20 Expert-Approved Ways to Calm, Center, and Soothe Your Mind, Today and Every Day
"It's a lot right now." Why does it feel like we've been saying that all. year. long? We're under stress from every direction, often caused by things we can't control. When it's not in your power to change the major, life-altering events happening around us, what can you do to feel better? Experts have lots of tips, which is why we distilled it down to the bare essentials. If therapists and psychologists could recommend one (just one) thing to do, every day, that could help our mental health, what would it be?
The answers are in: keep reading for a list of 20 things that experts recommend doing every day to benefit your mental health. To clarify, you don't need to do each of things every single day; try one or a few at a time, experiment, and find what works best for you. Use this list as your starting point to develop your own mental-health-boosting routine.
Start the Day Mindfully
"Many of us start our day by checking email, text, or social media. This immediately puts us on someone else's schedule," said Ajita Robinson, PhD, LPC, of FIT Counseling Services. "For many, this creates anxiety about what all they need to 'do' in the hours ahead. I suggest that individuals start their day doing something for them: eating breakfast without distraction, prayer, journaling, exercise, something that fills their own cup."
Create a Consistent Sleep Routine
Whether you have trouble drifting off or a tough time staying asleep, "many people experience sleeping difficulties as a result of their mental health," said Melissa Wesner, LPC, owner of LifeSpring Counseling Services in Towson, MD, which can lead to fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and other mental health difficulties. To get into a good sleep routine, try to get out of bed at the same time every day, said Amanda V. Porter, PhD, MSN, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Lindner Center of HOPE/UC Health — University of Cincinnati Medical Center. "Sleep is sacred, yes, but the brain craves structure and routine," she explained. "Going to bed the same time every night and getting out of the bed at the same time every morning is part of healthy sleep hygiene — and solid, restorative sleep is an antidepressant all its own."
Center Yourself in the Morning
Take time in the morning to center and ground yourself before your day begins. "This may be a meditation, run, yoga, diaphragmatic breathing, or mindful coffee drinking. Choose a daily discipline that can help fuel you the rest of the day," said clinical psychologist Tricia Wolanin, PsyD. She also recommended starting your day with intention, asking how you want to feel and what you want to accomplish that day.
Set 1 Small Goal
Setting a small, achievable daily goal can build a sense of mastery and accomplishment, said Samantha Snead, LPC, clinical director of Leesburg Treatment Services in Richmond, VA. "At times, we tend to set major goals for ourselves that are difficult to accomplish in one sitting," she explained. When you can't complete that goal, you get discouraged and hopeless, which hurts your mental health and sense of self-worth. Your daily goal can be truly small: making your bed, reading a chapter in your book, or reciting a positive affirmation. "The feeling that you completed something, no matter how big or small, encourages your brain and body to keep going," Snead said. "Even if at the end of the day you were only able to get that one task done, you still accomplished a goal you wanted to do, and that feels pretty good."
Practice Mindfulness During the Day
Try practicing mindfulness for one minute every day, said psychologist Lauren Kerwin, PhD, executive clinical director of Evolve Treatment Centers in California. Once a day, she said, focus all your senses on:
- Something you can see: a bird outside the window, the color of your floor tiles.
- Something you can touch: a blanket, the water running through your fingers.
- Something you can smell: tea, essential oil, laundry detergent on your shirt.
- Something you can hear: the hum of the air conditioner, a car driving by.
- Something you can taste: toothpaste, food you're eating.
"This type of exercise only takes a few minutes but does wonders for your mental health," Dr. Kerwin said. "It helps your mind stretch the mental muscle of observance and mindfulness, of becoming more aware and observant of the facts surrounding you." When your emotions start spiraling, this practice grounds you in your physical reality.
Try Box Breathing
Breathwork can provide mental health benefits, and therapist Arien Conner, LCSW, owner of Clear Path Counseling, recommends starting your day with box breathing. "I frequently recommend box breathing to my clients and will practice with them," she said. "Breathing exercises help to reduce stress, improve concentration, help to center you for the day, ease anxiety, lower blood pressure, and release endorphins, which can help to improve mood and alleviate pain." Here's how to do box breathing:
- Sit comfortably in a chair with both feet on the floor.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth for four counts, emptying your lungs.
- Hold for four counts.
- Slowly breathe in through your nose for four counts.
- Hold for four counts.
- Exhale for four counts, and repeat the sequence as long as needed.
Disconnect For 5-10 Minutes
"Being bombarded with media and the energy of other people can be taxing on one's mental health," said Lacrecia Dangerfield, EdD, LPC, a therapist in Tennessee. She suggests disconnecting for five to 10 minutes a day to reengage and refocus your mind while connecting with your body. "I have found it helpful to disconnect for five to 10 minutes at the end of a workday so that I can connect with myself and family," she told POPSUGAR. "It creates the opportunity to shift from work to home, especially during this pandemic."
Speaking of which, "hearing about COVID-19 on a constant basis can quickly become distracting and upsetting," said psychiatrist Nzinga Harrison, MD, cofounder and chief medical officer of Eleanor Health. "Try to find a balance between being informed and overloaded." Dr. Harrison recommended following a few credible news sources and unfollowing social media that triggers anxious feelings. "Pay attention to positive news developments instead of only focusing on the negative reports that make you feel fearful."
