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16 Ways to Boost Your Mood & Mental Wellness

The Covid-19 global pandemic has changed the way most of us live our lives. While we maneuver our way through month after month of new restrictions, it’s taken a toll on many people’s mental health. The way we used to live our day-to-day lives has changed drastically and although it is hard to keep up,  stay positive as there are many things you can do to boost your mood and mental wellness at home.

It’s important to understand that there’s a beautiful quartet of brain chemicals that boost your “happiness” in a day, these include: serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins (a personal fav).

So, what can you do today to boost your happiness brain chemicals?

Well, many situations cause these chemicals to be released and flow through your body, however there are ways for you to naturally increase this flow, so let’s get to it!

Serotonin:

Serotonin is known as the “happiness chemical” and is a neurotransmitter that affects many functions in the body and brain. One scientific theory is that serotonin helps regulate stress and anxiety and may also promote patience and the ability to cope. Serotonin is responsible for good mood, happiness, well-being, better sleep and regulation of digestion.

Seems pretty important right now, right?

There is a lot of research on how to boost serotonin levels naturally but we won’t get into the nitty gritty of that research in this article (it’s just too much). The important thing for you to know is that low levels of serotonin are often seen in people with anxiety and depression so it’s important to boost serotonin levels today and reap the rewards of this incredible chemical.

Serotonin levels are affected by stress, exercise and sunlight.

There are many simple ways to boost serotonin levels and increase its flow, these include (but are not limited to):

  • Moderate exercise for 30+ minutes
  • Get outside and feel the sun on your face
  • Eat food that includes tryptophan (hello, turkey dinner!)
  • Practice mindfulness and gratitude

Dopamine:

Dopamine is known as the “pleasure chemical” and it has a major role in our feelings of pleasure and reward. Dopamine acts as a motivator to take action towards achieving a goal and rewards you with a boost of pleasure when you achieve them. In short, dopamine helps us release the energy we need to get the rewards we want.

It’s a big ‘ol surge of pleasure in response to achievement.

To increase the flow of dopamine, you can try the following:

  • Set small, manageable and achievable goals and “baby step” your way to a larger goal. Each time you achieve one of your “baby step” goals, you’ll get a dose of dopamine
  • Celebrate little wins every day
  • Eat foods that have high levels of dopamine (e.g.banana, avocado, plantains)

Oxytocin:

Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone”, the “cuddle hormone” and is considered to be a “bonding” chemical. It’s that hormone in your body that fills you with warmth and ooey gooey feelings of adoration and love. The release of oxytocin creates trust and strengthens relationships.

Touch is one of the keys to releasing oxytocin in your body. So, while hugging and touch is restricted during the pandemic, you’ll need to find different ways to get this hormone flowing through your body.

To increase the release of oxytocin, you can can try the following:

All of the above suggestions should boost your oxytocin levels and make you feel a little more loving toward yourself and others – an important part of emotional resilience and managing life during Covid-19.

Endorphins:

Endorphins are known as the “painkiller” chemicals in the body. They are released in the body in response to pain or stress and also help alleviate anxiety. Not only do endorphins alleviate pain and anxiety, they also work to boost your immune system and improve your mood.

The great news about endorphins? They’re an easy chemical to release in the body by doing simple things that will help improve your overall health.

To increase the release of endorphins, you can try the following:

  • Exercise at a moderate to moderate/high intensity
  • Laugh – laughter truly is the best medicine
  • Watch a comedy/something funny on (there’s that laughing piece again)
  • Eat dark chocolate or something spicy
  • Use aromatherapy – particularly the smell of lavender and vanilla have been shown to release endorphins.

The above 16 ways to increase your quartet of happiness chemicals don’t need to be done all at once, but you can certainly incorporate quite a few into your day.

For example, start your day with writing down three things you’re grateful for, then go for a 30-minute jog outside. Follow that with  a lovely shower with some lavender soap and then crawl into some soft pajamas and snuggle on the couch with a loved one to watch a show that makes you laugh.

Ta da!

You’ll have many lovely chemicals flowing through your body on a day like that!

