How Do I Improve My Mental Health Online?

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There are many options available now to help improve your mental health online. Whether you’re looking to boost your mood temporarily, develop skills to cope with anything from angst to panic attacks, or simply increase your overall sense of well-being, consider including any of the following options (or a combination!) into your regular routine – and see what you find most beneficial for you!

DIY at your own pace

Guided Meditation and Relaxation

You might have noticed that the word “mindfulness” has become really popular in the last few years. Mindfulness can be described as the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgement – and it does take practice! Teaching mindfulness as a skill has been increasingly popular in schools and workplaces; the idea is to equip more people with a tool that allows them to reduce stress and burnout (and boost productivity). While there are some suggestions it can be effective, the jury is out on the real impacts of mindfulness meditation on reducing physical pain. (A 2018 study concluded that many mindfulness-related studies were inadequately constructed; poor study design led this meta-study review to conclude that evidence for mindfulness activities’ impact on well-being, and at times could even cause harm.)

There is also some criticism and cautionary warnings about treating mindfulness as a panacea for any and all mental (or physical) health issues. One particular line of critique on workplaces emphasizing mindfulness practices points out how employers push the responsibility of emotional regulation onto employees through offering access to “mindfulness training” as a “DIY mental health fix” instead of addressing root causes of workplace stress and burnout. Another downside to mindfulness practices is that they truly require practice; one needs to dedicate time and effort to develop mastery, and it may be a while before a practitioner can feel tangible benefits.

Popular subscription-based apps for guided meditation and relaxation include Calm and Headspace (Headspace also has some recordings on Spotify). Insight Timer gives you access to thousands of free recordings; you can explore who you like listening to best, discover both similar and different styles of recorded guides, and find what works best for you.


Peer Support

You know that feeling when you share something that’s been weighing on your mind with someone, and you can tell that they are not just going through the motions of acknowledging your words, but that they truly get you? That feeling is priceless. And with peer support, that feeling is free.

In its simplest terms, peer support is when people use their experiences to help each other. But what is a peer? How is peer support different from, well, talking to your friends and/or family, and anyone you trust?

The two key factors to peer support are:

  1. A peer is anyone who has experienced something similar to what you have experienced. That slice of life you’re both familiar with – that makes you equal peers. It doesn’t matter if you’re different in a lot of other ways: age, sex, height, weather preferences, citizenship, etc. Life circumstances don’t discriminate.
  2. Peers are equals. While we might share similar experiences, we are ultimately different people, and we walk our own individual paths to recovery, healing and growth. Everyone’s experiences are valid. Our experiences and journeys are relatable, but not comparable. In a peer support conversation, no one holds authority over anyone else.

Confiding in someone you trust can bring great comfort. Sometimes, however, those who care about you can find it difficult to offer what you need: an non-judgmental, advice-free listening ear. Peer support is a wonderful alternative (or supplement) in these situations. Your peers have a leg up over friends sometimes simply by virtue of having shared experience(s): they know how tough it is to be where you are because they’ve been there. Even though your peers might, at first, be strangers to you, you will likely discover you have a lot in common as you dive into the slice of life experience that drew you together to a peer support session.

Peer support is a give and take. Because everyone is equal, everyone gets a chance to share how they feel and/or what they’re working through, and receive compassionate support and validation from others. In return, they offer the same warmth and understanding to other group members. In doing so, we all realize we’re not alone – we’re not crazy for feeling how we feel! – and that we can draw upon each other’s courage and strength to keep moving forward.

One of the chief benefits from engaging with other people who have experienced what you’ve gone through (or are actively going through) is social connection. You probably don’t need to read the many studies on this topic to conclude that social connection can improve one’s well-being by reducing loneliness and isolation. Former Surgeon General of the US, Dr. Vivek Murthy, wrote a whole book on the healing power of human connection, including the headline-inspiring line, “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day”. In his book, Dr. Murthy calls attention to loneliness as a public health concern.

