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Five things you can do to improve mental health

Since the start of the pandemic, there’s no denying stress and anxiety have been on the rise. Social and political unrest has also put additional strain on an already uncertain climate. According to the American Psychological Association, 47% of adults have felt an increase in stress since the beginning of 2020. If you have not experienced it, chances are someone close to you has.

Dr. Lateefah Watford, Kaiser Permanente of Georgia

In the last year, 75% of parents said they needed more emotional support but only 32% sought help. But it’s not just adults that are feeling stress and anxiety. According to University of Michigan Health, one in three teen girls and one in five teen boys report experiencing new or worsening anxiety in the past year. As we see increased need for support, it is crucial to focus on factors we can control to keep ourselves mentally healthy. These include but are not limited to:

Focusing on things that bring you joy
Getting back to the things in life that bring us joy and create a sense of grounding and stability is imperative. Capturing moments of simple pleasure like gardening, hiking or baking can positively impact your outlook during difficult times. These moments ultimately help you gain a sense of normalcy and alleviate anxiety.
Spending time with friends and family
While not as popular these days, writing letters to friends and family is an effective tool to build deep emotional connections from a distance. Maintaining social plans is also more important than ever, whether it’s lunch with friends or a stroll through the park. With precautionary measures available, like masks, social distancing, sitting outside or meeting in smaller groups, preserving deep relationships is now more feasible.

Turning off the news
In our stressed political and social climate, turning off the news can provide separation from the chaos of around the clock news. According to the American Psychological Association, significant stressors are equated with 24-hour access to news and social media, which has been compounded from exposure to COVID-related news. Turning off these proven stressors allows space for your mind to relax and encourages a healthier mental state.
Engaging in hobbies
Throughout the pandemic, many lost a significant stress reliever when they had to give up hobbies and clubs. Activities like running and book clubs or other leisurely activities can decrease stress and anxiety, according to a study published by the American Psychosomatic Society. Through lowering stress hormones, these leisurely activities provide a positive focus and offer relief from anxious thoughts and feelings.  
Protecting personal time
As the kitchen table shifted to the board room and the classroom and the ‘9 to 5’ became the ‘whatever time you get around to it,’ parents are juggling more than ever. With a recent shift to telework, for many, boundaries for maintaining work-life balance have been blurred, making mentally detaching from work very difficult. As stress infringes on time meant for decompressing, mental health is forced to take a back seat. By honoring vacation days and providing structure to workdays, you can help relieve stressors and better protect your overall well-being. 

While it’s been a rough year, and the loss and pain we’ve experienced won’t go away as precautions ease and normalcy returns, there are ways to combat our struggles and find new strength and hope. Today’s mental health offerings are as numerous as the people they serve, with a unique type and level of care for each person. If you are experiencing any mental health issues or know someone that is, it’s important to connect with a professional who can recommend support groups, therapists or psychiatrists to best accommodate you or your loved ones level of need.
Dr. Lateefah Watford is a practicing psychiatrist in the Behavioral Health Department at Kaiser Permanente of Georgia