“Take care of yourself.” 

The phrase goes hand-in-hand with “the new normal” and “garbage-fire year,” expressions that defined conversations between friends, family and strangers online during 2020’s isolation. 

These discussions have made mental health a trending topic online. 

“Why am I always depressed,” has been Googled 140% more in the last 12 months. 

“How do you know if you have anxiety” has been searched 100% more. There has been a 93% increase in anxiety screenings between January 2020 to September 2020, and a 62 percent increase over the 2019 total number of depression screens, according to the Washington, D.C.,-based advocacy organization Mental Health America. 

In late June of 2020, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use, according to USA Mental Health First Aid. 

The increase in screenings could be attributed to the mainstream discussion of mental health, but the pandemic has contributed major stressors that also play a part in the number of people suffering. 

“We are normalizing it,” Claire Fierman, a licensed therapist in Birmingham, Ala, said of mental health conversations. “It’s becoming less of a stigma. I love that people are bringing it up.” 

And with the increase in awareness and acceptance, interest in self-care is also growing. However, misconceptions persist about self-care. As an example, Fierman points to the prevalence of search engine ads for pricey consumer products that may not relieve piling anxiety, depression and stress. 

Often, these products come at a cost that many cannot fork up during a global pandemic that sent unemployment numbers skyrocketing. For example, a couple of searches for self-care tips take you to articles selling products such as a $51 massage candle, a $68 eye cream set and a $140 spa towel warmer. 

“People think self-care is a juice cleanse or something else out of reach,” Fierman said. “And we are taking the simplicity out of caring for ourselves and our bodies.” 

Taking care of oneself — specifically, as we approach darker, colder days when seasonal affective disorder hits many people hard — does not necessarily involve $8 shipping. It can be simple and free. 

“Self-care is not necessarily reserved for when you hit rock bottom,” said Mika Miller, an Atlanta-based therapist. 

Here are a few healthy habits from Fierman and Miller to start working on now. 

Deep breathing and exercise

Meditation is great, but focusing on your breathing even in the slightest is a solid first step, Fierman said. 

“In the mornings, I get my coffee, I breathe in the smell and that counts,” she said. 

There are different techniques for breathing exercises and ways you can combine your moments of quality breathing and exercise. Making an effort to exercise and be engaged with your body doesn’t have to be an ordeal, Miller said. “Walk up and down your street a few times,” she said. 

Human connection and sharing with others

“Create online communities of people who help you get better,” Miller said. “It’s really important to find your people, stick with them and check in. There are tons of different platforms for this.” 

Selecting someone that you trust to share your thoughts with is absolutely necessary right now, Fierman said. This human connection can be simply texting someone and asking them to check in with you occasionally. 

If a friend reaches out to you for help, Fierman said, don’t rush to fix their issues. “Instead of trying to fix what’s going on in their lives, ask, ‘What do you need from me?’,” she said. “Empower them. Reaffirm them. Let them know that you are with them.”  

Nutrition

If you are working from home and not getting out much, Miller said, what you eat can have a huge impact on your physical and mental health. Sugary and salty foods can decrease your desire to be active. 

“Eat colorful food,” Miller said. 

Find more resources at the National Alliance on Mental Health.