Ways to improve your mental health during stressful times with the help of Birmingham experts

Remember when we could be gather? Now it’s time to get creative with our health + well being. Photo via The Pizitz Instagram

We’re half way through the year and boy has it been a doozy. Between a global pandemic and important social movements it’s important to take some time for yourself—especially your mental health. With the advice of local wellness advocacy groups and nonprofits in Birmingham, here are some tips to help improve your mental health.

Disclaimer: This article does not serve as professional medical advice. Seek advice of a qualified health provider with any questions regarding your health whether it be physical or mental.

Local wellness advocacy groups to have on your radar

As a 20-something gal taking life day by day, there’s only so much advice I can give you, so I reached out to the following groups and non-profits for advice. Here’s a look at who they are and how they serve the Birmingham community.

Yes, I Have a Therapist

Creating a safe space for women of color. Photo via Yes, I Have a Therapist Facebook

Yes, I Have a Therapist is a wellness advocacy group for women of color that promotes healthy wellness practices by providing local and national resources. Their mission is to dismantle harmful mental health stigmas by hosting conversations and creating a safe space for women of color.

Integrative Health Services

Integrative Health Services takes a holistic approach to healing the mind, body and spirit. They assist couples, families, teens and individuals who struggle with mental health. The integrative approach means they can work with your primary physician, psychiatrist or other health professionals.

A Friend of Mind

Eliminating mental health stigmas one day at a time. Photo via A Friend of Mind Facebook

A Friend of Mind is a nonprofit organization that helps youth accept and manage their mental illnesses and eliminate mental health stigmas. They offer creative solutions to challenges by using culturally-tailored and targeted outreach programs, training and advocacy.

In celebration of Minority Mental Health Month, A Friend of Mind will be hosting free yoga classes at Veterans Park. The class is for people of color only and will be socially distant. Here are the deets:

  • Where: 4800 Valleydale Rd, Meadowbrook, AL 35242
  • When: July 7 & 9 @ 6PM
  • Bring your own mat or ask A Friend of Mind for a mat a day in advance.

Emilie Maynor Elemental Living

Make sure to check out The Fearless Om. Photo by Bham Now

You may recognize Emilie as one of the collaborators for The Fearless Om. As a nutritional wellness coach and yogi, her mission is to help you create a more balanced life. By following a refined approach to everyday life—through food, movement, mindfulness and living in accordance with the seasons—we can claim the grounded, rich lives we crave.

Simple, effective ways to improve your mental health today

1. Give social media a break

Unplug to recharge your batteries. Photo via Pixabay

For many of us, our social media channels are our source of news. It can be a blessing and a curse. For me personally, it’s a battle between staying informed and taking some time to step away. I’m sure many of y’all can relate.

If you find your social media channels giving you more stress rather than serving as a productive outlet, put your phone down! Turn off your notifications, set phone-free zones in your living space and set aside days where you don’t even get on social media. It’s okay to disconnect every once in a while.

“When you’re in a funk, pause and honestly ask yourself ‘what do I need right now?’ Answers may look like, ‘I need to connect with a good friend’ or ‘I need to move my body’ or ‘I need a little quiet time.’ Asking this question pulls you into the present moment and stops the mental loop that happens when we’re in a funk.” 

Emilie Maynor, Elemental Living

2. Spend more time in nature

Birmingham, Alabama, Jemison Park Nature Trail
The steppingstone Shades Creek crossing at Jemison Park Nature Trail. Photo by Alex Robertson for Bham Now

This one seems like a no-brainer, but there’s a strong connection between spending time in nature and reducing stress or anxiety.

If you can’t make it outside, bring nature indoors. This may seem weird, but I often find myself listening to rain sounds on loop. Why? It’s soothing and sometimes songs with lyrics can be distracting.

 “Birmingham has so many great spots to help you recharge. My favorites are a great hike at Ruffner Mountain, a healing yoga class at Villager Yoga, or a long bike ride through Highland Park!” 

