More than twice as many people experienced a mental health problem in 2021 than in 2020, according to Lyra’s The State of Mental Health at Work in 2021 survey. It's been more of the same since. A 2022 survey from CNN revealed that 90% of adults think the United States is experiencing a mental health crisis.

While we know that mental health is a growing concern, we don’t always know where to begin or how to find the time to invest in our mental well-being.

Here are five ideas that can be incorporated into your workday, whether you need a one-minute pick-me-up or a lunch hour with lasting benefits.

  • Practice conscious breathing
  • Move about
  • Re-watch an old favorite
  • Meditate
  • Socialize

Take some deep breaths

Deep breathing can be done anywhere, anytime, with nearly instantaneous results. According to Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s health system, breathing exercises can quickly reduce your stress and blood pressure.

You can do this one without even leaving your desk. Just follow these easy steps:

  • Take two or three normal breaths.
  • Take a few deep breaths by inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth.
  • Take some even deeper breaths by allowing your chest and belly to expand as you breathe.
  • Repeat this exercise once or twice a day or anytime you notice yourself feeling anxious or taking shallow breaths.

Whether you practice deep breathing for one minute, five minutes or 10, the results can help you slow down and prepare for the next part of your day.

Go for a walk

Walking is a low-impact exercise that rewards you with physical and mental benefits in as little as 10 minutes, according to NBC News and the American Psychological Association.

Physical benefits include:

  • Improved circulation and cardiac health
  • Lower risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease
  • Better posture
  • Reduced joint pain and pressure

Mental benefits include:

  • Enhanced mood
  • Reduced depression and fatigue
  • Increased creativity
  • Improved memory

For greater cardiovascular benefits, try walking at a moderate pace, which is about 100 steps per minute. But even just getting up from your desk and taking a short loop through your home or office can reap rewards, especially if you build this break into your day every hour or two.

Turn to comfort media

An article in Parade magazine touted the benefits of comfort media — a favorite song, show or movie — because the familiarity can reenergize your brain and boost your mood.

Comfort media can:

  • Remind you of less complicated times
  • Create a sense of hope and happiness 
  • Slow down your mind and enable you to be present

If you don’t have time for a 30-minute episode of an old favorite over your lunch break, you can still find a mental boost in shorter video clips. Listen to a favorite song, watch a beloved scene from “The Office” or download an inspirational talk that always gets you going.

Calm your mind with meditation

Meditation can reduce anxiety in a matter of minutes. And as the Mayo Clinic notes, it doesn’t require specialized space or equipment.

There are different ways to meditate, including:

  • Through deep breathing
  • By repeating a mantra
  • While walking or being in nature
  • By reading and reflecting
  • While looking at or picturing something you’re grateful for

Among other benefits, meditation can help you:

  • Be more self-aware
  • Increase patience
  • Reduce negativity
  • Improve imagination

The point of meditation is to focus and calm your mind, setting aside current stresses. Be aware that it takes practice. If your mind wanders, try again. Experiment with different methods to find what works best for you.

Talk with a friend

The scientific journal PLOS One published data indicating that your social circle could be a better indicator of well-being than your fitness tracker.

The study suggests that socializing can:

  • Encourage better health habits
  • Improve recovery time from illnesses
  • Improve cardiovascular health

To reap these benefits, grab a friend, family member or coworker for a quick chat, coffee break or lunch-hour walk. If you’re concerned about taking too much time from your day, alleviate that stress by agreeing to a time limit in advance. Set a timer on your phone, and then allow yourself to focus on the other person and your communication instead of the clock and pending tasks.

Small steps, big results

Incorporating these small actions into your workday can lead to big improvements in your mental health. Also talk to your employer about employee benefits that could enhance your well-being at work.

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