4 Ways to Boost Mental Wellness in 2021
2020 brought unprecedented stressors for individuals, families, and communities – including significant mental health challenges. The coronavirus disease 19 (COVID19) pandemic brought the world to a virtual standstill. Fear and anxiety about a new disease, social isolation, and employment insecurity all pushed people to the brink. A recent review of data collected from January through September 2020 revealed several concerning mental health trends associated with the pandemic:1
- 1.5 million more people had a recorded mental health problem this year
- The number of people exhibiting moderate to severe symptoms of both depression and anxiety continues to increase. More than 80% of people screened scored as moderate to severe in both conditions – rates higher than pre-COVID-19
- The incidence of mental health issues in young people ages 11 through 17 increased by 9% over 2019
- 24% of adults with mental health illness report an unmet treatment need
Vaccine approvals and the availability of other treatments are cause for renewed hope in 2021, but practically speaking, the return to relative normalcy will take some time. In the meantime, there are several things you can do to help jumpstart an improved sense of mental wellness this year. Here are three ways you can start recuperating your overall wellness:
1. Back to Basics: Diet, Exercise, Sleep
A commitment to improved physical health is a popular New Year’s Resolution – but this year, it may be more important than ever to stick to your wellness goals. The state of your physical health is directly tied to your mental health. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and regular exercise can all pay major dividends in stress reduction, higher self-esteem, and even tackling potential vitamin deficiencies that might be affecting your mental health. Basic wellness habits to focus on this year include:2
Exercising for 30 minutes or more per day for three to five days each week can significantly improve your mental well-being – especially if you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety. Do not feel discouraged if you are unable to keep up with this at first. Smaller amounts of physical activity – even 10 to 15 minutes at a time – can make a huge difference. They key is figuring out what you love and sticking to it.3
Establish Healthy Eating Habits
When you eat well, you feel well. Make 2021 the year you adhere to a healthy diet – focus on getting the appropriate amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat or fat-free milk products. Refined sugars have been linked to increased feelings of stress and depression, so be sure to minimize your intake of these foods to help avoid exacerbating any symptoms you may be experiencing.2
Get Enough ZzZzZz’s
Getting enough sleep is a critical component of a healthy routine – it can help you feel energized, balanced, and capable of managing challenges as they arise. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.4 If you are having trouble with sleeping, try these tips for improving your sleep patterns:
- Set a specific sleeping schedule and stick to it – even on the weekends
- Invest in a quality mattress, bedding and pillows
- Limit screen time – do not scroll through your phone while in bed
- Keep the lighting in your room relaxing and avoid disruptive sounds
2. Make a Commitment to Prioritize Relaxation
Before the pandemic, most people would likely have said they would welcome the opportunity to stay home and watch Netflix. Obviously, times have changed – government-mandated stay at home orders and prolonged encouragement of social isolation has taken a major toll on many people’s mental health. Home is suddenly no longer an inherently relaxing place, and so achieving true relaxation while at home requires a concerted effort. Relaxation techniques to explore include:5
- Deep breathing exercises. A mindful act of taking slow, deep, even breaths.
- Guided imagery. The act of focusing on positive images in your mind, which can help promote relaxation and focus.
- Biofeedback. The use of electronic devices to control certain body functions, including heart rate, breathing, and muscle tension.
- Self-hypnosis. Getting yourself into a trance-like state when you hear a certain suggestion or respond to a specific cue
- Progressive relaxation. The act of tightening and relaxing different muscle groups, sometimes combined with guided imagery or breathing exercises.
3. Limit Your Time on Zoom
The pandemic has brought on a new phenomenon – “Zoom Fatigue” – which describes the mental exhaustion we feel from prolonged, overly-frequent video call technology use. Zoom or other video technology has become increasingly popular as workplaces have tried to keep employees connected to each other while apart. Meetings that could have been emails or regular calls have turned into Zooms for the sake of promoting “togetherness.” Outside of work, Zoom has also become a vehicle for social interaction. Zoom classes, Zoom game nights, Zoom happy hours – virtual socializing, while well-intentioned, can be exhausting. Zoom fatigue occurs for a few reasons. People are forced to focus intently on conversations – staring directly at a screen and looking engaged – while absorbing information. There is no space for a visual or mental break while on Zoom. Say no to Zoom fatigue this year. Try these communication ideas instead:6
- Try regular phone calls. While it is nice to “see” people while you are forced to stay apart, you do not need to use video technology every time. Talking on the phone can be just as fruitful in fostering continued connection.
- Snail mail. Send letters, postcards, or even small care packages to people you love and miss through the mail. Sending mail can also give you and your loved ones something to look forward to.
- Socialize in-person (at a distance). When weather permits, organize activities that allow you to see people in person while maintaining a safe distance. Hanging out in the park, going for a hike, or taking a bike ride are great ways to be together while apart.
4. Keep Your Expectations in Check
Although we can expect things to look and feel progressively better this year, it is important to keep your standards in check. The reality is that life in 2021, at least for the first half of the year, will be like life in 2020. COVID-19 cases will continue to be omnipresent, social distancing will still be enforced, and uncertainty will loom. There will be better days, but preparing yourself for bad days and managing your expectations will help limit disappointment and help you deal with problems more effectively.
Takeaway: Make Mental Health a Priority for 2021
Last year was something of a “lost year” when it came to mental health. The uncertainty and loneliness of the pandemic took a significant toll on people. Taking steps right now to protect your mental wellness will help you feel healthier and better prepared to manage the continuing challenges of COVID-19. Brighter days are almost certainly ahead.