Whether you’re a working parent, studying for an extra degree, or job hunting, we all have unique stressors. When unattended to, these stressors can lead to burnout, anxiety, depression, or even unhealthy dependencies like alcoholism. It’s so important to build a self-care routine into your day to maintain healthy, sustainable habits to care for our mental health.
When you’re struggling to cope through stressful times and you can’t take a vacation, use these 18 therapy-backed ways to feel better as soon as possible.
18 therapy-backed ways to feel better ASAP
1. Learn a language
Research shows that adult learning leads to increases in self-esteem and self-efficacy. When we set goals like learning a new language and subsequently make progress on those goals, our happiness and wellbeing increase. Plus, who doesn’t want to learn a new language for a future vacation?
2. Call a friend
When you’re feeling down, call a trusted friend or family member. Regardless of what you need to vent about, studies show that talking with friends eases stress and helps you cope with trauma.
3. Practice expressive writing
Writing down your daily emotions, goals, and realizations can help you cope with stress, clarify your thoughts, and problem-solve more effectively. Journaling can also help you become more self-aware, a skill that’s imperative in the workplace. Plus, there’s evidence that keeping a gratitude journal can increase happiness and health by making the good things in life more noteworthy.
4. Get your groove on
It’s obvious that dancing can improve your physical health, but it can improve your mental health as well. “Movement and dance are extremely expressive, which can allow you to escape and let loose,” says Jonathan Tylicki, director of education for AKT, a boutique fitness concept rooted in dance. It helps improve your mental and emotional health by reducing stress, decreasing the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and boosting your self-esteem. Turn on a playlist and see where the beat takes you.
We’ve all heard meditating is great, but how practical is it really to integrate into your life? It’s pretty simple, actually, and very therapeutic. There are tons of apps and YouTube channels with free guided meditations. Headspace, for example, has five-minute guided meditation sessions for beginners, and you can choose from themes like finding focus, fear of the future, dealing with distractions, and more.
6. Soak in the sun
Here comes the sun—and a boosted mood. Vitamin D has been linked to mental wellbeing, and a study spanning six years discovered that therapy patients reported less emotional distress on sunny days. So, get your sunscreen on and take a walk outside to feel better.
7. Listen to uplifting music
Listening to tunes can help you sleep better, reduce depression symptoms, and generally make you feel happier. If music distracts you while working, try listening to ambient noise—sounds like waves crashing on the beach or birds chirping in the jungle. Scientists have found that low levels of ambient noise can help increase our creativity levels and even make us happier.
8. Declutter your workspace
According to The New York Times, simply seeing clutter has been found to cause spikes in cortisol, the stress hormone, and many studies show that your work environment affects your productivity, work satisfaction, and overall mental health. Boost your mood by organizing your desk and getting rid of old knick-knacks and coffee cups in need of a wash.
9. Get a massage
Massage therapy is proven to reduce stress and anxiety and can even increase your serotonin levels over time, so don’t be afraid to splurge on yourself. If you can’t make it to a massage therapist, just rubbing your own shoulders, neck, hands, and temples can help relieve tension.
10. Cook a meal
Cooking is a seriously therapeutic and creative activity. Counselor Nicole Lambert says, "Cooking helps mental health in that it can be a creative outlet. It's a way to channel energy, can be used as a distraction, help build mastery in a skill, and a way to express emotions through a different medium." Science backs it up too—studies have proven links between good food and good mental health.
11. Play with your pet
Now you have a real excuse to spend more time with animals than humans. A Washington State University study found that petting a dog or cat for even just 10 minutes leads to a major decrease in cortisol.
12. Master a puzzle
Solving a puzzle is a great way to take your mind off of stress. Dopamine levels increase when we do puzzles, meaning it’s a great mood-boosting activity that also happens to strengthen memory and improve problem-solving skills.
13. Invest in a standing desk
Having poor posture really takes a toll when you’re staring at a computer all day. Sitting up straight can help alleviate symptoms of stress, depression, and fatigue, according to recent research. Invest in a standing desk and make sure you’re taking stretch breaks throughout the day.
14. Make a list of things that make you happy
Research shows that people who practice gratitude by writing about it are more optimistic and feel better about their lives. Essentially, writing about what makes you happy will in turn make you happier. The next time you’re feeling anxious or stressed, start a running list of everything that puts a smile on your face.
Read more: I Learned How to Be Happy at Work
15. Buy a plant...or three
Studies show that just looking at greenery and nature helps us feel more relaxed and calm. Spruce up your workspace with some cute plants and let the stress fade away.
16. Have a good cry
Stress-inducing activities like job hunting or negotiating your new salary can easily lead to burnout. It’s unhealthy to cope by keeping all of your emotions bottled up without properly processing and expressing them, so the next time you feel a few tears about to drop, embrace it and let it happen.
17. Go for a bike ride
All types of exercise release endorphins, but bike riding in particular can effectively ease feelings of stress, depression, or anxiety. While you’re focusing on the road, you’re concentrating on the present moment, not on the mental chatter in your mind.
18. Find a therapist
Arguably the best way to feel better and boost your mood is by going to therapy. These mood-boosting activities and exercises are awesome short-term solutions, but to get to the root of your feelings, we recommend speaking with a licensed professional. Therapy rocks!