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6 science-based habits that may boost your mood

If you’re looking to reduce stress and anxiety, these simple strategies may help you feel calmer and happier.

It's normal to go through periods where you feel sad, anxious or worried from time to time. But if you find that these feelings are interfering with your daily life, it could be a sign of a more serious mental health condition.

Mental health issues are common in the United States. More than 40 million American adults have feelings of anxiety or overwhelming fear or worry. And 17 million adults have reported feelings of major depression.

Sometimes these feelings show up with physical symptoms. Anxiety and depression may trigger muscle and stomach aches, digestive problems, an increased heart rate and more.

If you feel like your symptoms aren’t going away on their own, you may need some help to feel better again — and boost your mood. The first step is to make self-care a priority, says Julie Levin, L.M.F.T., a licensed therapist in Pleasant Hill, California.

You can incorporate self-care practices into your life to nurture your mental health. The next time you’re feeling anxious or down, try these 6 strategies to help boost your mood.

You can set up a telehealth appointment with a mental health expert over the phone or video. Explore your telehealth options now, or contact a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.

Mental health boost #1: Stop and take a deep breath.

“One of the easiest things to do when you’re feeling anxious is to practice deep breathing,” says Levin. Most of us take shallow breaths. This can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety.

Here’s the right way to breathe deeply:

  • Take gentle, deep breaths in through your nose.
  • Then, take slow out breaths through your mouth.
  • Slowly breathe in so your belly fills with air before your lungs.
  • Slowly exhale for longer than you inhaled.

You can also try the 4-7-8 method:

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound.
  • Breathe in for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  • Exhale for 8 seconds, making the whooshing sound.

“Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve,” explains Levin. This nerve extends from the brain throughout the entire body, including in the diaphragm. (The diaphragm is the muscle located under the lungs that’s involved in deep breathing.)

Stimulating this nerve activates the parasympathetic nervous system, says Levin. This is the network of nerves that’s responsible for quieting the body. It’s responsible for lowering heart rate, blood pressure and breathing.

Research shows that deep breathing can influence our behavior, thoughts and actions. What’s more, when breathing this way, you may also lower the stress hormone cortisol in the body.

Mental health boost #2: Focus on the present moment.

The simple act of living in the present, not the past or future, may help you feel better. One way to do this is with meditation. This is where you sit in a quiet place and focus on one thing. You can focus on your breathing or a word, image or sound. Each time your mind wanders, you simply bring it back to what you’re focusing on, without judgment. 

Mindfulness is a type of meditation. It is the act of being fully aware in the present moment. When you’re mindful, you’re not thinking about what happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future. “With mindfulness, we live in the moment,” Levin says.

Both meditation and mindfulness help reduce stress and depression. They may also help lower blood pressure, improve sleep and help people to handle pain.

You can easily incorporate mindfulness and meditation into your day. For example, you may want to be mindful when you’re walking or standing in line. Just simply become aware of how your body is feeling. Then notice any sounds around you and what you’re seeing or hearing.

Another way to be more mindful: Get an adult coloring book. Coloring allows you to focus only on what you’re coloring. It’s also repetitive, which may be calming. It’s been shown in studies to help calm feelings of stress and anxiety.

Have questions about telehealth for mental health? Explore your options now, or contact a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.

Mental health boost #3: Calm yourself with essential oils.

Essential oils are concentrated liquids derived from plants, such as lavender. When you use essential oils for a health benefit, it’s called aromatherapy.

Research shows that the use of essential oils may help reduce anxiety. “The nice thing about aromatherapy is you can incorporate deep breathing and the calming effect of the essential oil at the same time,” Levin says.

You may want to incorporate aromatherapy into your daily life by adding a few drops of essential oil to your bath. Or you can place a couple drops on your pillow at bedtime. Aromatherapy necklaces, bracelets and sticks may also be able to help.

Mental health boost #4: Say positive things about yourself.

It’s easy to say negative things about yourself when you’re under stress or depressed. But simply changing the words you use may help shift your mood. For example, instead of saying “I’m no good at this,” shift your thinking. Say, instead, “I’m learning, and making mistakes is all right.”

Research shows that positive self-talk can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. It may also improve self-esteem and stress management.

Mental health boost #5: Embrace the power of music.

Studies have shown that listening to music may reduce stress and promote relaxation. Listening to music, according to researchers, can stimulate areas in the brain that signal pleasure.

But there’s also another component to music, says Levin. “If you’re wearing headphones, there’s bilateral music that alternates between your right and left ear,” she says. “By alternating each side of the brain, bilateral music has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.”

Mental health boost #6: Talk about your feelings.

If you find that your feelings of stress and anxiety are not going away, you may want to book an appointment with a licensed mental health professional.

This could be either a psychiatrist or psychologist. A psychiatrist is a mental health professional and medical doctor that can prescribe medication. A psychologist is a mental health professional that usually has an advanced college degree and specializes in talk therapy. In some states, they may also be able to prescribe medication.

These trained professionals help you talk through your problems. They can help you come up with solutions to change your thought patterns. This may make you feel better.

Some insurance plans may include mental health coverage, including telehealth or virtual care visits. During these visits, you can talk with a licensed mental health professional in the comfort of your home, via computer or smartphone. (Have questions about telehealth? Explore your options online now, or contact a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.)

When it comes to stress, anxiety and depression, there are different resources available to help you start feeling better. The most important thing is to take the first step and find what works for you.

For informational purposes only. This information is compiled by UnitedHealthOne and does not diagnose problems or recommend specific treatment. Please consult directly with your primary care physician if you need medical advice.


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