12 ways to boost mental and emotional health – backed by science
1. Sing a song 3X
Singing has been scientifically proven to lower stress, relieve anxiety, and elevate endorphins which make you feel uplifted and happy. It helps relax muscle tension and decreases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood stream and can help take your mind off the day’s troubles to boost your mood.
In addition, scientists have identified a tiny organ in the ear called the sacculus, which responds to the frequencies created by singing. The response creates an immediate sense of pleasure, regardless of what the singing sounds like so you don’t have to have an amazing voice to feel the positive effects of singing.
Participants in one study showed significant decreases in both anxiety and depression levels after one month of adding singing to their routine.
So if you find yourself in a rough spot, sing along to an upbeat, positive song. Sing through one song three times or sing three different positive upbeat songs once. Allow the music to wash through you and feel the healing and invigorating effects immediately lifting mood and bringing relief. From my own experience, I can say that it really works.
Print out the lyrics so you can sing all the words and choose songs that have lyrics that have meaning to you personally. Here are a few suggested songs to help you create your own list: Roar by Katy Perry, Try Everything by Shakira, Waka Waka by Shakira, Brave by Sara Bareilles, Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield, Fight Song by Rachel Platten, Happy by Pharrel Williams, Better When I’m Dancin’ by Meghan Trainor, On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons, Believer by Imagine Dragons, and You Are Loved by Stars Go Dim.
2. Boost confidence and mood with a hero pose
You can improve your mood in just 90 seconds by doing this one simple trick. Put your chin up, smile (even if you don’t feel like it). Pull your shoulders back, stand straight and tall with your hands relaxed at your sides or on your hips. Keep both feel pointing forward and keep weight even on both legs. Hold this position for 90 seconds.
Even if you don’t feel like it, doing the actions will help increase those feelings. If we want to feel happy then we need to smile more. If we want to feel confident then we stand tall and pull our shoulders back. Holding this pose for just 90 seconds increases the level of testosterone which boosts confidence, while decreasing the level of cortisol which lowers stress.
Furthermore, smiling, even if it’s a fake or forced smile, increases the production of mood-enhancing hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins which can help us feel better.
3. Connect with nature
Spending time outside in nature is good for the body and the mind. It helps distract us from problems and just helps us feel good.
If the weather permits, take off your shoes and feel the grass or sand under your feet. Feel the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the breeze and feel your body moving as you walk. Hear the birds, or the waves, or the rustle of the grass in the wind. Smell the flowers and the trees and see the beauty of nature around you. Enjoy a sensory experience in nature and feel its healing effects.
4. Take a walk
Virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever. It does wonderful things to help our emotional well-being. Exercise increases the production of endorphins, which are the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. Walking is also a form of moving meditation which calms us down and distracts us from our problems. It improves mood, helps us relax and improves quality of sleep. So if you’re feeling stressed out, it might be a good idea to pause and go for a walk.
5. 2 minute distraction
One of unhealthiest and most common forms of negative thinking is called rumination.
To ruminate means to chew over. It’s when your boss yells at you or you make an embarrassing mistake, or you have big fight with a friend and you just can’t stop replaying the scene in your head for days, sometimes for weeks on end.
Spending so much time focused on upsetting and negative thoughts, actually puts you at significant risk for developing clinical depression, alcoholism, eating disorders, and even cardiovascular disease.
The problem is, the urge to ruminate can feel really strong, so it’s a difficult habit to stop. But there are ways to combat that urge. Studies tell us that even a two-minute distraction is sufficient to break the urge to ruminate in that moment.
If your thoughts are swirling in despair, take action to break free of them and attain a fresh perspective. Become immersed in a great book that moves you or watch a movie that transports you. Exercise. Go for a walk. In short, do what you know from experience bounces your thinking to a more optimistic place.
If you can succeed in changing your mental channel for at least two minutes you have a chance of breaking that destructive cycle of rumination. By battling negative thinking, you won’t just heal your psychological wounds, you will build emotional resilience, and you will thrive.
When looking for an excellent distraction, laughter really is the best medicine. Laughter stops distressing emotions. It helps you shift perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light.
Laughter makes you feel good. It triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. And the good feeling that you get when you laugh remains with you even after the laughter subsides. Humor helps you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss. It adds joy and zest to life, eases anxiety and tension, relieves stress, improves mood, and strengthens resilience.
