What are some things you can do for your mental health? Keep reading to find out! Not everything works for everyone, but hopefully a few will work for you.
When you’re feeling down:
Create a gratitude list. Hand-write at least ten positive things, events, people, etc. that you are thankful for. These can be big things or little things--anything that makes you happy.
Create an achievement list. Hand-write at least five of your successes, review the list, and be proud of yourself! Successes might be as big as winning a prize or as small as remembering to eat breakfast, but both are reasons to be proud.
Distract yourself with your favorite activities. Listen to uplifting music, read books, or watch a TV show. Practice your hobbies, like playing piano, knitting, or whatever else you like.
Play with pets. According to Kimberly Zapata, “Spending time with animals lowers your stress levels and boosts the release of oxytocin, which stimulates feelings of happiness”. It also may get you outside, which is proven to be great for your mental health.
Spend time with friends and family. For some people, spending time with others boosts their mood. Focus on the moment and appreciate it. If hanging out in large groups doesn’t work well for you, it can also be helpful to talk to just one person at a time.
Exercise. Exercising is especially hard when you’re feeling down. It can seem impossible, but just going on a short walk outside or dancing to your favorite music can make a positive difference.
When you’re feeling anxious:
Breathe. It’s easy to forget to properly breathe when you’re dysregulated. Breathe, and breathe mindfully. If you’re breathing quickly, slow your breathing down to about five to six breaths per minute. Also, it’s helpful to exhale for longer than you inhale.
Change the temperature. This can help you calm down quickly. For example, try washing your hands or face in cold or hot water, taking a cold shower, or stepping outside for a couple seconds in cold temperatures. Don’t stay in the cold for more than a few seconds!
Relax your muscles. Pairing muscle relaxation with breathing is a great way to calm down. While deeply inhaling, tense one of your muscles. Notice it. While exhaling, let go of the tension. Notice the difference. Repeat this exercise with other muscles, and, in your mind, focus on being relaxed.
Focus your energy on a task you need to complete. For example, clean your room. Do not focus your energy on the task that is adding to your heightened mood.
Focus your thoughts on something simple. Count to ten slowly, or don’t stop at ten; count until you feel calm. Count the colors in a painting. Notice and point out to yourself the objects in a room.
Engage in intense exercise. Getting active can calm down your body when it is heightened by emotion. Try running, walking fast, jumping, playing a sport, dancing to your favorite music, or doing other high-energy exercises. Doing this for only a short period of time can still make a difference.
Color. Grab a coloring book, print out coloring pages from the internet, or find a blank sheet of paper, and color or draw. It’s not just for little kids.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is (1) “being aware of the present moment (e.g. thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations) without judgement and without trying to change it” and (2) “staying focused on one thing at a time” (Rathus and Miller). Try practicing mindfulness in all areas of your life. For example, try studying mindfully, eating mindfully, and exercising mindfully.
Meditate. Meditation is good for anyone, at any time. There are several free guided meditation apps for a phone or tablet, but you can also meditate by yourself. There are so many ways to meditate--the key is mindfulness.
Allow yourself to take breaks. Working 24/7 is not good for your mental health. Stay productive and focused, but also allow yourself to take breaks.
Keep a journal. You can write about anything you would like, and no one’s there to judge it. Write about what’s bothering you or what’s going well, write poetry, draw pictures, keep lists, or write about things you want to get out of your head, and then throw it away.
Sleep! Sleep has a lot to do with your mood and with your mental health. Adolescents should get around nine hours of sleep every night.
Set goals. Setting realistic goals as well as allowing yourself to dream big will give you a great sense of achievement as you progress towards your goals.
Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to talk to a trusted adult if you need help. Take advantage of your resources, such as parents, teachers, school guidance counselors, hotlines, or therapy. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. It’s you getting what you need.
Art by Elizabeth Laurence
We are all students of the issues presented here. If you would like to recommend a correction or change, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, we are not doctors, lawyers, or professionals. Please use your resources to seek help; the front pages of the Student Handbook have lists of who to go to for whatever your need.
Harteneck, Patricia. “10 Daily Steps to Improve Mental Health.” Seleni Institute, www.seleni.org/advice-support/article/10-things-you-can-do-to-improve-your-mental-health-every-day.
“University Health Service.” Ten Things You Can Do for Your Mental Health. University Health Service, The Regents of the University of Michigan, 2018, www.uhs.umich.edu/tenthings.
Zapata, Kimberly. “Nine Simple Things You Can Do Every Day to Improve Your Mental Health.” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 21 Oct. 2016, afsp.org/nine-simple-things-can-every-day-improve-mental-health/.
Linehan, Marsha M. DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition. Copyright 2015 by Marsha M. Linehan.
Rathus, Jill H. and Alec L. Miller. DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents. Copyright 2015 by The Guilford Press.