Self-care is key to maintaining good mental health, but how do you know which mental health activities will have the most positive impact on your mental well-being?
While eating a delicious bowl of chocolate brownie ice cream and binge-watching episodes of your favorite romcom TV series is a totally acceptable way to unwind and give yourself a break every now and then, it’s not the answer to long-term growth and healing.
In this blog, we’re going to unpack 18 mental health activities that provide some amazing mental health benefits, reduce stress, enhance your personal wellness, and boost your emotional and physical health.
Need professional support in improving your mental health? Find an Ellie location near you and get matched with a therapist that’s perfect for your needs.
1. Exercise However You Want
One of the most healthy mental health activities to boost well-being is engaging in heart-pumping physical activity!
Exercise has many benefits for your overall emotional health. It can provide stress relief, improve your cardiovascular health, reduce symptoms of mental health illness, boost your self-esteem, and help you cope with difficult emotions.
How you exercise is completely up to you. And you don’t need to do anything incredibly strenuous either. A brisk walk, yoga, tai chi, or an upbeat workout class could improve your mood tremendously.
However, if you want to bust out the heavy weights, run a few miles, or punch a heavy bag, go for it! The goal is to move in whatever way feels best and have fun.
Additionally, while exercise is a great way to cope when you’re already feeling anxious or depressed, getting physical regularly is also a great preventative! As long as your physical health allows, routine exercise is a great way to manage stress during the work week, increase your energy levels, and support your overall well-being.
2. Spend Time in Nature to Boost Well Being
Getting outside regularly is like food for the soul. Spending time in nature, even if that means just sitting on your porch and soaking in some sun rays, is incredibly important for your psychological well-being. And if you’re like most adults in the United States, you could likely use more vitamin D in your life.
There are countless fun activities you can enjoy while out in nature. You can unwind and take in the beauty of the outdoors by hiking, fishing, kayaking, boating, rock climbing, bird watching, or going to the beach.
The point is to get outdoors, even if the weather isn’t perfect. Especially if you struggle with seasonal affective disorder, time in the sun can increase serotonin and naturally improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
3. Do Some Gardening
Gardening is also an excellent way to improve your mood and cope with mental health issues. First, you’re getting outside! That time in the sun alone can relieve stress. However, the benefits go even deeper.
Gardening allows you to focus on a repetitive, sensory task, such as weeding or planting seeds. Focusing on what your hands are doing, hearing the sounds of birds, and simply existing in the moment can help ground you and break cycles of intrusive or obsessive thoughts.
Additionally, gardening can help you feel more connected to the world around you. Planting a seed, tending your garden, and watching the fruit of your efforts grow over time can be incredibly rewarding.
If you are still learning or don’t have enough gardening space in your own home, consider joining a community garden where you can also reap the benefits of social interaction to improve your mental health.
4. Start a Journal for Mental Well Being
It can be difficult to process and let go of your thoughts when they never leave your head. Journaling or other mental health activities that encourage writing can help you label your emotions, develop self-compassion, and start to understand why you feel the way you do.
By getting your thoughts onto paper, you can put a name to what you’re experiencing and become aware of the emotions you’re experiencing.
The great part is there isn’t only one “right” way to journal. You can write poetry, try bullet journaling, jot down positive affirmations, make a list of things you’re thankful for, express your emotions, track your mood, or simply explain what happened that day.
Remember that your words don’t need to sound eloquent or make sense to anyone else. Heck, you can even skip punctuation and throw grammar out the door if you want to. Just let your mind flow.
5. Try a Deep Breathing Exercise
Your stress levels and breath are closely linked. When you’re stressed or anxious, your breathing becomes more shallow and rapid. And if you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you know how out of control your breathing can get when your stress levels peak.
Deep breathing has an incredible calming effect. Whether giving birth, experiencing a near-death experience, or struggling with a bad wave of anxiety, taking time to bring awareness to your breath is one of the most effective ways to calm your body and mind.
