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5 tips to support your mental health

5 Tips to Support Your Mental Health

Al Waller: In March of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global rates of anxiety and depression increased significantly by 25 percent.

So, it’s no surprise that with disrupted schedules, milestone celebrations, and guidance, many of us are feeling pretty frustrated and vulnerable. And while it’s crucial to seek professional care if you’re truly concerned about your well-being, there are some strategies that we can use to support our mental health.

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & WealthSM. I’m your host, Al Waller. With me again is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert of nonprofit Transamerica Institute® and she's here to talk about five strategies to support our mental health.

Mihaela, it’s great to have you here!

Mihaela Vincze: Its good be here!

Al Waller: So, to get things started, can you walk us through why mental health conditions like anxiety and depression are on the rise?

Mihaela Vincze: Sure thing. The World Health Organization reported recently that the unprecedented stress caused by social isolation as a reason for the increase—loneliness, mourning the deaths of family, and financial worries were also major factors accelerating depression and anxiety during the pandemic.

Although pandemic restrictions are easing in many parts of the country, it’s still important to take part in strategies that can help or enhance our mental health—especially as the future continues to prove uncertain.

Al Waller: No doubt, these findings are a wake-up call for us to be more attentive to our mental health, and also to support one another. I’ve absolutely gained a greater appreciation for spending quality time with my friends and family. Spending time with those you love has to deliver a positive impact on our mental health, right?

Mihaela Vincze: You’re exactly right, Al. Community is very important for mental health – so having a support network is vital. This includes your acquaintances, friends, and family.

Now, you may be wondering if spending time on social media is helpful, but a study published last year in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that social media users often feel more isolated than peers who spend less time online. Making time to see people in person or talking over the phone can really serve as more effective tools for making us feel less lonely.

Al Waller: I think it’s preferable to be social in a way that is more personal than simply peering through a screen – but full disclosure, my screen time skyrocketed during the pandemic.

As things have finally started to open up, I’m making it a priority to catch up with friends I haven’t been able to see and also working in some road trips to visit some relatives too. It’s really just so energizing to get back to enjoying group activities and sports. Just recently, I went to opening day at the ballpark with a group of old and very good friends and it was such a blast and great to be out again.

Could you offer some other tips to help others get back on track and become more socially engaged?

Mihaela Vincze: Giving back – did you know that volunteering can boost our mental health? Volunteering can really lessen stress and also provide a sense of purpose. When you work with local organizations, you’re not only improving your community, but you are also contributing to your own health.

For instance, those who volunteer reported being more satisfied with their lives and rated their overall health as better, according to a 2020 study conducted in the United Kingdom. If you’d like to find volunteer opportunities, two websites to help you get started are: Createthegood.com and Volunteermatch.com.

Al Waller: Great ideas! I really think you are spot on there, Mihaela. While volunteering is really all about giving back to your community, I know it makes me feel a lot better after doing it. To that point, a lot of workplaces are really on board by offering a certain amount of paid time off each month to engage in volunteer work – like with groups such as Habitat for Humanity.

In addition to spending time with friends, family, and community, what else do you recommend?

Mihaela Vincze: Engaging in physical activity—which can serve as a natural treatment for depression. Begin by identifying which physical activities you enjoy because that is going to be key in whether or not you maintain it – whether it is running, walking, yoga, or a team sport, really any exercise that you would like to do will really help to improve your overall mental well-being.

These are quite personal and vary from person to person, but physical activity has a huge potential to enhance our mental health, as well as ward off psychological ailments like depression and anxiety. I know if I feel overwhelmed, going on a ten-minute walk helps me reset my mental state and increases my energy.

Al Waller: Very true Mihaela, staying active and spending time outdoors is not only great for your physical but your mental health as well. I'm reminded of some pretty sage advice from this gentleman, Les – one of my older friends that happens to be in his 90s – and his mantra is, and I quote, “Don't stop! Keep moving.” So, I think those are words to live by at any age, right?

