Most everyone acknowledges that 2020 was a year to forget. The pandemic year posed worry, stress, isolation, economic concerns and other implications which put considerable pressure on everyone’s mental health.

To provide a brighter start to the new year, Heather Boll, local certified peer support specialist and owner of Heal Her and The Hive Mental Health and Wellness, offers a few tips on sustaining one’s mental health.

Boost serotonin, the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, through meditation, light therapy, exercise and high-protein foods.

Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique, such as mindfulness, or focus on particular object or thought, to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. Check out mediation app Insight Timer: Abide, Headspace, Calm

In these dark days of winter, strive to gain light and sun exposure. Use bright light therapy, take a nature walk, sit in the sun bundled up with face exposed.

Take advantage of winter by snowshoeing, cross-country or downhill skiing, fat tire bike riding, or ice skating. When you are done, warm yourself and get cozy with a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets are a type of at-home therapy that can provide similar benefits to deep pressure therapy, help calm a restless body and reduce feelings of anxiety.

Boost dopamine, the pleasure chemical messenger, through exercise, deep breathing and by making a nutritious meal. Additionally, through at-home self-care: reading, a bath, deep breathing, games, a funny movie. Also, service work, to help others. Check out the app Be Okay for other calming techniques.

Boost oxytocin, the hormone associated with empathy, trust and relationship-building. Try listening to music, petting animals, hugs, touch from a family member, and perform random acts of kindness. Tell a loved one how much you love them. Call a friend or family member and have a meal or drink together via FaceTime or Zoom. For positive affirmations check out the app ThinkUp.

Boost endorphins, which help deal with stress and reduce feelings of pain. Exercise, dance, enjoy a cup of dark chocolate hot cocoa. Laugh, tell jokes, watch stand-up comedy, or play a game. Studies suggest that essential oil aromas, such as lavender, also can lead to endorphin release.

Finally, set intentions and be mindful. Anxiety is when our thoughts are in the future, depression is when our thoughts are in the past, Boll says.

Have a little laugh, fun or silliness. Schedule something to look forward to. Do something to help others like service work or acts of kindness. Express gratitude, often.

“Emotions and feelings are there whether you talk about them or not,” Boll said. “They are not going to simply go away just because you ignore them. Cry, take a hot shower and let them all out. Feeling is healing, sit and acknowledge your emotions; however, try to not engage with them. Let them go and do something positive to balance yourself.”

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