Take care of yourself right now as best you can and try to implement a few of the strategies listed in this article to help you feel happier, more focused and motivated.

Author, Lindsay Goulet, Community Development Manager & PhD in Exercise Physiology

Visit the Student Mental Health Toolkit

The Stigma-Free Society believes that mental health education ought to be integrated into all classrooms across British Columbia and beyond. Over the past few months we’ve been working hard to create our Student Mental Health Toolkit for youth, educators, school counsellors, and parents/guardians, who want to teach and promote mental wellness for Grades 4-7 and 8-12.

We have also turned the Society’s in-person mental health/ anti-stigma presentations into a virtual program online. In this way our wonderful staff are able to connect and interact virtually with students and educators over ZOOM, or Microsoft Teams!

ABOUT THE STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH TOOLKIT

The Student Mental Health Toolkit has an incredible amount of valuable information and activities for students, educators, school counsellors, and parents/guardians.

For Youth:

One area we have always been particularly proud about is the inspiring videos from youth sharing their personal experiences of facing various forms of stigma. These videos inspire, provide hope, and can positively change lives.

When students are struggling with mental health problems, it is common for them to feel alone in their struggles. By hearing stories from others, they learn that they’re not alone and there’s hope. Listening to these types of stories may also inspire individuals to speak up and reach out for help.

For Teachers:

The Student Mental Health Toolkit includes Downloadable Resources and Mental Wellness Lesson Plans for Grades 4-7 and 8-12 that align with B.C. school curriculum. They are also cross-curricular and can be used in many course subjects. Lesson Plans are created on an ongoing basis by a Surrey School District Youth Counsellor, Registered Psychologist, and trained Educator.

Our detailed school lesson plans can be used by educators to teach students about mental health, stigma, and inclusion. Additional downloadable resources are available for parents, educators and school counsellors to share valuable information regarding mental wellness. The more we increase our awareness about mental health and wellness, the better our community will be.

For Everyone:

We’ve also included toolkit sections that everyone can use such as students, teachers, school counsellors, and parents/guardians. We offer information that everyone can find useful for every-day living.

STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH TOOLKIT SECTIONS

Diverse-ability and Inclusion

There is a section in the Student Mental Health Toolkit devoted to Diverse-ability and Inclusion. At the Stigma-Free Society, we use the term “diverse-abilities” rather than “disabilities”. We encourage people to celebrate what we CAN do, instead of what we CAN’T do.

The Diverse-ability and Inclusion section teaches students new ways of looking at themselves and others by celebrating each other’s strengths and prioritizing inclusion. This is an extremely valuable tool for students to learn as they are developing their identity and building their self-esteem. This section informs students on how to embrace one another’s uniqueness and potential. Additionally, this section provides a wide range of resources including an engaging comic book, conversation cards, personal experiences from those with diverse-abilities and steps to achieving inclusion at school.

 

Youth Wellness Activities

Staying physically and mentally active is extremely important in order to maintain our mental health and well-being. The Society’s section on Youth Wellness Activities supplies students with many activities that offer a mental health boost! These include activities are appropriate for classrooms, or while at home. Wellness activities can serve to promote healthy coping mechanisms as youth learn to manage their own mental health.

By transforming our method of delivering mental health education to a virtual format, we are ensuring students continue to receive education on mental health and wellness.

Mental health education is currently more important than ever. A pandemic is a very stressful experience for both individuals and communities. Having the resources to cope with mental health issues during this time is vital.

There is a need to improve children and adolescents’ access to mental health support services during the current pandemic. This should involve education surrounding the importance of health and providing strategies to develop healthy coping mechanisms. Furthermore, it is essential that students understand the importance of reaching out for help with any problems that they may have with their mental health.

We would like to invite you to navigate the new Student Mental Health Toolkit and check out all of the new information we have available.

Feedback is always welcome.

Please email us at [email protected] if you have any comments, questions or feedback for us!

We are constantly adding new information, lesson plans, downloadable resources and activities to our toolkit, so be sure to check back regularly!

Author, Cosette Leblanc, Stigma-Free Intern, Adler University

The Importance of Mental Health Education in Schools

Early social and emotional development lay the foundation for resiliency throughout the lifespan. However, 70% of adults with mental illness see symptoms emerge in childhood and adolescence.

