calm your brain is to color a complex design, such as those found in adult coloring books. Researchers have found that there can be a meditative quality to the act of filling in geometric patterns, such as mandalas.

Just be sure to have a pack of nice, sharp colored pencils or fine-tipped markers by your side. Pointy-tipped coloring tools will allow you to focus on precision, which can really help you dive fully into your coloring experience.

Make a Weekly Meal Plan

When your life seems out of control, your feelings may manifest as anxiety. Sometimes, bringing order to just one area of your life can help you feel better all around. Look to an unusual place for inspiration: your kitchen.

Writing out a weekly menu could end the daily stress of standing at the refrigerator wondering, “What’s for dinner?” Making a plan not only means that you’ll have an answer to that question ahead of time, but it also means that you’ll be able to pick up exactly what you need at the store. With fewer last-minute trips to the supermarket and less decision fatigue as you shop, you may start to feel more control over at least one aspect of your life.

An added benefit of planning out your weekly menu is that you won’t be as tempted to pick up takeout on your way home from work, which could help you to develop better eating habits. Better nutrition is linked to better mental health.

Note that you don’t need to become a master chef for this benefit. Plan simple meals that you and your family love and that you know you can cook. If you want to experiment, go for it. Getting creative may also help alleviate stress. But for the purpose of regaining some control and peace of mind, it’s okay to stick with the basics.

Volunteer at an Animal Shelter

Depression and anxiety can make it feel hard to take care of your own needs, let alone someone else’s. But if you can push past those crushing feelings and start doing volunteer work, your efforts will pay off. Volunteering can give you a new perspective because it exposes you to others’ struggles and encourages you to focus on them for set amounts of time during the week.

There are many worthwhile places where you can volunteer, such as a children’s club or a food pantry. The best thing to do is to consider your passions and go from there. However, if you love animals, volunteering at a shelter includes an added bonus: Spending time with animals can be an effective way to raise your levels of oxytocin, the “love hormone.”

If you’re not an animal lover, that’s okay. Just pick a project that you’re passionate about or feel empathetic towards, and see how stepping outside yourself might improve your mental health.

Schedule a Standing Friends’ Date

Feelings of loneliness and isolation can contribute to anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, the worse you feel, the more likely you are to stay home, which can start and contribute to an endless cycle.

To break yourself out of the tendency to avoid social interaction, set up a regular weekly or monthly get-together with one friend or a small group. You could go out to dinner, meet for brunch, walk together after work or even do your grocery shopping together. Make intentional time with friends a must-do. It’ll do all of you good.

Find a Creative Outlet

Bottling up your feelings can exacerbate stress and depression, but participating in creative endeavors could help you find release. You don’t need to be a Pinterest-level crafter. Any number of creative outlets – drawing, painting, singing, acting, dancing or sculpting, for example – may ease your mind and allow you to unwind from the chaos around you.

If possible, figure out a group setting in which you can try your hand at these activities. Joining a theater troupe, taking a group painting class or signing up for a community choir will make this a social outlet in addition to a creative one. As you form new or stronger relationships, you may find that those feelings of loneliness and isolation will subside, as will the stronger symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Start an Herb Garden

If you feel a distinct lack of purpose or appreciation in your life, that feeling can manifest as melancholy. In its own small way, tending to a living thing can help you add meaning to your life. We’re not saying you need to rush out and adopt a pet – though caring for a furry friend could boost your spirits – but consider starting a small garden.

Even if you’re convinced that you don’t have a green thumb, give herb gardening a try. Many herbs are easy to grow in indoor or outdoor containers, and they often sprout quickly. As you watch your plants grow and develop, you’ll have the satisfying knowledge that you contributed to their success.

Research shows an easy way to improve your outlook on life. As you care for your herbs, you may start to feel a little happier. Plus, the extra supply of homegrown greenery will punch up the flavor in your meals (win-win).

Unplug for a Day

Sometimes, you just need to let go and indulge for a day. Treat yourself right by taking off work for a mental health day. If you can’t swing missing a workday, commit to spending an entire weekend day doing only the things that you find relaxing.

During this downtime, close your laptop, turn off the PC, set your phone on airplane mode and disconnect from social media. Scrolling your online feeds encourages you to compare yourself to what you see in others’ posts and pictures, even if you know those posts don’t always show the truth behind the scenes. The comparison game can leave you feeling incomplete or inadequate.

Focusing on your phone also lessens the time and effort that you put toward in-person relationships. Instead of using your day off for binge scrolling, consider spending it with the people who are important to you.

While caring for yourself, keep in mind that many mental health issues are medical disorders. You can’t fully cure major depression by painting a picture any more than you can eliminate strep throat by carving a sculpture.

But intentionally getting in touch with your inner self and engaging in enjoyable activities can help you understand the “why” behind the way that you feel. Together with other therapies, such as counseling and medication, the time and effort that you invest in caring for yourself can help you rise above your mental health struggles.