The COVID-19 pandemic is harming the mental health of many Americans — 53% of Kaiser Family Foundation research report respondents say the pandemic is impacting their mental health. But mental health concerns are not a new phenomenon. According to the American Psychological Association, mental health issues such as anxiety and depression have been a growing problem in the United States for over a decade, impacting millions of individuals every year. Data from Mental Health America (MHA) highlights that 19% of U.S. adults are affected with mental illness and nearly 14% of young people (ages 12 to 17) have struggled with a major depressive episode.
A wellness toolbox can provide individuals with essential coping skills, tools, activities, and resources that can help them address negative moods, reduce stress, and alleviate anxiety and depression. But because everyone responds differently to stressful or difficult life events, the best tools to help maintain a healthy mental state will vary from person to person.
For nurses looking to help individuals with mental health issues overcome life’s challenges, the online Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (BSN-DNP) from Hawai'i Pacific University and its Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner concentration can prepare them with the knowledge and skills to guide patients on a path toward better mental health. One way they can do this is by helping individuals struggling with mental illness develop a customized wellness toolbox that supports their unique needs.
What Are Wellness Tools for Mental Health?
When professional electricians or plumbers go on-site to fix a problem, whether they are restoring power or repairing a leaky pipe, they bring along tools of the trade to do their work. These tools are contained in a toolbox for easy access.
Similarly, a wellness toolbox houses all the tools an individual can use to overcome an obstacle, barrier, or challenge that may hamper their journey to a healthier state of mind. A wellness toolbox includes strategies, skills, and resources that are accessible at any time to help an individual cope with tough times and improve their mental and emotional wellness. Individuals need to include wellness tools for mental health that have proven to be effective in helping them feel better and relieve troubling symptoms in the past.
Wellness tools for mental health can include self-care activities that individuals can do by themselves, for example, journaling, exercising, or taking a warm bath. By devoting time to self-care, a person can cultivate a greater sense of self-worth and develop a more positive outlook. Many self-care activities are available to choose from, including the following:
- Riding a bike
- Taking a meditative walk in nature
- Performing breathing or mindfulness exercises
- Drawing, painting, or pottery
- Writing down accomplishments
- Listening to music
- Doing a routine activity, like washing dishes or putting away laundry
- Taking a break in a quiet setting
- Including healthy food choices in their diet
- Limiting screen time
- Reading a book
- Making a to-do list
Other tools can be more social in nature, involving person-to-person interactions such as meeting friends for coffee or doing something special with a loved one. Social interactions can help individuals build a sense of well-being because they promote feelings of belonging and create opportunities for a positive feedback loop — a compliment from a friend, for example, can brighten up a person’s day. Or simply enjoying the company of someone else can lead to smiling and laughter. Wellness tools for mental health that involve social interaction include the following:
- Going for a walk with a friend
- Attending a support group
- Meeting new people during an outing, like at a museum
- Enrolling in art classes at a local community center
- Volunteering at a food bank
- Playing a team sport, like basketball or tennis
- Helping at a community garden
- Joining a hobby club
- Participating in a yoga or tai chi class
It’s key to note that wellness tools for mental health are not replacements for prescribed medicines. In specific scenarios, professional help may be needed. Signs that may indicate a need for professional help include sleep problems, appetite changes, difficulty concentrating, and loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
These symptoms may indicate a deeper issue, and require an appointment to see a counselor or talk to a health professional. Depending on the individual’s need, the professional can guide them toward solutions to help them overcome their mental health challenges. Common types of mental health providers include the following:
- Psychiatrist: Mental health specialists with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)
- Psychologist: Mental health specialists with a doctoral degree (PhD, PsyD, or EdD)
- Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner: Mental health specialists who are psychiatric mental health advanced practice registered nurses with at least a master's degree
- Licensed clinical social worker: Mental health specialists with a master's degree in social work (MSW) or sometimes a doctorate in social work (DSW or PhD)
Building a Plan: Wellness Toolbox Examples
The previous wellness toolbox examples show the different ways individuals can improve their mental and emotional wellness. However, an effective plan is more than just a list. Wellness toolboxes should be organized into the following connected categories to create a cohesive plan designed to mitigate the effects of mental health concerns.
This category focuses on the relationships that can strengthen an individual’s mental health. Relationships can help ward off loneliness, provide individuals with a sense of connection and purpose in life, and serve as a foundation to a social support structure. Activities to build up this category include nurturing friendships, participating in peer counseling, talking to health care professionals, and being part of a support group.
The communal category encompasses ways of being part of a community. Types of activities include getting involved in community projects, volunteering for an organization, collecting donations for a nonprofit, or participating in fundraising projects. Working in a community connects people working for a common cause and creates opportunities to solve problems collaboratively or share humor and frustrations, which can help reduce anxiety and improve mental well-being.
Some individuals, particularly caregivers, often shoulder many responsibilities or are so focused on helping others that they neglect their personal needs. But by neglecting self-care, individuals put themselves at risk of becoming depleted — mentally, emotionally, and physically. Self-care activities such as eating right, exercising, and getting sufficient sleep can improve physical, mental, and emotional health.
