Studies show that exercise can help improve mood and mental health. When a person exercises the body releases endorphins, or “happy chemicals,” along with stimulating the neurotransmitter norepinephrine which improves mood. A study done on 12 young adults with depressive disorders at the University of New Castle in Australia showed that after exercising for 12 weeks, 10 out of the 12 were no longer categorized as depressed. Another study conducted in Canada found that students who play team sports in high school are less stressed and depressed as young adults.
Communication and maintaining an open environment with family and friends can be a great way to work through what’s happening and get help in a safe and comfortable space. “Talking about mental wellness in general and keeping it part of the conversation is really important… it’s oftentimes when somebody is struggling the first time you reach out they might say, ‘no, I’m fine,’ because they might not really recognize in themselves that they are struggling or they might not be able to articulate in themselves what’s really wrong,” Director of Montgomery County Hotline Rachel Larkin said.
The University of Washington’s Northwest Bulletin Family and Child Health describes the practice of mindfulness as, “a type of meditation where you take note of sensations and emotions in the present moment without judgment.” Jewish text and English teacher Grace McMillan gives students a moment at the beginning of her classes to do this. “To have a minute in the day where they can close their eyes and just take a deep breath a few times and relax is really restorative and helps people get perspective,” McMillan said.
According to Harvard Health, a study conducted in 2015 compared people’s brains after taking a walk in either an urban or natural setting. Walking in a natural setting resulted in lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is a part of the brain active during rumination. Rumination is defined as repetitive thoughts focusing on negative emotion. Furthermore, research showed that sounds found in nature can lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which calms the fight-or-flight response.
According to Larkin, checking in with others is extremely important because some people may have trouble expressing themselves and how they’re feeling. “Be like, ‘You know, you still don’t seem yourself, what do you need? What can I do for you? What have you tried?’” Larkin said. “[This is] reflecting that you see a problem and that you care and asking the person what they need and how you can make a difference. The little things, it can really help.”
Call the Hotline
The local affiliate for the National Suicide Prevention lifeline is run by Larkin. She works under the larger organization EveryMind that offers additional support options and works to spread awareness about mental health. They provide free and confidential services and are available to call 24 hours everyday.