Small but Effective Ways to Boost Your Mental Health Right Now

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened our existing mental health crisis, but these tips will help you stay resilient and take care of your mental well-being during this challenging time.

Yamel Photography/ Shutterstock
Yamel Photography/ Shutterstock

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and there’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the mental health crisis that already existed before. Thrive Global surveyed over 8,000 Americans over the past month on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 82% of individuals feel that the pandemic has had a bigger negative impact on their stress than any other event in history. The problem is big, but the solutions start small. 

We asked our Thrive community to share the little changes they’re implementing in their lives that are improving their mental health during this time. Which of these will you try?

Look up

“One small thing that’s worked for me is making the effort to look up. There’s a physiological change that happens to your mind and body when you look up.  It’s easy to look down all day and be solemn. Instead, take a moment to look up and smile.  Even with all that’s going on, with our finances affected and our loved ones living in fear, we each have something for which to be grateful.”

—Dr. Wayne Pernell, coach, San Francisco Bay Area, CA

Set the table for dinner

“I’ve been quarantining solo, so I decided to serve one of my meals each day using beautiful dishes that I would normally just use for guests, and actually setting the table for dinner. It gives me something extra to do that’s fun and without cost.” 

—Kristin Meekhof, author and life coach, Birmingham, MI

Get fresh air

“Like many people, I’m working from home while homeschooling two children. While the days can still feel like a rollercoaster, it’s helped to start each day with fresh air. Every morning, my sons and I lace up our shoes and take our dog out for a walk. We either go around our neighborhood, or hit one of the local trails. Getting a dose of nature and fresh air in the morning helps us all get through the day feeling a little more centered.”

—Emily Madill, author and certified professional coach, Nanaimo, B.C., Canada

Start a family art challenge

“A month ago, my 12-year-old daughter created an art challenge to paint or draw something each day. I believe having this daily art challenge has saved me from despair. It has given me purpose, especially since I had just had my contract go on hold. One of the challenges was to paint your favorite actor. I chose Catherine O’Hara as Moira from Schitt’s Creek, and Dan Levy bought the painting! I am now urging others to take up art as well. You just never know where it will land!”

—Anna Brindley, artist, Dallas TX 

Set boundaries with the news

“Between adjusting to a new work environment and dealing with the influx of bad news, it’s creating a negative brain overload. I now limit my news check-ins to twice a day — once before I officially start my workday, and again at 4:00 p.m. Otherwise, I’ll find myself getting sucked down a news rabbit hole, and I end up feeling mentally and physically drained. Although access to information can be valuable, it can also deplete much-needed energy. Now more than ever, we need positive energy.”

—Nicki Anderson, director of women’s leadership at Benedictine University, Lisle, IL

Remind yourself of something you’re grateful for

“I’ve been reminding myself that this time has been giving me the space to slow down and not be so busy traveling, accumulating stuff, and attaining more. I’ve also been reminding myself that I’ve been given the freedom to create, to deepen relationships with friends and family virtually, and to look toward how I want to live the next phase of my life.”

—Tricia Wolanin, Psy.D., clinical psychologist and author, Bury St. Edmunds, UK

Schedule “positivity prompts”

“A small trigger that I have implemented in my life to improve my mental health is an hourly smartphone reminder. A few weeks ago, I set up positivity prompts in my Reminders app that pop up on my phone every hour. Each prompt is different. It might say, ‘Close your eyes and remember one thing you’re grateful for,’ or ‘Take a minute to stretch in front of an open window.’ This reminder disrupts any negative headspace that I might be in, and puts me in control of my happiness.”

—Amal Mehic, process engineer, Syracuse, NY

Give back

“The best way to support my own mental wellness during this time is to help others. When faced with the notion of quarantine, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling lonely and sad, but instead of ruminating on things I can’t control, I do my best to avoid thinking about myself and instead turn my attention to how I can bring a little help and happiness to others. As a single mom of a severely disabled boy, I’m empathetic to those parents who are now homeschooling their kids for the first time. I’ve decided to host livestreamed children’s book readings three times a week through the end of May. Doing what we can with what we have will help heal ourselves, and the world.” 