Spirituality is centered on some of life’s biggest questions. What is our purpose here on Earth? How are we connected to nature and to everyone else? What does the future hold? In looking for answers, common spiritual practices such as meditation, contemplation, prayer, and having hope positively impact an individual’s overall mental well-being. Regular religious practice, such as attending a weekly religious service with others, can help a person become more connected to others and build sustaining relationships. Soul-nourishing experiences can also come in the form of solitude, nature walks, and making a list of all the things in life to be thankful for.
Developing Positive Coping Strategies for Mental Health
While going for a walk can help an individual feel better in a time of crisis, for someone else, the ticket to improving their mental health may be to watch a movie. There is no one-size-fits-all wellness toolbox.
Health care professionals can help individuals develop positive mental health coping strategies that are personalized and aligned with the individual’s specific needs and personality. For example, a Nursing Times article describes "five activities most beneficial to feeling and functioning well." These include connecting with people, being active, taking notice (being aware of the present), learning continuously, and giving.
Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) can assess patients, diagnose illness, prescribe medication, and provide integrative therapy interventions. PMHNPs can also create evidence-based models for their patients’ wellness toolboxes that are most likely to promote the patients’ individual well-being. By combining these treatment options with wellness strategies, PMHNPs can help their patients gain significant ground in achieving mental health.
Nurse practitioners can help individuals develop positive mental health coping strategies by:
- Working with patients to determine which types of strategies are realistic and suit their mental health needs
- Providing patients with guidance on exercises they can do on their own, like practicing mindfulness or breathing exercises
- Educating patients and their families to help fill in knowledge gaps about self-care activities
- Helping individuals stick to their plans and walking them through activities in sessions
- Reassessing the effectiveness of a patient’s wellness toolbox and making adjustments as needed
- Encouraging healthy living and behaviors, including exercise and better nutrition, and elimination of bad habits
Organizations focused on providing services to individuals struggling with mental health issues or that advocate on their behalf offer numerous resources to help individuals develop wellness tools on their own. Here are 10 resources that can help people develop positive mental health coping strategies on their own:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coping with Stress: Provides various strategies for coping with stress, and includes several links to mental health and crisis resources
- Cleveland Clinic, Stress: Coping with Life's Stressors: Includes common coping mechanisms and strategies to effectively deal with stress
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Wellness Tracker: Helps individuals with depression or bipolar disorder to understand the changes in their mood and gain more insight into what coping strategies for mental health work best for them
- HelpGuide, "Building Better Mental Health": Discusses six strategies for improving mental health and well-being
- Johns Hopkins Medicine, Develop a Battery of Coping Skills: Focuses on 10 strategies to build resilience and develop coping skills
- Mayo Clinic, "Resilience: Build Skills to Endure Hardship": Explains how resilience can help individuals get past stressors, including key strategies
- MedlinePlus, How to Improve Mental Health: Describes mental health and why it's important, as well as strategies for improving mental health
- National Alliance on Mental Illness, "Self-Help Techniques for Coping with Mental Illness": Lists and describes coping mechanisms and techniques recommended by mental health professionals
- National Institutes of Health, "Social Wellness Checklist": Provides tips for building support systems through connecting with others
- Verywell Mind, "Healthy Coping Skills for Uncomfortable Emotions": Shares insights on healthy emotion-focused strategies and using a problem-solving approach
Additionally, apps, podcasts, articles, and other resources designed to help individuals in their mental health journeys are available. Examples include:
- Calm: This app provides guidance on meditation, building mental resilience, and improving sleep.
- Meditation Minis: This podcast guides listeners through short meditations.
- MyStrength: This app is designed to help users improve their awareness and adapt to life.
- The Positive Psychology Podcast: Various topics such as mindfulness and strengths are covered in this podcast.
Mapping the Road to Mental Wellness
Unaddressed mental health issues can lead to substance use disorder — almost 8% of adults and nearly 4% of young people have reported a substance use disorder, according to an MHA report. Mental health issues are also tied to suicidal thoughts. MHA’s Prevalence of Mental Illness 2021 report states that more than 10.7 million Americans have reported serious thoughts of suicide, an increase of 460,000 people over the previous year.
The road to mental wellness is one best taken with tools at one’s side. By developing a wellness toolbox, individuals can have access to essential strategies and resources to help them deal with mental health concerns. For individuals who seek professional guidance, nurses and health care professionals can help them build a wellness toolbox.
For nurses looking to help individuals develop solid mental health, enrolling in Hawai’i Pacific University’s online BSN to DNP program and its Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner concentration can help them prepare to make an impact on the lives of individuals undergoing a mental health wellness journey.
The program’s courses — including Advanced Pathophysiology, Advanced Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, and Evidence Based Practice for Advanced Nursing — can prepare students with the skills and knowledge necessary to develop positive coping strategies for mental health based on evidence-based models.
Learn how Hawai’i Pacific University’s online BSN to DNP program and its Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner concentration can help you care for individuals with mental health challenges and fill the increasing demand for skilled mental health practitioners.