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6 Ways to Improve Your Mood, Reduce Stress and Guard Your Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Month is not just for patients; allied health professionals can take positive steps for their own mental health.

By Melissa Wirkus Hagstrom, contributor

Long shifts, jam-packed schedules and the stressors of everyday life can leave even the most content allied health professionals feeling frazzled and anxious. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Taking small steps to safeguard your mental health and promote feelings of wellness and peace can go a long way, and they can be easy to incorporate into your lifestyle.

So sit back, relax, take a deep breath and read on to discover some top ways to reduce stress and improve your mental outlook.

1. Get outside

Have you ever felt overwhelmed, then taken a walk outside and noticed that you felt better, almost instantly? It’s not just your mind playing tricks on you--there is plenty of research that has shown being outside and surrounded by nature can reduce stress levels and actually make you happier! And it doesn’t take long. A 2010 study published in Environmental Science & Technology found that just five minutes outdoors is all it takes to get a mood-boosting effect.

2. Set boundaries

Brandon Smith on mental health for allied health professionals

Brandon Smith, a leadership and workplace communication expert, said that blocking out key times and setting boundaries are two of the most critical things that allied health professionals can do to achieve a strong work–life balance. “Over the last five years there really has become no natural boundaries for work--it’s 24/7,” he explained. “If we don’t put in place some sort of natural, healthy boundaries, we will get overwhelmed and it will cycle into burnout.” Smith said to set specific blackout times during the day where emails, smartphones, computers and other distractions are prohibited. This downtime will give you a chance to recharge and unwind.

3. Break a sweat

Incorporating regular movement into your day--whether that means taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking with a friend after work--can have a major impact on both your brain and waistline. “Find some way to get in natural exercise and movement every day,” Smith said. Besides releasing feel-good brain chemicals, exercise has also been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and can help you gain confidence and take your mind off your worries.

4. Plan ahead

Because of the long shifts and odd, nontraditional working hours, Smith said planning is especially important for allied health professionals. “Spend time at the beginning of each week and plan it out, making sure you are putting in place the times you want to recharge.” A set schedule and routine can take the guesswork out of your daily life and let you focus on the bigger picture, cutting stress all around.

5. Connect with others

It turns out that close friends are good for more than just an occasional coffee date; they could actually save your life. A 2010 study in PLOS Medicine found that people with strong social relationships had a 50 percent lower risk of mortality. Besides lowering your risk of dying, a robust social network can also help minimize feelings of stress during hard times because you have people you can count on, and with whom you can relate and share. The opportunity to “make new friends and keep the old,” as the old scouting song says, is another perk for healthcare travelers.

6. Embrace adventure

While enjoying the benefits of planning and scheduling, don’t forget to leave some wriggle room for the unexpected--it may be just the mental health boost your psyche has been craving. Spontaneity can do wonders for the soul, so be sure to leave some free time on your calendar to try a new activity or wander around a new part of the city. As a travel allied health professional, you have unique opportunities to welcome adventure into your life, as you gain exposure to new workplace environments and can fill your days with exploring and trying new things.

 

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Pictured: Brandon Smith, therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, said that some of the best ways to beat stress and burnout include natural movement, learning to say no and planning your day out in advance. Photo courtesy of theworkplacetherapist.com.

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