5 mental health tools to help you feel better about being back at work, according to a psychotherapist

Millennial woman at home
Getting natural light or using a light therapy lamp in the morning can brighten your mood during the fall. Luis Alvarez/

For some people, fall feels like a fresh start. As kids begin a new school year, parents might feel like they have a chance to reset as well. But for many, less daylight and colder temperatures incite feelings of dread. Fall and winter can wreak havoc on many people’s mental health.

During the pandemic, when so many people are still working from home and getting out of the house less, this year might be particularly rough. It’s important to have a mental health tool kit filled with strategies you can use at any time to improve your mood, ward off unhelpful thoughts, and encourage you to take positive action. Here’s what I recommend.

Use a light therapy lamp in the morning

The lack of natural daylight during the fall and winter months can lead to the winter blues or even full-on seasonal affective disorder. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that impacts daily functioning.

One of the best weapons we have to combat seasonal affective disorder is bright light therapy. Research shows using a light therapy box for just 30 minutes in the morning can reset the circadian rhythms that get out of sync during the winter and may help you start feeling better again. Light therapy lamps can be purchased online and they don’t require a prescription.

Create a folder filled with happy things

Whether you create a physical folder in a file cabinet or you keep a folder on your electronic devices, store a few things that make you smile. Your folder might include vacation photos, fun family pictures, screenshots of your favorite memes, or funny cat videos that make you laugh.

When you’re having a rough day or you’re in a bad mood, open your folder. It’s like giving your mind a quick mini vacation from what’s going on around you. Looking at pleasant things that remind you of happy times can boost your mood fast.

Use a relaxation exercise during your lunch break

Responding to emails, scurrying from one meeting to the next, and replying to bids for your attention throughout the day is exhausting.

If you’re finding yourself worn out by lunchtime, carve out some time in the middle of the day to rejuvenate. And while taking a walk in nature can certainly be a great mood booster, research shows relaxation exercises are also a beneficial lunch break strategy.

A quick 15-minute exercise can reduce your stress, boost your concentration, and help you go home from work in a better mood.

When it comes to choosing an exact relaxation strategy, there’s not a one-size-fits-all trick that works best for everyone. Experiment with progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness to see what works best for you.

Schedule one fun activity per week

You’ll feel better when you have something to look forward to. And it doesn’t have to be something huge.

Just setting a date and time to do something small, like watching a movie with your family at home, can do wonders for your mental health.

Research shows we get a boost in our moods when we have something to look forward to. And then, we get a second mood boost when we do that fun thing. Finally, we got a third boost in our mood after the event is over because we’ve created a positive memory.

The key is to put something fun on your calendar about a week ahead of time. Just knowing you have something fun to do in the future can do wonders for your psychological well-being.

Get active in the evenings

While it’s not a good idea to do any serious exercising right before bed as it may interfere with sleep, getting active during the evenings could be good for your mental health.

Go for a walk after dinner, do a little yoga in your living room, or go straight to a spin class after work.

This can prevent you from staring at the TV all evening in your sweatpants (which is tempting to do when it’s dark and cold). Additionally, moving your body is a great way to ward off depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

Research has found that exercising for 45 minutes three to five times per week can reduce the number of poor mental health days people experience. Interestingly, the type of exercise didn’t matter as much. Cycling, team sports, and gym activities were all shown to improve mental health.

Experiment with different tools

You won’t know which mental health tools work best for you until you try them. Experiment with different strategies so you can find what works for you. Invest a little extra effort into testing your tools now and you might find that you feel better than usual during the winter months.