May is National Mental Health Month. Since the onset of COVID, mental health has become a hot topic. In the past, mental health has not received the attention it deserves. Today, we have a better understanding of mental health and how it affects thoughts, feelings, and actions. Positive mental health means a person is better equipped to handle stress and live a higher quality of life. Lead your group in activities geared towards taking care of their mental health with the ideas below.
BOOST YOUR MOOD WITH EXERCISE – In addition to maintaining a healthy body, exercise supports mental health. Exercise releases endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that help boost your mood. It can even help treat mild to moderate depression. Include a variety of fitness classes on your calendar this month, such as seated yoga, walking club, strength and toning, or dance/movement to music.
DAILY MEDITATIONS – Meditation benefits mental, emotional, and spiritual health by promoting a sense of balance and peace. Invite members to start their day with a daily meditation. Either gather as a group or provide a large print meditation for participants to read on their own. Search the internet for daily meditations you can read or watch with your group. Educate your group on the benefits of meditation, including improved sleep, increased focus, and decreased anxiety.
GARDEN FOR YOUR HEALTH – Horticultural therapy increases physical activity while helping to alleviate stress and anxiety. Provide your group with a variety of opportunities to garden this month. Head outdoors to tend to your community garden. Grow an indoor herb garden with your group. Purchase individual potted plants that members can care for in their rooms.
EXPLORE NATURE – Connecting with nature is calming for the soul. Take your group on nature walks around your community. Create a nature scavenger hunt for participants to complete on their own or as a group. If it’s safe, head to local parks for a change of scenery. For those who can’t leave the facility, bring nature indoors. Gather pine cones, leaves, flowers, acorns, rocks, and other natural materials. Let members explore the materials as you discuss their favorite outdoor memories.
PAINT TO MUSIC – Invite members to release anxiety through painting to music. Provide each participant with a canvas (or art paper) and a paintbrush. Let participants choose which acrylic colors they would like to use. Tape a design, shape, or line on the canvas with painter’s tape. Pick your group’s favorite relaxation music (preferably, instrumental only). As the music plays, invite participants to paint in whatever way the music moves them. Once they are finished with their artwork and before the paint dries completely, peel away the tape to reveal their design.
AROMATHERAPY – Make use of aromatherapy throughout your programs this month. Purchase a diffuser and essential oils according to the mood you want to set. Most are familiar with lavender. Branch out and try other oils meant to help ease anxiety, such as rose oil, lemon balm, or chamomile.
STIMULATE THE MIND – Mental health encompasses both emotions and cognition. Try incorporating a few of these fun brain games to add variety to your cognitive programming. Write one color per piece of paper, but use a different colored marker than the color name. For example, write “BLUE” in the color green. Hold up one paper at a time and see how quickly your group can identify the color the word is written in, not the word itself. Another fun game is to create a group story. Give an opening line to the group. The first participant adds a sentence to that line to start the story. Go around the group and ask each person to add another sentence to the story. Select a scribe to record the story, or do this yourself. Once the story is complete, read it aloud. Finally, declare a day each week as non-dominant hand day. Encourage members to exercise their minds by using their non-dominant hand as much as possible throughout the day, such as to eat, brush their teeth, or use their phone.
JOURNAL FOR MENTAL HEALTH – Provide notebooks for members and encourage them to spend 15 minutes a day journaling about their thoughts. Journaling is an excellent tool to help sort through fears, problems, or concerns. Add journaling sessions to your calendar and provide a relaxing space for members to journal in peace. Search the internet for journaling prompts for mental health, if group members need help getting started.
REFLECT & REMINISCE – Another activity to help alleviate stress and anxiety is reminiscence. Reminiscing especially helps those with dementia recall their identity and express pent-up emotions. Themes to consider reminiscing about this month include Mother’s Day, May Day, Memorial Day, the Kentucky Derby/horse racing, spring cleaning, and gardening.
DE-STRESS WITH SINGING – Singing improves mental alertness, concentration, and boosts mental health. Group sing-alongs can even make participants happier. Plan at least one sing-along each week and invite participants to sing at a safe distance. Prior to the activity, ask participants to close their eyes and note how they’re feeling. Afterwards, ask participants how their mood has changed while singing.
RESUME VOLUNTEERING – Seniors who volunteer generally feel more satisfied with their lives. If the coronavirus pandemic has halted volunteering for your group, search for no-contact volunteer opportunities. They could become pen pals with high school students or read, virtually, to a preschool class. Look for opportunities in-house as well, such as maintaining the community library, organizing the activity room, or caring for the garden.
MIND THE MIND – Explore Mindfulness Meditation with your group this month. End an activity with one minute of mindful breathing. Instruct participants to close their eyes and focus on their breathing. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. As they exhale, instruct them to let go of their thoughts and focus on their breath.
MIND YOUR HEALTH TRIVIA
- What is the average weight of the adult human brain: one pound, three pounds, or five pounds? Three pounds
- Which part of the brain helps transform short-term memories into long-term ones – the cerebellum, the hippocampus, or the hippotamus? The hippocampus
- Approximately 75% of the brain is made up of what substance? Water
- What is the average attention span of an adult: 20 minutes, 45 minutes, or 60 minutes? 20 minutes
- What physical reaction to a funny circumstance carries numerous health benefits with it? Laughter
- Can you name the three main parts of the brain? The cerebrum, the cerebellum, and the brain stem
- It’s a myth that you only use about ten percent of your brain. How much do you actually use? Your whole brain is working most of the time.
- Which nighttime occurrence proves that your brain doesn’t fully sleep? Dreams
- Exercise releases a chemical in your body that is known for improving your mood. What is it called? Endorphins
- According to scientists, there are eight primary innate emotions. Can you name at least four of the eight? Joy, acceptance, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation
MIND YOUR HEALTH THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” ~ Fred Rogers
“Mind Your Health” was written by Erin McCart. Copyright 2021 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprint Policy: To reprint or republish all or portions of this entry, please acquire written permission and agree to link back to the original source. You can contact us at [email protected] to obtain permission.