Now, if you don’t know any specialized breathing techniques in a moment of stress, start by simply becoming aware of your breathing. Breathe deeply, inhaling and exhaling fully – focusing on the feeling of your breath entering and exiting your body.
A few other breathing techniques you can try include:
- Diaphragmatic breathing (AKA belly breathing): a deep breathing method using the diaphragm
- Breath focus: breathing while focusing on a word or phrase, such as “relax”
- Lion’s breath: a yoga breathing technique that involves inhaling deeply and exhaling with a long “haaa” sound
- Equal breathing: inhaling and exhaling for the same length of time, normally to the count of three or five
- Alternate nostril breathing: using your finger to close off one nostril, inhaling through the left, and exhaling through the right (alternate for at least five rounds)
6. Drink a Hot Cup of Coffee or Tea
Research suggests that caffeine may reduce depression symptoms. Additionally, many teas and coffee have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can also have mental health benefits.
We all have rough mornings, and if you have one of those days where you’d rather not get out of bed at all, a hot cup of tea or coffee might be just what you need. Hot beverages can improve circulation, relax your muscles, give you an energy boost, and prepare you for the day.
While caffeine might benefit people with depression, ADHD, or other mental health issues, it’s not for everyone. If you have anxiety or high-stress levels and you find drinking coffee worsens your symptoms and increases your heart rate, you might do better with tea, which has lower amounts of caffeine.
7. Take a Hot or Cold Bath
Cold plunging doesn’t just help your muscles and joints, cold water immersion shows promise for being an effective treatment for both depression and anxiety. Cold water can cause an increase in dopamine levels and stimulates the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system.
While the potential benefits of this therapy are still being tested, there was one study in 2010 that showed people who were frequently exposed to cold water had a reduced stress response.
If you’re looking for quick stress management techniques, a hot shower or bubble bath could be a fast solution for increasing oxytocin and promoting relaxation.
8. Escape Into a Good Fiction Story
Tired of hearing the sound of your own voice in your head? Pick up a new book! A good story can help you take your mind off your troubles for a moment and is a healthy way to “escape” your life for a while.
Research shows that reading a fiction book effectively reduces stress, especially as you become engaged in the story. One study in 2009 by the University of Sussex found reading can reduce stress by up to 68%.
9. Spend Time With a Friend
A depressed or anxious brain might try to convince you that you’d rather be alone. Some alone time is beneficial for anyone, but loneliness can be very damaging to your mental health and even increase your chances of developing a mental illness.
Spending time with a friend or getting involved in your community can provide you with the support and comfort you need. If you’re feeling incredibly stressed, anxious, or depressed, talking with a friend you trust can help you process how you’re feeling.
If you don’t feel like talking or don’t feel like you have friends you can turn to, there are other ways you can promote your social well-being and find healthy ways to cope. Some ideas include doing a community yoga class, visiting the dog park to chat with other owners, or volunteering.
10. Seek Professional Mental Health Support
If you’re struggling with mental health issues and haven’t yet connected with a therapist, we encourage you to reach out! Being a human is hard, and we all could use some help in life.
Getting professional help for your mental health doesn’t mean you are weak or have failed. In fact, it means that you have the maturity, awareness, and strength to get support and make a necessary change in your life.
A therapist can help you find treatment for mental illness, lower your risk of harmful side effects, help you build your self-esteem, and teach you effective self-care and coping mechanisms for managing your anxiety levels.
11. Do Something New
Is a monotonous life making you feel depressed? If you’re tired of following the same old routine and feel bored, unmotivated, and restless, consider shaking things up a bit.
Learning a new skill is a great opportunity to make friends, find a new hobby, and add excitement to your life. You can even pick up one of the activities on this list, such as joining a local gym, trying your hand at gardening, or reading.
If you have some spare time or can take a mental health day off work, consider exploring a new spot in your city or taking an impromptu road trip. A break from your routine can be refreshing.
