Mental Health: How to Cope with Stress and Improve Mood

If you happen to be house hunting – or exploring a new apartment – a study in the newspaper Building and Environment says you’d do very well to pay attention to window size and placement.

It’s a mental well-being issue, and it’s no small feat, as people continue to pull through both the COVID-19 pandemic and an epidemic of depression and anxiety that spans generations and has accelerated in recent years.

The problem with windows is light – or more specifically, morning light – as Utah therapist Jenny Howe points out, though it had nothing to do with the University of Sheffield in England.

“Our research reveals that natural light in our homes has a significant impact on our emotional well-being,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Pablo Navarrete-Hernandez, in a written statement. “As we live, work and spend more time at home than ever before, city planners and developers should consider improving natural lighting conditions in the home through factors such as location and window size.

That light matters comes as no surprise to mental health experts. And most adults have probably heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, often aptly abbreviated as SAD for its impact on mood. The Mayo Clinic says it’s a type of depression that begins and ends around the same time each year and is related at least peripherally to the amount of natural sunlight, which can have a impact on serotonin and melatonin levels, disrupting mood and sleep.

The study’s abstract notes that “Poor natural light at home could affect your mood.”

Of course, not all of us are house hunting and many of us cannot change our windows other than to open or close the curtains. And it’s just as clear from experts like the American Psychiatric Association that mood disorders and challenges like depression vary widely in condition and severity and often require therapy and medication for effective treatment.

Either way, individuals can do a lot to improve their mental well-being. And much of it is incredibly simple.

The Deseret News asked Howe of Jenny Howe Consulting; psychologist Sam Goldstein, who is also an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah; and Laurie Singer, a marriage and family therapist in Camarillo, Calif., about what people can do to improve their own mental health.

Here, in no particular order, are 10 more tips that make a difference and don’t require a down payment or rent deposit:

  • Help at least one living being one day is Goldstein’s best advice.
  • Always have something fun in your schedule. Singer says it’s important to have something planned that can be looked forward to – and while a vacation or a big event is great, it can be something as small as meeting a friend or going to the movies or take a hike.
  • Exercise every day. This is the advice of Goldstein and Singer. Goldstein says to get at least 10 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, while Singer points out that people “forget how beneficial a brisk walk is in the morning. It can set the tone for the day.
  • Do at least one thing you love every day, says Goldstein.
  • Never go to bed angry is another Goldstein imperative.
  • Write a positive sentence in the morning, said the singer. Then copy it 10 times. It can be simple: “I’m going to take one step at a time today, don’t rush through the day, and stay in the moment.”
  • Give yourself time in the morning to prepare for the day and time in the evening to decompress, suggests Goldstein.
  • Try “thought versus reality”, says Singer, who notes that she uses the strategy when clients regress and start having negative thoughts. She tells them to look at what happened: I couldn’t walk before work. Then they reflect on their thoughts, which are actually opinions: I should have managed my time better; now my day is ruined. Then it’s the turn of reality: I can walk during my lunch break or after work. This process puts things into perspective, she said.
  • try something new, because novelty is a great boost to well-being, says Howe. Even tasting a new flavor of ice cream is great for boosting the mood.
  • finish somethingsays Howe, who notes that dopamine is a feel-good and motivating chemical that’s released when performing a task, even if it’s as simple as folding laundry.

About Stephen Ewing

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