So what makes you laugh? A good joke? Funny cat videos? Make a list of things that make you laugh and keep them on hand because nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh.
There are many studies that verify that meditation eases anxiety and mental stress.
Here’s a mini meditation exercise that you can do anytime, anywhere, to help calm you down in just a few seconds. With your hands in front of you, line up the tips of the fingers of your left hand to the corresponding tips of the fingers of your right hand. Take 5 slow, deep belly breaths while pressing the fingertips against each other with medium force. Shake out your hands and relax them to your sides or your lap and take one last slow, deep breath.
8. Connect with friends
We live in a digital age where we can be tempted to replace person to person contact with phones and computers, especially if we’re feeling vulnerable. But humans are social creatures, we crave feeling supported, valued and connected. Studies show that being socially connected increases happiness and leads to better health and a longer life. It helps overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Make a list of the people you can turn to. These are people that you trust to support you and make an effort to contact them regularly. Reach out to them and ask for specific kinds of help. Remember, your friends can’t read your mind and it’s not fair to expect them to. And if you’re working on a goal, such as trying to overcome anxiety and depression, having a friend to report to and keep you accountable can make all the difference in the world. The likelihood of getting new habits to stick, of following through on your assignments and reaching goals is remarkably higher when someone else is aware or your goal or assignment and you set a time to report back to someone on your progress.
9. Replace rumination with positive affirmations
When we get caught in the trap of rumination, which is repeating negative self-thoughts over and over again, we have to do something to interrupt that cycle or it just keeps going. Rumination is so dangerous because studies show that people believe things that they hear a lot because they are familiar, and disbelieve things that they don’t hear because they are unfamiliar. It is interesting because it has no basis in logic.
This is why it is so dangerous when we repeat over and over in our minds things like: ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘I’m a failure,’ ‘Nobody cares about me,’ etc. Even though there is no basis in logic for these statements, we believe them to be true simply because we repeat them to ourselves over and over again.
There is a way to combat these beliefs using the same principle of repetition. By creating positive statements about ourselves and repeating them over and over it can create a new healthier positive belief system.
So if a thought keeps running through your mind like ‘I’m not good enough,’ we’re going to replace it with another opposite and positive statement such as ‘I am worthy and deserving of being loved, valued and appreciated. I am loved, valued and appreciated. I am good enough.’ And repeat that over and over again.
It won’t be easy however. When you say those things your subconscious will tell you that they’re lies. Studies show that once we believe something, we instinctively defend and protect it without even being aware of it. But if we keep at it relentlessly and consistently, that power of repetition can retrain our brains to accept those things as true. Just keep going.
10. Pet the dog
If you’re feeling anxious, stressed, depressed or lonely, one thing that might help is to spend some time petting a dog or cat.
Science shows that playing with or petting an animal can reduce stress and can also help us reduce feelings of isolation and help us feel more connected. Petting a dog or cat increases oxytocin production in the brain which lowers stress and increases feelings of happiness. It also decreases production of cortisol, which is a stress hormone, so it works in multiple ways to help you calm down and feel better.
11. Small act of service
Depression and anxiety tend to make a person retreat inward. Helping other people can help bring us outside ourselves. It can also help distract us from our own problems and think about something else. Studies have shown that people who help others have lowered levels of depression and anxiety. In fact, in the research study, service was more effective in making a positive difference in the way participants felt about themselves than making an effort to pamper themselves, or creating self-esteem goals.
12. Dark chocolate
J.K. Rowling was right on track when she used chocolate to help treat the unpleasant effects of the dementors on Harry Potter. It turns out that extra dark chocolate really does improve your mood and is great for brain health. While pure cocoa is best, this may be too bitter for anyone with a sweet tooth, so a good rule of thumb is to go for chocolate that is 85% cocoa or more. Basically, the darker the chocolate, the better it is for your brain.
Cocoa is high in flavanols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and reduce blood pressure. For a reference point, the darker the chocolate, the more flavanols.
So, the bottom line here is that eating dark chocolate is good for your memory, blood pressure, and your mood. It helps alleviate depression and also acts as an anti-inflammatory, which means that it is good for your brain.