In honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month, UAB experts offer six ways to improve mental health.
According to a recent study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the pandemic has dramatically increased the prevalence of people with depression or anxiety in America – from about 11% of people in 2019 to nearly 40% in 2021. .
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. UAB experts offer six ways to improve your mental health.
Limit your sources and the amount of news received
“Constantly listening to the news and/or cable talk shows will only add to anxiety in the event of an epidemic or disaster,” said Laura Dreer, Ph.D., clinical psychologist in the Department of Ophthalmology. and Vision Sciences from UAB. “While it’s important to stay up to date, limiting updates to once a day will help you stay more in the moment and reduce your stress levels. This is especially important for parents of young children. and to ensure that news is kept to a minimum.
Streamline incoming news by choosing a few reliable sources rather than relying on potentially unreliable social media.
Set limits for discussion topics
Often loved ones ask well-meaning — or even targeted — questions that can be triggering, invasive, or uncomfortable, and dodging conversations can feel overwhelming to those involved.
Dayna M. Watson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Counseling Program at the UAB School of Education, explains that preparing statements can help set meaningful and realistic boundaries.
Write and practice a few short sentences that express boundaries. While it may be tempting to try to beat around the bush or try to set healthy boundaries so it’s less upsetting for the other person, it’s best to keep boundary statements short, respectful, and clear:
- “It’s not something I’m open to discussing today.”
- “Please don’t say things like that to me or around my kids.”
Phrases like these can go a long way in communicating where the boundary is. In some situations where repeated attempts to draw healthy boundaries are made and a loved one continues to cross that line, it may be best to plan ahead to limit time spent on events that include individuals or leaving gracefully the event if it becomes a problem at this time.
Read a book
Read a positive book, murder mystery, or even a textbook, as reading has proven health benefits. According to Schoolregular reading can reduce stress levels by up to 68% and can extend life by up to two years.
Get enough sleep
Another great way to improve mental health is to increase the number of hours and quality of sleep.
“It can be tempting to stay up later, especially when there’s a long to-do list,” Watson said. “But practicing good sleep hygiene can be a great tool for managing stress.”
According to UAB Medicine Center for Sleep and Wake Disorderssleep-promoting behaviors include:
- No electronics one to three hours before bedtime. The electronics interrupt the physiological mechanisms of sleep and stimulate the brain. If you must be on your computer or phone at night, wear blue light blocking glasses.
- A more sleep-friendly environment which may include dimmer lights, a cooler temperature, and no television. Patterson says it’s best to have a comfortable mattress and pillow, with no dogs, cats or children in the bed.
- Avoid heavy meals late at night. Indigestion and heartburn can interrupt sleep.
- Avoid caffeine three to four hours before turning off the lights, and no alcohol, nicotine, or marijuana one to three hours before sleep. Insomnia is a primary sleep disorder in the United States, and these stimulants can keep people from falling asleep.
- Day exercise. Even a small amount of daily aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality.
- A consistent bedtime. Shift workers especially struggle with this, but those who routinely work nights fare better than those who work rotating shifts.
“Mindfulness means being fully present in the moment,” Dreer said. “It’s easy for many of us to get caught up in things that happened in the past or in the future while failing to live in the present.”
Combat pinging notifications and things jostling for attention by practicing a little mindfulness at the start or end of your day — or even during your lunch break. Discover easily accessible mindfulness platforms and apps to practice meditation or breathwork.
Add stretching to a fitness routine
Stretching is popular in fitness programs, sports preparation, and rehabilitation after injury and is beneficial for several muscle conditions. It is known to reduce stress, relieve headaches and back pain, and increase muscle flexibility and bone strength.
When stretching, UAB Medicine Orthopedic Services says the important things to consider are:
- Make sure the muscles are warm and supple before pushing them to the limits of their range of motion. As part of a dynamic warm-up, this may include walking or very light jogging before going through a full functional stretching regimen.
- Correct technique. Once progress is made and a more aggressive stretching routine begins, remember that proper technique is a top priority. Work closely with a strength and conditioning professional whenever possible to perfect your form before progressing to advanced levels.
- Focus on the main areas of the body that help with mobility. These areas include the calves, hamstrings, hips, and thighs. To relieve the upper body, use movements that stretch the shoulders, neck and lower back.
- Work your body muscles, but don’t stretch until you hurt. Proper stretching should never cause pain.
- Know the limits of the body. According to UAB Orthopedics, some research has shown that stretching muscles before they are warmed up can cause damage. Exercise first circulates blood to muscle tissue, making it flexible. However, this only applies to light physical activity, such as brisk walking, before stretching.