—Jennifer Norman, founder of The Human Beauty Movement, Topanga, CA

Stick to a consistent routine

“One simple change for my mental health has been making the effort of going ‘into’ the office everyday. Most people think one of the benefits of working at home include rolling out of bed in your pajamas and getting straight to work, but I try to keep my simple routines like keeping my normal office hours, showering, and stepping into business casual attire. It helps me get into the right mindset and provide a sense of normalcy to my day. Just this simple change has helped me mentally separate work and home and have a more positive outlook.”

—Jenni Riley, financial management, Ketchum, ID

Try the “five senses” exercise 

“I use the five senses check-in, which helps ground me and allows me to gain perspective. It is very simple to do. Just pause, breathe, then focus on these questions: ‘What do I see? What do I smell? What do I hear? What do I taste? What sensations do I feel in my body?’ Consider each in turn for a few moments and sit with the feelings that arise. Finish the exercise by fully breathing, then have a stretch before moving forward with your day.”

—Beverly Landais, coach, Tunbridge Wells, UK

Practice yoga

“Practicing yoga and meditation is working wonders for my mental health right now. Carving out time to make a fun playlist, engage in creative movement, and be fully present for myself enables me to feel grounded and aligned. The best part of this is turning off my phone! There are no distractions — just creative freedom of expression.”

—Tianna Soto, writer and wellness educator, New York, NY

Start a family journaling ritual

“As we sit at home alone with our thoughts, I have found family journaling to be a source of therapy and clarity. Journaling is a means of objective introspection by putting down your thoughts on paper and taking on an external perspective. When we write down our thoughts and read them back to ourselves, we realize how convoluted our minds are at times.”

—Patrick S. Sienkiewicz, construction engineer, Chicago, IL

Create a mental health playlist

“To boost my mental health, I rely on a playlist I created that’s called, ‘Everything is going to be alright.’ I’ve built this playlist to include relaxing melodies from my favorite movies, ethereal sounds from the band Sigur Rós, and lounge beats from the Buddhattitude album. I listen to this playlist during work hours or when I really need to soothe unsettling thoughts. It helps me reach inner peace.”

—Jeannette Paulino, Dubai, UAE

Start an impromptu dance party

“When I start to feel anxiety kick in, I immediately move my body by starting to dance. Both aerobic and mindful movements help to activate and replenish GABA, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in the body’s response to stress. Some people go for a walk, but I love to dance in my living room, shake out my arms, and do a few jumping jacks. Even if I only do it for a few moments, I feel more alive. This simple trick always brings me back to the present moment and makes me feel better.”

—Farrah Smith, personal coach, Los Angeles, CA

Tap into nostalgic hobbies

“I’ve been recreating childhood nostalgia with my family for comfort. We’ve found joy in running barefoot through the grass and sprinklers, making mud pies and getting dirty, eating triangle-cut peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with baby carrots, baking together, and diffusing comforting scents such as cinnamon and lemon.”

—Alisha C. Taylor, engineering program manager and life coach, Greenville, SC

Stand in the sunlight

“To maintain a sense of well-being, I stand in the light, both literally and figuratively. Instead of spending all day sleeping in, checking the news, and scrolling on social media, I make an effort to get outdoors to immerse myself in the spring colors as they take bloom all around me. When I feel down, I have a good cry, and then I shift my focus onto that which I am most grateful for in my life. I choose to let the light of my existence on this earth shine brightly.”

—Theresa Puskar, edu-tainer, Chicago, IL

Look forward to future experiences

“I’ve been researching the destinations and attractions we will visit after this pandemic is over. The planning process gives me a sense of joy and hope about the future. I’ve also been taking time to make albums of the amazing trips we’ve taken to relive the wonderful memories and think about the new ones we will make.”

