April 15, 2019
You’ve heard of ice-water challenges, dietary challenges, and social media challenges—but the most popular competition right now is all about your mind and stress. Searches for 30-day mental health challenges have increased by by 668% over the past year, Pinterest recently revealed.
Do these mini, month-long resets actually work? They can, but you have to approach them the right way, Helen L. Coons, clinical director of the Women’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Service Line at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, recently told Good Housekeeping magazine.
“We know that small, realistic, and attainable steps help us sustain good health behavior,” she said. “So if we think that we’re going to lose 50 pounds this week, we tend not to do it, but if we think … ‘I’m going to skip the cookie today,’ that’s a good start. Same thing in mental health.”
The magazine’s editors teamed up with Dr. Coons to create a 30-day mental health challenge that aims to help you leave you feeling calmer and happier at the end of the month. Even better: You don’t need to spend a lot of money or have tons of free time to participate.
Before starting the challenge, GH recommends that participants position themselves for the best results by following four core guidelines:
- Don’t think it’s selfish: “When we’ve taken good care of ourselves, not only do we have more energy for others, but we tend to be more focused and more present,” Dr. Coons advises.
- Tap a friend:When we share our goals, we do better. Get a group of two, three, or four friends, for added accountability.
- If you miss a day, don’t give up:The goal isn’t to be perfect. Even if you just do 25 or 15 days, that’s still an improvement from the previous month.
- Keep it up afterward:Improving your well-being is an ongoing process, so adopt one or two new habits that changed your mood for the better.
Now, take a look at the activities below—one for each day of the next month, no matter when you start.
The upcoming month is all about focusing on self-care and finding ways to make physical and mental health a bigger part of your life, which may sound like a lot but in practice is pretty simple. The editors have designated one easy task per day, so that participants won’t feel too overwhelmed.
1. Do a deep breathing exercise: Count backwards from ten, breathing low and slow. Try it before a meeting, in the car, or before you greet your kids or partner after a long day.
2. Catch up with a good friend: Having a strong social support system is linked with a reduced risk of depression and high blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic.
3. Schedule something to look forward to: Plan a fun day later this month, whether you sign up for a cooking class, plan a mother-daughter movie marathon, or use the weekend to go on a mini road trip.
5. Do 30 minutes of yoga: Women who took twice-weekly yoga classes experienced a bigger decrease in chronic stress compared to a control group put on a wait-list, found a 2016 study published in the journal Cogent Psychology.
6. Plan a healthy meal: It’s no secret if you eat well, you feel well.
7. Ask for help with something: Tap into that support system for some assistance where you feel spread thin. After all, it takes a village.
8. Listen to your favorite happy music: In the car, in your home, in the shower…. Bonus points if you sing along.
9. Take 10 minutes to read: Either good stuff or junk!
10. Go for a walk at lunch: Walking for 30 minutes in a natural or urban environment is linked with reducing stress hormone levels and improving mood, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.
11. Budget 20 minutes of spa time: Whether it’s a manicure or a blowout, do whatever makes you feel good. “Not because of the superficial nature of it,” says Dr. Coons, “but when we tend to feel good about how we look, that also helps our well-being.”
12. Practice a favorite hobby: Coloring, doodling, and drawing all increase blood flow to the reward circuit in the brain, according to a 2017 study out of George Washington University, but do whatever creative activity brings you joy—knitting, jewelry making, you name it.
13. Let yourself get distracted by a movie: Go out or queue something up at home.
14. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier: Getting enough sleep can improve your mood, memory, and immune system, according to the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine.
\15. Drink water instead of alcohol or soda today: You’ll save money and avoid empty calories. Win-win.
16. Schedule a game night: Enjoy some friendly competition around a game board.
17. Set a mini goal: Make sure you eat breakfast every day this week, or find a friend sign up for a 5K with you.
18. Cross a lingering item off your to-do list: You know that doctor’s appointment you’ve been meaning to make for months?
19. Compliment someone: Put a little good karma into the world.
20. Plan a night in with friends: Gossip, laugh, eat, drink.
22. FaceTime with a family member: Just seeing Grandma happy will probably make you happy.
23. Do something outside: Walk the dog or find an empty bench to soak up some sun. Or look at the moon and stars before bedtime.
24. Book a date night with your partner: If you’re single, no problem. Call up a friend who appreciates you and plan something fun instead.
25. Unfollow negative people on social media: Those influencer accounts who make you feel any bit less-than? See ya, won’t miss ya.
26. Say no to something: Take a task off your calendar or move it to a more convenient or less stressful time.
27. Have a phone-free night at home: The blue light emitted by your screen can mess your with sleep hormones, so putting the tech away early will not only let you catch up on a new book, but also help you fall asleep faster.
28. Watch a silly video that makes you laugh: Remember, it’s the best medicine.
29. Write down something good that happened today: Even if you’ve just had the worst day, jot down what you’re grateful for instead.
30. Adopt a new habit: Reflect back on the past 30 days and think about making a change. Should game night become a weekly occurrence? Did going to a walk at lunch make feel that much ready to take on the rest of day? The month may be over, but you can make your favorite activities a regular, lifelong thing.
Research contact: @goodhousemag