10 Ways to Boost Youth and Adult Mental Health

The U.S. Surgeon General recently issued an urgent advisory on a youth mental health crisis, intensified by the COVID-19 Pandemic and, more recently, the war in Ukraine. Also, the majority of Americans are currently experiencing unprecedented stress, according to the American Psychological Association.

We created a top ten list of positive coping strategies that integrate the Surgeon General’s recommendations alongside input from local parents, caregivers, and concerned community members.

These recommendations can aid youth and adults with stress, anxiety, depression, and feeling overwhelmed/isolated.

  1. Validate Feelings. What youth and adults are going through is real and vital to recognize/validate. Acknowledging that it is normal and natural to have certain feelings is essential. It is okay not to be okay. Allowing a person to experience and learn from their feelings and think about healthy ways to navigate and take beneficial action is valuable.
  1. Limit technology/social media/news/video games. Certain content, technology, and too much televised news can lead to more anxiety, feelings of helplessness, or beliefs that the world is entirely a dangerous place. Taking simple steps like limiting time on social media, for instance, and choosing to spend time in nature or watching an uplifting movie can improve mindsets. Going to see live music or theatre can work wonders also. Even just talking to a friend can help.
Taking an outdoor walk allows one to strengthen mental and physical fitness. Photo: Donna Iadipaolo
  1. Partake in Mindful Activities. Going for a walk, doing a puzzle, playing a board game with others, playing cards, exercises like yoga contribute more to being in the moment and enjoying one’s surroundings. Spending time with a pet or doing a hobby can also be mindful. Slowing down mentally and getting one’s mind away from racing thoughts can work wonders. Utilizing techniques to be aware of one’s breathing and slow down one’s thoughts can also help. Many religiously/spiritually inclined find prayers and specific mantras or repeated chants to be calming and healing. Reading poetry, literature, and listening to music similarly has positive mental health benefits. Writing poetry, journaling, or even solving puzzles can relax some. A particular song might even lead to dancing and singing, making you feel amazing and giving you a natural high. Many find volunteering or helping others also restorative.
  2. Eat healthy, nutritious meals Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, avoiding too much added sugar/sweets, or too much caffeine, can all help one’s physical and mental state. Making a meal from scratch can also be a meditative and healthier option than turning to fast food. Indulging in an occasional sweet treat is fine, but binging on less healthy food can be curbed with more healthful nutrients.
  3. Exercise Getting the endorphins circulating could include walking, running, swimming, yoga, biking, water aerobics, or anything that makes you physically active for at least 30 minutes three times a week. The Mayo Clinic says, “Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms. But smaller amounts of physical activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — may make a difference.”
  4. Arts and Crafts Creating art or crafts is also a mindful and healthy self-reflective activity. When one takes a photograph, the act of taking the photo as well as examining the product itself can bring about more awareness and an even greater appreciation of one’s surroundings, such as with a photograph of nature or even an animal. Also, concentrating on one aspect of a photo or art piece, such as its lighting, detail, and overall ambiance, can instill wonder and meditation. Painting, drawing, knitting, and other artistic endeavors provide comfort and peace and can lead to creating a product of which to be proud. 
  5. Avoid Harmful/Addictive Behavior Avoid behaviors such as vaping, smoking, drug use, pornography, and other non-healthful pursuits. Many dangerous vices are used as self-medication or escape or because some perpetuate them as “cool” due to media influences and the bombardment of unhealthy images. Give education and seek information about the potential harm these elements can cause, such as damaging the body and mind.
  6. Consult a Counselor/Therapist/Medical Professional One does not even need to be diagnosed with a mental health problem to benefit from consulting a trained professional. A therapist can help with stress, relationship problems, and academic concerns. More severe issues or long-lasting depression or anxiety may require medical attention. Going to see one’s family doctor, therapist, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist, depending on one’s particular situation, is a good idea.   
  7. Promote Self-Love Encourage taking care of oneself. Take long baths. Make time to pamper yourself and your loved ones. Savor in a nice cup of tea. Eat nutritiously. Take time to exercise and get natural, positive feelings flowing freely.
  8. Get Good Sleep According to the CDC, children ages 6-12 should regularly sleep 9 to 12 hours a night. Teenagers ages 13 to 18 should sleep 8 to 10 hours. Adults should get at least 8 hours of sleep a night as well. Good sleep is one of the most important components of physical and mental health. Read more from our sleep expert on how to R.E.S.T. HERE
A single aspect of nature and even a photograph can provide a focus for meditation and/or prayer. Photo by Donna Iadipaolo.