12. Clean, Organize, and Purge Your Home
Focusing on a task like cleaning or organizing can be an effective grounding activity. Additionally, it feels good to have a clean living space!
Once you’ve finished, make sure to take time to appreciate your work and soak in the freshness of the newly cleaned area.
13. Get a Massage
If you’ve had an especially stressful week, a massage can help ease tension in your body and promote relaxation. If a professional massage isn’t something you’re comfortable with, you can ask a friend, family member, or significant other if they’re willing.
You can also use a massage gun, a tennis ball, a foam roller, or other massage tools for a self-administered massage that will have similar soothing effects on your mind and body.
14. Play With Your Pet (Or Someone Else’s)
Cats and dogs aren’t just adorable and fluffy, they’re great for your mental health too! So if you have a pet, you’re in luck because spending time with animals can help ease loneliness, reduce work stress, reduce anxiety, and encourage you to be more active.
If you don’t have a pet, you can always hang out with a friend who has one (double the mental health benefits!) or visit your local shelter.
15. Quiet Your Mind With Meditation
Mindfulness mental health activities, like meditation, encourage you to focus on the present moment. Rather than obsess over a painful past or worry about an uncertain future, when you meditate, you aim to quiet your mind, become aware of your surroundings, and feel emotions without judgment.
Meditation can feel awkward at first, especially if you struggle to sit still or calm your thoughts. It’s a skill you will need to develop, but when you practice mindfulness, you gain control of your brain and train it not to wander.
16. Express Yourself With Art
Creativity can be healing. Whether you enjoy painting, adult coloring books, clay, woodworking, or writing poetry, art gives you the space to relieve stress and express difficult emotions in a new way.
If you want to explore the therapeutic benefits of art more deeply, art therapy is a very effective treatment method for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more.
Best of all, art therapy is for everyone. Adults, children, and everyone in between can benefit from art therapy, and you don’t need to be an amazing artist to experience the benefits.
17. Laugh It Out
It’s amazing how much a little laughter can flip a bad mood. Mental health activities that end in laughing are sure to give you a boost in endorphins, which can help you feel less stressed and may even help you feel happier.
You’d be surprised by the long list of benefits that come with laughter. In addition to improving your mental health, laughter can also improve your immune system, decrease muscles, improve oxygen consumption, and prevent heart disease.
Spending time with people who make you laugh is a great way to get yourself going, as laughter is very contagious. If you’re alone, funny videos, your favorite TV show, or old-fashioned punny jokes are fool-proof ways to make yourself laugh.
18. Express Gratitude
When you’re feeling depressed or anxious, it’s easy to get caught in a cycle of remembering all the stressful or painful parts of your life. You might become fixated on a traumatic event that happened to you, an embarrassing moment, a heartbreaking failure, a broken relationship, grief, or a future event you’re dreading.
Gratitude is a strong adversary of painful, obtrusive thoughts. When negativity fills your mind, taking time to remember what you’re grateful for can help you cope and work toward healing.
Now, gratitude doesn’t mean all the bad feelings are washed away. The goal isn’t to ignore difficult emotions or feel guilty that you feel bad when you have so much to be grateful for.
However, practicing gratitude more often can help you start to alter your thoughts and encourage an attitude of positivity and contentment. Thankfulness also helps you feel more connected to the people, places, and things around you.
Practice Self-Care for Improved Mental Health
Just like your physical well-being, your mental health needs consistent care and attention to stay in good shape. Making time for your self-care is essential for your emotional well-being, and healthy coping skills ensure you’re ready when difficult times strike.
When you’re feeling sucky, your first instinct is to reach for the first thing that will make the pain go away — whether that be the TV remote, a drink, a cigarette, or junk food. However, with this arsenal of mental health activities in hand, you’ll be better equipped for the future.
Learn more mental health activities and gain effective coping skills with the help of a professional therapist near you. Reach out to Ellie Mental Health and get matched with a therapist today.