—Jennifer Lynn Robinson, speaker and CEO, Philadelphia, PA

Start your day with meditation

“I realized early on that we’re not working from home — but rather, we are home during a global pandemic trying to work. This means that self-care during this time is paramount. Each morning, I meditate for ten minutes, take ten deep breaths, and read ten pages from a book every day.  I then go for a walk before starting work. This clears my mind and fuels my soul. We have to remember that this too shall pass, and that silver linings are everywhere.”

—Siobhan Kukolic, author, speaker, and life coach, Toronto, Canada

Recruit a “grief buddy”

“Strangely enough, I have a grief buddy, and it’s been incredibly helpful for my mental health. So many people that I interact with say that being positive is the only way to get through this pandemic. But what do I do with the waves of grief that sometimes overtake me when I think about how long it will be before I can hug my grandsons or see my sister, all of whom live overseas? What about the magnitude of the suffering that this virus is causing?  My grief buddy and I have a good cry and then go back into our confined worlds, cleansed and ready to find the sunshine with those whom we care about and love.”

—Diane Gillespie, emerita professor, Brier, WA

Carve out time for movement 

“Keeping a positive outlook can be tough when it feels like there’s nothing but bad news online. I practice several things to keep myself sane, but one of my favorites is maintaining a routine, which for me, includes movement. Before I was furloughed and locked in my home, I would get up to put in 30 minutes of exercise before showering, getting dressed, and beginning work at 6:00 am. As absurd as it seems, I still maintain that routine as much as possible now that I’m at home. People underestimate the power of a good workout in keeping good mental health.”

—Phil La Duke, global business consultant and author, Detroit, MI

Video chat with loved ones

“To improve my mental health during this time, I’ve been leaning on video chats to stay connected. Since my kids and grandkids live in different states, I use video to stay in touch. Just getting to talk to them is helpful, and we’ve been making up silly little phrases or gestures together, like holding our fingers in circles around our eyes like we have our special ‘grandma glasses’ on. All of that playfulness, along with the virtual hugs and blowing kisses, and just seeing their delight in talking with me, gives a boost to my mental health.”

—Pamela Lewerenz, freelancer, Myrtle Beach, SC

Play with your pets

“During my new workday, my two dogs are my newest co-workers,  and having them nearby has been so helpful for my mental health. We all are so excited when the clock hits 6:00 pm and we take our walk. My dogs bring me and my family so much joy and release from the world we live in today. The most recent moment of joy was when I looked at the backyard during a work call and saw my Newfoundland puppy, Koda, running in circles. He apparently had been playing with our other dog, a Pomeranian puppy, Zoe, and got so excited that he literally ran through the screen.  I jumped off my call and just watched as he ran around the yard, free and happy.”

—Kristian Ross-Patchin, director of membership, Sacramento, CA

Color with your kids

“Coloring as a family has become a fun creative outlet, even for my 11-year-old son who has never enjoyed this activity in the past. I’ve taped down a large picture on the floor and placed a box of markers and crayons next to it. Sometimes I ´stop by’ for a few minutes and color in one image, and other times, the creativity continues for an hour. At the end of this quarantine, we’ll create a large, colorful poster that we’ll eventually frame and hang up as a way to mark this period in our lives. In the meantime, it’s created a creative ritual for our family.”

—Marta Chavent, change and management consultant, France

Try something new every day

“I’ve been finding small ways to change up our normal routine, whether it’s eating a meal in a different spot in our home, or taking a conference call outside instead of at my desk. Last weekend, I joined an online cooking class, making the Italian soup in real time while the chef taught, whereas I normally would have just watched the video and made it later on my own. I also rearranged my home office, and announced a ‘backwards day’ to my kids, eating breakfast for dinner and TV time before reading. Finding small ways to add variety to life has been helpful for my mental health.”

—Leila Ansart, certified executive coach, FL

How are you taking care of your mental health right now? Share your tips with us in the comments.

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