While there are ever more digital ways to keep up with what others – friends and strangers – are up to, there are few ways for us to truly connect online. ShareWell’s video peer support sessions create space for intimate, small-group conversations.


Talk therapy

This is your most “traditional” concept of “therapy” – especially if that word conjures up an image of semi-reclining in a chair, looking up at the ceiling, having a monologue while some bespeckled professional sits across from you with their legs crossed, occasionally scribbling on a clipboard and “uh-huh”-ing in response.

There are many different approaches to talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy); some are more analytical, some more empathetic. The basic format remains the same: you talk to a therapist about how you feel; they ask you questions that help you “dig deeper” think more about the internal chain of events and/or reactions that have led to your emotional experiences. For talk therapy to be successful, you need to build a trusting relationship with your therapist and be willing to open up. It is also important to find a good client-therapist fit, and it is not uncommon for patients to try multiple therapists before getting to know one that they find themselves most comfortable with. Not surprisingly, everyone has a different style and a unique personality; finding the right therapist match for you can take time, patience and effort!

A 2014 study found that online talk therapy is just as effective as in-person talk therapy. Recently, companies like Better Help or Talkspace have stepped up to help connect you with a therapist without having to walk out the door. 7 Cups not only has online therapy, but also an anytime virtual chat offering. Keep these tips and reminders in mind if you think you’d like to try starting therapy online!

Group therapy

Talk therapy, but instead of one-on-one with a therapist, you’re in a group, sometimes with one therapist, sometimes with more. Groups could be as small as 3-4 others, or as large as 12. Group therapy is often used as a complement to individual psychotherapy because it offers some additional benefits, such as interpersonal learning and information sharing. It also helps every person realize that they are not alone, as other people may be working through very similar challenges. Group therapy sessions can offer attendees added validation and support; group members are well-positioned, by virtue of their personal experiences, to understand what other members are going through. Never underestimate the power of social support!

Group therapy topics cover a wide range, from mental health conditions (e.g. eating disorders, panic disorders, PTSD) to life conditions (e.g. divorce, anger management, chronic pain or illness). It is generally considered best for anyone who is not in immediate crisis. One-on-one attention may be better suited for anyone in severe and immediate pain, so individual talk therapy may be a better option in those cases. As with individual psychotherapy, you may have to “shop around” to find the right fit. This can be trickier, since each additional person in the group adds some variability. Still, the efficacy of group therapy has some research backing (for depression, for PTSD, for substance abuse) and the feeling of having a small circle of supportive others with intimate understanding of your experiences is very valuable.

Some online group therapy options are: Circles; Grouport; or Catalyss Counseling.

Online Classes

Fitness classes

Exercise can help improve health, both physical and mental. This is a claim backed by numerous studies (such as this one or this one) and there seems to be a never-ending stream of advice on exercise: how to get it, when to do it, what the best forms are, etc. Exercise can cause the release of “feel-good” endorphins, which biologically enhances one’s self of wellbeing. This is a key reason why exercise is cited to be beneficial in easing depression and anxiety symptoms.

Breathwork classes

Interested in exploring breathwork but don’t necessarily feel like you’re “doing it right” by following along the guided breathing and/or meditation exercises in apps? There are also breathwork classes online that you can explore. To better understand different types of breathing practices, check out this introduction from Healthline.

Here are some options for online breathwork classes:

Other things you can check out

Not convinced you can use your behavior to change your brain chemistry? How to Stop Feeling So Damn Depressed: The No BS Guide for Men is a book that many have found helpful in breaking down and getting to understand how they feel, and what small actions they can take to feel better. While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common form of talk therapy, this book shares some steps anyone can take by themselves in their own wellness journeys.

Another book to consider is The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Lots of people have proclaimed to find this book very helpful in explaining the physical effects of trauma, and how that can last long after the actual trauma-causing incident(s), person(s), event(s) themselves disappear in the rear view mirror. Trauma may sound like a big, heavy word, but it is a broad term applicable to a whole range of (not-positive) experiences.