13 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health
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13 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health During a Pandemic

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13 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health
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Well-Being Workout

During these days of statewide shutdowns, masked grocery shopping, and bad news from seemingly every corner, everyone is under unprecedented stress. If you devote so much attention to daily obligations that you neglect your emotional well-being, you're not alone. Mental health isn't even a consideration for most people until it becomes a problem, but it shouldn't take a backseat right now. From physical health to relationships to careers, mental outlook affects virtually every part of our lives. Here are 13 simple ways to stay mentally healthy during a pandemic. 

Related: 24 Ways to Get Free or Cheap Mental Health Care

Write in a Journal
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Practice More Gratitude

Studies have linked gratitude with greater life satisfaction and improved mental wellness. Tap into these positive benefits by reflecting on what you're most grateful for in life through a gratitude journal or list. Each day, jot down three things for which you're thankful — from the mundane "I was productive while working from home today" to the major "I've recovered from COVID-19." Use a free app such as Happier or Attitudes of Gratitude Journal, notes on your smartphone, or plain old paper and pen to track happy moments.

Plan a Getaway
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Plan a Future Getaway

Having a trip to look forward to can boost overall happiness, so plan a getaway you can take when travel is advisable. Whether it's traveling for an overnight camping trip with friends, a road trip across the country, or an international extravaganza that shakes up the routine, scouting out a new place to visit can improve your outlook on life and help you imagine a time when the coronavirus doesn't have  an impact on your plans.

Be a Tourist in Your Own Town
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Be an Online Tourist

While it's not a good time to explore many places in person, it's a great time to explore the world online. Take a break from your daily routine to enjoy a virtual tour of historic sites across the U.S. and famous homes, or watch streaming webcams of national parks, zoos and aquariums, and more. You also might be surprised at the interesting experiences your own backyard offers by searching for virtual tours and webcams of your favorite destinations near you.

Related: 30 Spectacular Photos of Hard-to-Reach Places

Challenge Yourself
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Set Yourself up for a Challenge

Achieving a new goal is a great way to boost confidence and self-esteem, which will improve your overall mental outlook. Do something you're good at to build self-confidence, then tackle a tougher task. Set a goal to learn a skill, pick up a hobby, or put yourself in a socially-distanced community activity, then celebrate the achievements, even the small ones, as you progress. You'll enjoy a sense of accomplishment and self-worth.

Related: 18 Fitness Challenges to Keep Pace (and Your Distance) During the Pandemic

Create Play Time
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Create Play Time

Do more things you enjoy. This sounds so simple, but many of us fall into the trap of prioritizing daily obligations over pleasure, which can zap our creativity and joy over time. Creative expression and overall well-being are linked, so doing creative things you enjoy regularly will provide an easy mental boost. Experiment with a new recipe, tackle a DIY project, or color for 20 minutes a day to clear the mind.

Related: 41 Things to Do to Before Lockdown Ends

Meal Prep for Success
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Plan Ahead

There are, of course, many things we cannot control in life, but a little prepping for the week ahead can go a long way in reducing stress. Cut down on morning routines by planning and packing lunches (even if you're just eating them in the backyard) and picking out Zoom call-ready outfits during downtime over the weekend. In addition to being a time saver, it gives a sense of control so you can focus on more important things (such as pursuing passion projects).

Find the Humor in Life
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Find the Humor in Life

There's some science to the adage "laughter is the best medicine." Laughter decreases stress hormones and triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. Watching a comedy or cute YouTube video, reading a humorous article online, or catching up with a funny friend are fantastic mood lifters. Regular belly laughs will help reduce anxiety and improve a sense of wellness.

Related: 24 Funniest Comedy Specials You Can Watch Online

Dance While Doing Chores
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Dance While You Do Your Chores

Exercise increases endorphins, which enhance mood, so get moving! Some weeks, it can be hard to carve time out of a busy schedule to squeeze in a workout at home, but even dancing around while cleaning can help keep you in a good headspace. Moving those muscles can help reduce anxiety and depression. You'll reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), increase "feel-good" endorphins, and get chores done. Turn up the music!

Spend Time with a Furry Friend
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Spend Time With a Furry Friend

Hanging out with human friends is ideal, but spending time with animals can also lower stress hormones and boost oxytocin, which stimulates feelings of happiness. You don't have to adopt a furry friend to reap these benefits; consider fostering a pet from a shelter.

9. Worst: Indiana
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Spend More Time in Nature

Even if it's just for 15 minutes, a hike in the woods (if allowed in your area) can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Spending time in green spaces can boost mood and energy levels, so it's worth hanging out with Mother Nature when there's a chance, whether it's by slogging up a steep path in the sunshine for five minutes or backpacking through a national forest for days.

Related: The State Park You Don't Want to Miss in Every State

Go Off the Grid
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Go Off the Grid

Disconnecting from the barrage of emails, texts, and social media alerts, especially just before bedtime, can be one of the best things for mental health (not to mention sleep habits). Go on a "digital detox" by leaving the smartphone home for a day, and spend that time doing something fun with your family. You're likely to experience more mental health benefits sans screen and the urge to take selfies. 

Related: 12 Benefits of Banning Electronics from the Bedroom

Be More Forgiving
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Be More Forgiving

Much like expressing gratitude for the things we most appreciative in life, being more forgiving can help us lead more satisfying and mentally healthy lives. We're doing a disservice to ourselves and others if we can't forgive. Whether it's forgiving someone who cut you off while driving, choosing to forgive a relative or friend who hurt you, or even forgiving yourself for some mishap or failure, acknowledge and accept it, then let it go.

Ask for Help
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Ask for Help

Seeking help is a sign of strength. Recognize when you might need the support of a friend, family member, or trained mental health professional, and lean on your support system when you need it. Speaking aloud can help gain perspective and solve a problem head on. No matter the strategy that works for you, investing in mental health is time well spent.