6 Exercises to Improve Your Mental Health

Anyone who’s sat on a cozy couch across from a therapist has probably felt a whole lot of relief by the end of the session. The only problem? Afterward, you’re stuck with a hefty bill that can easily be a couple hundred bucks per session. While the effectiveness of that time spent with an expert has been proven time and time again, there are ways to save money and find your happy place all from the comfort of your home.

Here are some exercises that will improve your mental health and won’t cost you a thing:

Make yourself laugh.

You can tell yourself a bad joke, watch some funny videos on YouTube, or check out the latest comedy flick at the movie theater. Whatever you choose, something as simple as getting yourself to laugh will help improve your mood, not to mention decrease your anxiety and depression over time, according to the Mayo Clinic. And the majority of the time, minus the movie ticket, it doesn’t even cost a dime!

Write in a journal.

All you have to do to engage in some therapeutic writing is simply jot down anything and everything that’s on your mind, without hiding or being ashamed about what hits the paper. By all means, burn the evidence to a crisp when you’re done, but the mere act of putting pen to paper is undeniably healing.

“Writing down how you feel provides an opportunity for you to be honest with yourself,” says Bridgitte Jackson-Buckley, the author of The Gift of Crisis: How I Used Meditation to go From Financial Failure to a Life of Purpose. “It provides a safe and private space to reveal something to yourself that you may not be ready to reveal to someone else.”

Do some coloring.

A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that creative art, like coloring, is deeply therapeutic for adults, and works wonders on banishing feelings of stress and anxiety. The relaxation that comes from grabbing some crayons and making your blank page go from bare to rainbow-colored might be just the mindless activity you need to give your brain a break.

Take a digital detox.

Going on a digital detox may be just what the mental health doctors ordered. It can improve your posture, all but guarantee that you’ll get more exercise, and give you more opportunity for quality time with your loved ones.

So, how can you get started? Make minor changes. “Establish boundaries between yourself and your cellphone and computer,” says Melissa Fino, a woman’s transformational life coach in San Diego, California, and CEO of the Love Your Life Community. “Set certain times when you are allowed to use them—and don’t allow them into your bedroom!” This way, your iPhone won’t be the first thing you grab in the morning.

And if you really want to commit, you could even go so far as to check your device at the front door.

Use positive affirmations.

Daily affirmations help you create a positive self-image and combat negative thoughts, all by saying a phrase to yourself out loud in the mirror.

“When you get caught with negative tapes running through you head, it can sometimes be challenging to stop them. If you write down a few affirmations that feel good to you, you can repeat those to focus your mind on positive things instead of the ‘tapes,’” says S. Ryanne Stellingwerf, a clinical professional counselor at the Solutions Counseling and Wellness Center in Great Falls, Montana.

“Just remember to keep them in the present,” Stellingwerf notes. In other words, say things like “I have an amazing life,” rather than “I will have an amazing life.”

Call your loved ones.

Who’s a better therapist than your own mom, sibling, or best friend? No matter who it is that you trust, give that loved one a call when you need to talk. Even just a 10-minute chat venting about your frustrations or revealing your inner doubts—and getting some guidance from someone you love and respect—will make you feel some relief and help you work through your problems.

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