Some facts you should know…

• Mental illness affects approximately 1.2 million youth in Canada.
• By age 25, that number increases to 7.5 million (1 in 5 Canadians).
• The current generation of youth are experiencing the highest rates of mental health issues ever seen.
• Marginalized youth experience even higher rates of mental health concerns due to the intersection of several factors including violence, and poverty.

Mental health challenges are often pervasive, impacting many developmental outcomes. Poor mental health can have several detrimental effects on children and youth. Not only can it impact academic performance and success, but it may also interfere with social relationships and physical health.

Children who suffer from mental illnesses are at greater risk for adult onset physical health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. They are also more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. There is no health without mental health. That is, if our youth are not mentally well, they will not be physically well and their ability to positively impact our society will be impaired. Despite an increase in the availability of mental health resources such as counselling and various treatment options, rates of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression continue to rise.

What can we do about this mental health crisis?

The solution lies, in part, in our schools.

To ensure optimum growth and development, mental health education needs to begin during early school years. During this time children form their first friendships and teenagers are shaping their self-worth and self-esteem. Growing up, youth are faced with a host of challenges including exclusion, bullying, conflict, and poor self esteem. It is important that we acknowledge and equip children with the tools needed to manage these challenges. In a combined effort between mental health professionals, parents and teachers, students’ mental health can be greatly improved, thus setting the stage for a healthier and happier future.

Some of the main reasons we, at the Stigma-Free Society advocate so hard to bring mental health education into the school are for the following reasons:

1) A primary goal of mental health education is to increase awareness. This involves teaching children what mental health means, and how to maintain positive mental health. It is vital that youth understand the concept of self-care and that they are responsible for their own mental health. In addition, emphasis should be placed on the idea that mental health is an integral part of overall health and well-being.

2) Another goal of mental health education is also to teach children, parents, and teachers how to recognize mental health related issues in themselves and others. When mental health problems are left undiagnosed or untreated, it can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms and negatively affect a child’s ability to grow and learn. Along with an increased understanding of the importance of mental health, children should be provided with strategies and tools to cope with mental health challenges.

3) Early intervention of mental health issues can also make a world of a difference. Small changes in behavior and thinking often occur before major mental illness appears. These early warning signs can be noticed by teachers, family, friends, and the individuals themselves, but only if they know what to look for. Some of these signs are mood changes, nervousness, withdrawal, and a decrease in academic performance. Early intervention can reduce the severity of the mental illness. It may also delay or even prevent the development of a major mental illness.

4) Mental health awareness can save lives. This issue of suicide and self-harm among teenagers is quite alarming. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 15 – 24. Bringing awareness to the symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses can help teens identify these issues and seek help before it is too late. By including education on mental health and information on how and where to access help, school can quite literally save lives.

5) Education can help serve to eliminate stigma. Stigma is a mark of disgrace that sets an individual apart. These people are defined by their illness and associated to a stereotyped group. Negative attitudes toward stereotyped groups can lead to feelings of blame, shame, hopelessness, and distress. By educating our youth about mental illness, we begin to normalize mental illness conversations and the stigma surrounding it begins to dissipate.

In conclusion, the prevalence of mental illness in youth is increasing with each generation and we, as a society, have a responsibility to protect our children as best as we can.

Mental health education in schools can significantly impact students current and future mental health. It can also contribute to eliminating stigma and foster resiliency through the awareness of mental health. The benefits of this type of education is insurmountable.
Schools have the ability to promote positive mental health by building self-confidence and self-esteem. It is essential that children are taught about the importance of mental health, how to recognize signs of poor mental health, and how to seek out assistance for any mental health challenges.

By talking about mental health, we can promote greater acceptance and understanding which will in turn increase help-seeking behavior.
Mental health education in schools is extremely valuable as it can positively impact the lives of our children and youth. Please connect with us if you’re interested in bringing some mental health education to your school or classroom.

We’re happy to help you start the conversation.

Author, Cosette Leblanc, Intern, Stigma-Free Society