Emilie Maynor, Elemental Living

If you’re looking for new spots to enjoy some time in nature, check out this article on 19 hidden trails in Birmingham and how exploring them can boost your mental health.

3. Find online communities you admire and dive into the conversation

Birmingham, Alabama, 2019 Bham Now Reader Survey
Are you a craft beer connoisseur? You’re definitely in the right place. Birmingham has several online craft beer groups. There’s a group for everyone if you search around a bit. Photo by Bham Now

It always helps to have someone to talk to. We’re social creatures, after all. While many of us never thought we’d be stuck in social isolation, here we are in 2020 and it’s actually encouraged to remove ourselves from crowds.

Now it’s time to get creative when cultivating our sense of community. Find online groups that interest you and make you feel welcome. Join them and dive head-first into the conversation. It’s beneficial to have a place where you can share, listen and learn.

For example, by writing this article, I found Yes, I Have a Therapist. As a woman of color, this group covers topics relevant to my well-being. Here’s what they had to say:

“We believe heavily in persons having a support team, people who you feel are on your side. It does not mean that they will call or text every day, but they will do things to check on you.”

Danielle Mars, Yes, I Have a Therapist

4. Move yo’ body

Birmingham, Alabama, Red Rock Trail System, Freshwater Land Trust
The Red Rock Trail System enables citizens to bike, walk and run the Magic City. Photo by Greg Harber via Freshwater Land Trust’s Instagram

No surprise here. Exercise equals endorphins, and those feel-good endorphins send a “happy hit” to the brain to enhance your sense of well-being.

According to the Mayo Clinic, doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week improves depression and anxiety symptoms.

Getting started is the hard part. At the beginning of quarantine, I found a workout I enjoyed and stuck with it. Set reasonable goals and don’t be hard on yourself. It’s okay to have a lazy day.

“Remember to acknowledge any uncomfortable feelings you may be having. It’s okay to struggle. By accepting uncomfortable emotions you’re allowing yourself permission to work through them.” 

Michelle Knight, Integrative Health Services

5. Become a jack of all trades and a master of some

Having a hobby is a great way to unwind and serves as an outlet for stress. It always helps having something to look forward to after a day’s work.

“Do something that you love to do. Some people like to go on a drive when they’re in a funk. Some people like to cook, dance, bake. Whatever it is that gives you pleasure when you’re not in a funk, do that.”

Sherilyn Garner, CEO & Founder, A Friend of Mind

For example, I’ve been dabbling in gardening and learning Italian for when it’s time to pack my bags and move to a vineyard in Italy. I don’t know when that time will come, but I’ll be ready!

6. Meditate. Breathe in. Breathe Out.

“We look at [meditation] as a way of controlling our emotions, feelings and thoughts by simply controlling our breaths. It’s a good way to decompress and try to let go of that day.”

Sherilyn Garner, CEO & Founder, A Friend of Mind

Not sure where to start? Emilie Maynor suggests writing or thinking of three things you’re grateful for and take three deep breaths before starting the day. Apps like Calm or Headspace offer short, guided meditations accessible to anyone.

Here’s one of Maynor’s videos that is great for beginners wanting to learn meditation and/or breathing exercises.

7. Find humor in the little things

Laughing really is the best medicine. It’s free and doesn’t require a prescription. While it’s not a cure-all for anxiety or stress, you can’t beat a good ole’ belly laugh. Amidst a pandemic and advocating for racial equality, we could all benefit from some humor in our lives.

“We find things daily to laugh about—memes, Tik Tok videos, our favorite comedians. Laughter makes us feel light and joy.”

Danielle Mars, Yes, I Have a Therapist

If you’re looking for a laugh in Birmingham, check out this article highlighting seven locals and events who will brighten your day.

Want to learn more? Here are some additional articles about mental health resources in our community.

How are you taking care of your mental health during these uncertain times? Let us know on Instagram @bhamnow and on Twitter @now_bham.

  • Chaise is a brunch-loving Content Producer and helps manage the Bham Now Instagram account.