What other advice do you have for us today, Mihaela?

Mihaela Vincze: I really hope everyone is already doing this – do the things that you enjoy. What activities can you lose yourself in? Take time to reflect on your individual preferences and note which activities either improve or worsen your headspace – they are both important.

If you feel you really enjoy cooking, then try adding a few nutritious home-cooked meals to your daily routine. If you feel drained after doing something or talking to someone, maybe try avoiding that if you can.

By doing the things you enjoy, you’ll be able to cope with life’s challenges better, which in turn will benefit your mental health – and maybe even help you prevent burnout.

Al Waller: I am definitely on board avoiding the drama that comes with interacting with high maintenance folks – that definitely works for me. I do suspect that devoting time to your favorite hobbies will help you better unwind and prevent that burn out. To that end, I’m thinking that trying new hobbies can also be a great way to spend your time.

Some years ago, I had a friend who introduced me to skydiving. I know, some friend, right… But it really was such a rush to do that! And look, I'm not advocating jumping out of planes, but it can be fun and exhilarating when you try your hand at something new – like maybe wind surfing or kayaking, especially with someone who's already pretty passionate about it.

How about that last strategy?

Mihaela Vincze: For my final strategy to help support your mental health, I think it’s really important to touch on eating well. There are really strong links between what we eat and how we feel.

To give a quick example to illustrate this, when you eat something with sugar or caffeine, that can really have an immediate effect. But food can also have long-lasting effects on your mental health as well.

Your brain needs a combination of nutrients to stay healthy and function well, just like other organs in your body. A diet that’s good for your physical health will probably most likely be good for your mental health too. And of course – if you want some nutritious meal ideas—check out Transamerica Institute’s Healthier Traditions Cookbook series. There are plenty of delicious meal ideas in there to help get you started.

Al Waller: That’s a great idea. I’ve had my eye on some recipes in your Quick & Easy Cookbook since I typically don’t allow much time for lunch. Now that we’ve discussed five strategies—and to recap: socializing, giving back to our communities, engaging in physical activity, taking time to do the activities we enjoy, and of course, eating well—are there any final recommendations before we wrap things up for today?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, I also have a bonus strategy. I want to encourage listeners to spend time with a pet or maybe even own one. Animals can be great conversation starters and they really provide an opportunity for us to meet new people. I know I use my dog, Gigi, for this all the time or whenever I can.

And research has found that adolescent pet owners may have better social skills and engage more in community activities than those who don’t. I think that might even translate to other populations too.

Caring for a pet — by taking it out for a walk, or to the groomer — can also deter us from being overly sedentary. If owning a pet is too large of a commitment, maybe watching your friend’s pet or spending time with that pet, actually may have the same benefit.

Al Waller: As a matter of fact, both of my sons – now recently married – each have dogs and I think in my wife's mind, the next step is grandchildren. So, there's nothing wrong with that, right?

Actually, my wife, Edie and I recently spent a long weekend at our home taking care of our “grand doggie”. His name is Charlie, and he's an Italian mastiff – he is huge. They went out of town, and we took care of him – and I must say it was a lot of fun because dogs are not only great companions but very entertaining too.

Now on the serious side, what can and should listeners do if they have some really serious concerns over the state of their mental health?

Mihaela Vincze: It is important that you seek professional care if you are experiencing persistent mental health struggles. The SAMSHA Helpline is available 24/7 and can help provide referrals for treatment. This can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP.

Al Waller: Well, Mihaela, once again many thanks to you for joining us and for sharing these valuable strategies and resources today.

We hope you’ll join us for future episodes, including the upcoming episode on skin cancer awareness. Also, in case you missed it, check out recent episodes on the surprising benefits of walking, and quitting your job - a transition checklist. If you have comments, feedback, or episode ideas, please reach out to [email protected].

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement security and the intersections of health and financial well-being. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.