You’ve heard of money challenges, gallon water challenges, and of course whatever weird social media challenges the kids are up to these days, but the most popular challenge is all about you. Searches for 30-day mental health challenges grew by 668% over the past year, Pinterest recently revealed.
But do these mini, month-long resets actually work? They can, but you have to approach them the right way, says Helen L. Coons, Ph.D., ABPP, Clinical Director of Women’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Service Line at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
“We know that small, realistic, and attainable steps help us sustain good health behavior,” she says. “So if we think that we’re going to lose 50 pounds this week, we tend not to do it, but if we think about ‘I’m going to skip the cookie today,’ that’s a good start. Same thing in mental health.”
So, we 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.
How to Do the 30-Day Mental Health Challenge
Position yourself 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 we tend to be more focused and more present,” Dr. Coons says.
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 wellbeing is an ongoing process, so adopt one or two new habits that changed your mood for the better.
The 30-Day Mental Health Challenge
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. We’ve designated one easy task per day, so you’ll never feel too overwhelmed.
Daily reminders, whether you write ’em in your calendar, add them as events to your phone, or put Post-It’s on your bedroom mirror, will help you stay on track, but bookmark this page and check back if you’re ever unsure of the day’s goal.
1. Do a deep breathing exercise.
Count backwards from 10, 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 Mayo Clinic. And you’ll probably get a good rec on what to watch next on Netflix too.
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.
4. Donate or recycle something you never use.
Visit givebackbox.com to download a free USPS shipping label, pack up your donations in an empty Amazon box, and it’ll go directly to Goodwill.
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 waitlist, found a 2016 study published in the journal Cogent Psychology. If you can’t get to the gym, try this eight-part flow from Women’s Health.
6. Plan a healthy meal.
It’s no secret if you eat well, you feel well. Not sure what to make? The Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen has you covered with easy, veggie-filled recipes. How does Grilled Chicken with Herbed Corn Salsa sound?
7. Ask for help with something.
No one can do it all alone. 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 — good stuff or junk!
On our reading list right now: #1 New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hollis’s new book, Girl, Stop Apologizing.
10. Go for a walk at lunch.
It doesn’t matter where you are either. 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 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 wellbeing.” (Psst: This $6 top coat is my actual favorite.)
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. FYI Netflix has a designated category for Romantic Movies Based on Real Life.
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 — all the more reason to pull on your coziest jammies a little earlier.
15. Drink water instead of alcohol or soda today.
You’ll save money and avoid empty calories. Win-win.
16. Schedule a game night.
If you’re convinced Monopoly will only end in tears, try these two family-friendly GH Institute picks: Kanoodle Head-to-Head, a two-person puzzle game, and Blank Slate, a word-based challenge perfect for big groups.
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? Now’s the time to call and get it done.
19. Compliment someone.
Put a little good karma into the world. Plus, this kind of “reward” activates similar parts of the brain whether it happens to you or someone else, according to a 2015 meta-analysis published in NeuroImage.
20. Plan a night in with friends.
Whether it’s book club or a Bachelor viewing party, you’ll save money versus dinner out (and you can wear comfy clothes).
21. Try a 5-minute meditation.
Download a free mindfulness app like Headspace and you can do it anywhere when you have a spare moment.
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 (with SPF on, of course). Or look at the moon and stars before bed.
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.
Funny animal fails right this way …
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.
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