A Spring Refresh for Mental Well-Being

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Springtime is when I tidy up a bit, let some fresh air in, and sweep out the cobwebs (both actual and mental). In other words, spring pulls me toward a refresh for both my home environment and my physical and mental health. And since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to consider how healthy habits affect mental well-being. A nourishing diet that includes foods associated with improved mood can certainly be helpful. And there are specific types of foods known to support cognition and brain health. But what else can you do to help your mental health during this season (and beyond)? Here are my top tips.

Renew Connections

Renewing friendships and socializing more feels really good, especially if you saw more Netflix than friends this past winter. And research backs that up: The development of diseases, both physical and mental, is correlated with social isolation. This is true for all ages, and while social media can help, it’s no replacement for in-person time with friends. Now that the weather is nicer, consider re-connecting with your buddies in ways that strengthen your body and your relationships:

  • Call a friend and schedule a walk (even better, make it a regular weekly walking date)
  • Go on a weekend day hike for a good dose of quality time together

Declutter Your Environment

It’s no surprise that the more cluttered your home or office environment becomes, the harder it is to think clearly. Basically, it’s hard to see a bunch of things around us and still focus on the task at hand. In addition, people tend to think of their homes as extensions of themselves. So when our spaces are cluttered, we may feel stressed and unhappy. And that’s the opposite of what most of us are going for! Thankfully, a full-on “spring cleaning” isn’t required to declutter your home. Simply get rid of some stuff (or at least move it out of sight). Your home will feel more like your sanctuary, and a neater space will help you feel more calm and content. A calm mind makes better decisions too, which may help you with health priorities like eating better and exercising.

Spruce up Your Sleep Hygiene

Quality sleep is essential to mental health. According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative. Lack of sleep is also linked to depression. Of course, sleep is important for physical health, since it’s the time when the body grows and repairs itself. Your performance during the day, both physically and mentally, depends on both the quality and duration of your sleep. Paying attention to and optimizing your sleep hygiene can help you get better sleep. (This includes the environment in which you sleep and the daily habits that impact your sleep.) Start with these simple tweaks:

  • Unplug from electronics 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime
  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine (changing clothes, brushing teeth, etc.)
  • Wind down by reading, meditating, stretching prior to sleep
  • Sleep in a cool, dark bedroom without night lights

Move Your Body in Ways that Feel Good

Daily exercise can help you feel better both physically and mentally. It also promotes good sleep. The specific mental wellness benefits of physical activity include:

  • Decreased anxiety and mild depression symptoms
  • Increased release of “feel good” neurotransmitters called endorphins
  • Stress relief
  • Stronger mind-body connection and more mindfulness

The best part? It doesn’t take a lot of exercise to bring wellness benefits. Even a 10-minute walk can boost your mood. And if you do two or three of those sessions each day, your body will benefit as well. (Think improved balance and flexibility, lower blood pressure, and more energy.) The key is to find physical activity you enjoy. Moving your body should feel good to you, so don’t feel constrained by what’s typically considered “exercise.” It’s movement that counts. Consider these ideas:

  • Take a cue from what you liked to do when you were younger, such as dance or a team sport. Many community centers offer adult leagues for various sports like pickleball, softball, and tennis. Group dance and line dance classes are popular too
  • Find a local recreational club for archery, fencing, or tennis and refresh your skills
  • Follow along with at-home workouts online, like YouTube videos—there’s something for every age and fitness level
  • If your Medicare plan includes Silver Sneakers, take advantage of its many benefits, such as free gym memberships and group exercise classes
  • Get outside and hike or walk, or join a walking club in your area. Being active outside brings fresh air and sunshine benefits in addition to the activity
  • Get some activity from gardening or taking care of your yard or property