Everyday Wellness

10 Short Rituals You Can Do Every Day to Boost Your Mental Health

It takes just seconds to start feeling smarter, calmer, happier, and healthier.

By Elizabeth Bacharach

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Wake up to your goals
How you start your morning “sets the tone” for the rest of the day, according to Patricia Harteneck, PhD, senior psychologist at the Seleni Institute. And one of the best ways to start the day on a positive note is by focusing on your goals and tasks for the day. By consciously setting goals, you’ll feel more of a drive to accomplish them, and when you cross each one off your list, you’ll feel successful and in control. Pump up your energy on a tired Monday with these tried-and-true energy boosters.

Get out of your chair
Studies have shown time and time again that exercise makes you feel better, particularly because it causes your body to release endorphins, those feel-good, stress-busting chemicals. There’s no need to train for a triathlon, but do make sure to get your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes a day. Bonus if it can serve as a mental break from your usual busy routine. “Not everyone is an athlete, but you still want to be able to get some physical exercise,” says career counselor and coach Lynn Berger. “For some people, it’s walking up the stairs.” Steal the secrets of women who find time to work out every day.

Commune with nature
Outdoor breaks and fresh air are great, but you need to see some green, too. By being around grass and trees, such as during a short walk, gardening, or even a run, you’re helping “alleviate that intense attention strain that many of us experience because we’re basically at a seated job the whole day,” says Ada Pang, a psychotherapist at People Bloom Counseling. In fact, a 2010 study published in Environmental Science & Technology found that spending just five minutes in nature can boost your self-esteem and mood. It could be in part because sun exposure helps your body release vitamin D, which hikes levels of the mood-boosting hormone serotonin in your brain.

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Hit the sheets already
How much sleep we need varies from person to person. But if you don’t log enough Zzz’s for your brain and body to function optimally, you run the risk of not only feeling exhausted but also being unproductive and anxious. To optimize your mental health, make a conscious effort to listen to your body and recognize when you’re more tired than usual. On those sleepier days, acknowledge how much (or how little) sleep works for your body, and aim to snooze that long every night. Don’t miss these fascinating facts about sleep’s effects on the body.

Count your blessings
“We all have a tendency to take things for granted,” Dr. Harteneck says. But instead of focusing on the negative, take a moment every day to feel thankful—for the tank of gas that lasted your whole trip, for fresh raspberries at the farmer’s market, for the warmth of bright sunshine on your face. Gratitude has been shown to boost your optimism and energy. And it takes literally one second. Dr. Harteneck likes the idea of putting a little index card next to your computer or your nightstand to remind you to jot down why you’re grateful. (Related: Check out these quotes that inspire gratitude.)

Reach out and touch someone
Research has shown that a hug as short as 10 seconds releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, according to Pang. Even simply touching another person or yourself—by putting one hand on top of the other, for example, or over your heart for about a minute—instills a sense of compassion that helps you relax. Take a moment before or after work, when stress levels may be high, to soothe yourself—and loved ones, with a little touch time. (Related: Check out the 20 things happy couples do after work to reconnect.)

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Create a bedtime routine
You know you need to power down devices with blue light at least an hour before bed. But that doesn’t mean unplugging and then directly hitting the sheets. Dr. Harteneck suggests that you prepare mentally for sleep by listening to an inspirational speaker, meditating, or reading a book. What’s key is that the activity helps you “disconnect from daily stresses,” so you can quiet your mind for sleep. Learn how healthy people spend the last 10 minutes of their day and get ideas for your own wind-down routine.

Connect offline
It’s not enough to scroll through Facebook posts or Instagram feeds—we need to make meaningful contact with real, live people during our days. According to Dr. Harteneck, human beings have historically needed to feel like they “belong to a tribe or a group.” Checking in with supportive friends and family, whether you chat on the phone, take a walk around the block together or sit down for a meal, will make you feel included and involved, which puts your mental health in its evolutionary happy place. (Related: Can four hugs a day save a marriage? One humor writer tries to find out in this hilarious essay.)

Take a chill
Too often we’re so consumed with running from place to place that we don’t even realize what’s happening around us. “We’re so busy, we’re like robots,” Dr. Harteneck says. To help you be more present, take the time to slow down by doing something familiar in an unfamiliar way, such as soaping your body with your non-dominant hand or taking a different route to work. “It’s in the discovery of these simple movements and moments that you learn to appreciate how rich life can be,” Pang says. “Having that perspective will put you in a better place to deal with life’s stressors.”

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Don’t rush to react
As we go about our routines day in and day out we develop expectations for how things are supposed to go. But when a certain activity doesn’t go as planned, we react instantly and, in doing so, cause stress hormones to kick in, according to Pang. Instead of responding to situation reflexively, like cursing rush-hour traffic or a slow Internet connection, take a deep breath and a mental step back. Allow yourself to assess the situation calmly and rationally, potentially improving how you experience similar situations in the future. Follow these 37 stress management tips to take the edge off those daily annoyances.

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