Make Lists to Prioritize Your Time
Mapping out your day with lists helps you prioritize and manage expectations, said Lauren Ruth Martin, LPC, a therapist in Franklin, TN. Setting aside some less-urgent tasks can also reduce anxiety and help you learn to finish work without self-criticism. And if you're a procrastinator, that's OK too, Martin said. "I'm a procrastinator myself, and I used to beat myself up, making the procrastination useless," she explained. "Since I have my list and have dedicated a time to completing the task, I'm going to mindfully enjoy my show and then get my work done even if it is last minute."
Getting your heart rate elevated for 30 minutes a day through exercise releases endorphins and can even help with depression and anxiety, said therapist Tammer Malaty, LPC. "It doesn't have to be the most strenuous workout, but it should be enough to feel like you have pushed yourself," he told POPSUGAR; all types of exercise can benefit your mental health.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
With a gratitude journal, you can "write your way to happiness," said therapist Elizabeth Irias, LMFT. Each night, take a few minutes to write down something positive about the day, she said, even if it's small. "Did your favorite song come on the radio, or did you enjoy a quiet moment watching your kids play peacefully together?" Reflecting on the positive parts of your day right before bed can help you sleep better and experience less stress overall, she told POPSUGAR. This can also turn into a running list of positivity that you can refer back to when your life gets tough, said therapist Onnie Michalsky, LCPC, NCC, of Michalsky Counseling and Health Coaching.
Schedule "Worry Time"
Set aside a specific time during your day to let yourself worry and plan, Annie Miller, LCSW, owner of DC Metro Sleep and Psychotherapy, told POPSUGAR. "The idea is to minimize worry and stress by scheduling it into your day." Set a reminder for yourself, and choose a time that's far enough away from your bedtime so your brain can settle down before bed. Use the time to acknowledge anything you're worried about and make plans to address any issues, Miller said. "After your worry time is over, put the stressful things aside and remind yourself that it's not time to worry right now and move onto other things. Your brain will eventually get used to this new routine, and it will start to be able to let worries go more easily."
Say No When You Need To
"Saying no to expectations and things that aren't aligned with the person's values, energy, or priorities is important," Dr. Robinson told POPSUGAR. "It's an effective way to manage healthy boundaries and gives the individual room to say 'yes' to things that are in their best interest."
Do 1 Thing a Day That Makes You Happy
Choose to do one small thing that makes you happy every day, said Nikki Winchester, PsyD, clinical psychologist and owner of Cincinnati Center For DBT. This could be as simple as eating a delicious meal, lighting your favorite candle, or listening to your favorite music. "Doing one thing that brings pleasure to your life every day will decrease your vulnerability to emotions and help you cope better with stressors," Winchester told POPSUGAR. "When we are feeling down or stressed out, one of the first things to go is pleasant events. It's pretty crucial to do pleasant things to keep your mental stamina going."
Take a Walk
Feeling cooped up and stressed? You're not alone. Not being able to move around the world as before and living in fear of the virus "has left many feeling fatigued, frustrated, helpless, or hopeless," said Carolyn Davis-Cottle, LCSW, founder of Inner Image Counseling & Consulting. "Going for a walk will lower your blood pressure and improve your mood."
Recognize and Accept Your Feelings
"One effective thing that people can do to daily improve their mental health is to recognize their feelings and feel them fully, without pushing them away or dismissing them," said Jason Fierstein, LPC, of Phoenix Men's Counseling. Pushing aside your feelings and emotions can cause a buildup that can lead to mental health problems, Fierstein explained. When emotions come up or feel overwhelming throughout the day, try to name them, he said. Spend a minute staying with them until they open up and pass.
"Humor, particularly during times of prolonged stress, can have several benefits in both the short- and long-term," said Benson Munyan, PhD, a clinical psychologist and director of Neurocove Behavioral Health. Laughing can refresh your perspective and release endorphins to lift your mood, he explained, so it's worth finding a few funny videos or memes to laugh at throughout your day.
Meditate For 5-10 Minutes
Doing five to 10 minutes of meditation a day is crucial to your mental health, Malaty said. Any kind of meditation can work, he added: try breathing exercises, mindful meditation, or even app-guided meditation. "Exercising that muscle that has us singularly doing something is key," he explained. "We live in a time when we are rarely doing one thing at a time, and that is detrimental to the neural resources we have."
Talk to Friends and Family
"I recommend making a point of keeping in touch with people you care about," said Marianne Callahan, PhD, LMFT, clinical and program director for The Maple Counseling Center. "If you are feeling isolated, then call at least one person every single day and chat. You can check in with others and just let them know you are thinking about them. It makes us feel good when we take care of others, and in return, it helps us feel good by being connected."
"Getting out into nature each day can shift our mood dramatically," said Renee Exelbert, PhD, psychologist and founder of The Metamorphosis Center. Spending time outside promotes calm and helps you stay focused on the present moment, she explained, providing a refreshing break from the stress of the day.
Self-reflection, or thinking deeply about our pasts, our thoughts, and our ideas, is something a lot of us tend to avoid, said Michael McGarry, LCSW, a therapist and cofounder of Atlas Health Group. "It is challenging, and for some, brings painful thoughts," he told POPSUGAR. But self-reflection helps us better understand ourselves and our triggers, fears, bright spots, and strengths, McGarry said. "With care and preparation, we can better understand these thoughts and make self-reflection a powerful activity to improve our behaviors and emotions." Try to dedicate a few minutes a day to these deep, probing thoughts, and allow yourself to learn and grow from what you find.