Fahrten Ferne Abenteuer

Abenteuerzentrum Berlin

17.2.2021

5 ways to boost your mental health during an Erasmus+ project

By Rebecca Baumeister, Youth Leader and Organizer, Germany

When was the last time you actively did something to support your mental health?

If you are like many of the participants in our recent digital Erasmus+ project, the answer will be something like, “Um … I don’t remember.”  

In the last ten years, the amount of young people suffering from a mental health condition has grown to a shocking 1 in 5 young adults. Some of the most common mental health disorders are anxiety disorders, depressive disorders and eating disorders. In fact, depression is the leading cause of illness and disability in young adults around the globe, with suicide being the third leading cause of death.  

Mental health disorders are often linked to long term stress, pressure at home or school, social disadvantage and stigma. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, these factors have increased: Many young people have spent the last year in social isolation, worrying about loved ones’ health and unsure of their financial and educational future.  

So we decided to make mental health a priority in our recent digital project “Activate your strengths through art”. 

Every morning, participants worked individually on an activity that has been shown to boost mental health and prevent mental health deterioration. The participants received a PDF file with detailed instructions on their tasks and were asked to work on them for 10 – 45 minutes, according to how much time they had that day.  

Afterwards, the participants shared their experiences and photos of their results on our community platform Slack.  

Here are the results:  

After the project, 90% of participants felt that their mental health had improved and 80% of participants reported that they now actively made time to work on their mental health and check in with themselves.  

One participant shared that talking about mental health and working on the mental health sessions had given her new self-esteem and a sense of community. After feeling alone and unaware of her struggles with her mental health over the last nine months, she now felt seen and heard by others who were experiencing the same thing.  

Another participant wrote: “The mental health sessions made me aware of my strengths and also my unsolved problems from the past. They made me want to take care of my mental health for myself and also for the ones I care about and my future career.” 

The results show how much we as young adults need to talk about and work on our mental health. It is what gives us resilience in an unstable world, what keeps us grounded when things are difficult. It can determine our self-confidence and the relationships and jobs we go into.  

Based on the results of our project, here are 5 activities you can do to improve your mental health:  

1. Journaling – if you tend to worry about everything

Why should you try it?

Journaling can help you calm and clear your mind by organising your thoughts and things to do on paper. There will be no need to worry about forgetting something or feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do. Seeing your thoughts written down improves your self-awareness and you may be able to recognise patterns such as negative self-talk.

How to get started?

With a writing prompt! For example: “Name three things that you are grateful for”, “What makes you feel peaceful?”, “What are your priorities at the moment?”, “When do you feel most inspired?”, “If your body could speak, what would it say?”

2. Breathing exercises – if you are constantly feeling stressed

Why should you try it?

When you are stressed, you breathe in more than you breathe out. Your nervous system is on high alert and can’t relax. You may even be holding your breathing. Breathing slowly and deeply sends a signal to your brain to calm down and relax. We feel safer.

How to get started?

With some guided breathing exercises on YouTube. There are many different kinds of breathing exercises, for example “Box Breathing”: Breathing in to the count of 4, holding the breath to the count of 4, breathing out to the count of 4, holding breath to the count of 4, breathing in to the count of 4 …

3. Meditation – if your brain just can’t quieten down

Why should you try it?

Meditation helps to calm and clear your mind, teaching you to put that mental chatter on pause and stay in the moment. People who meditate regularly experience an increase in their attention and concentration spans, as well as a lowered stress response and less negative side effects from stress.

How to get started?

With a guided mediation, e.g. through the app Calm. There are many different meditations styles out there. A simple (but challenging!) meditation can be sitting and trying to clear your mind of all thoughts until it is all quiet up there!

4. Making a nature mandala – if you feel like you are always “in your head”

Why should you try it?

Many of us are spending most of our time indoors and in our own minds – especially in recent months. Getting outside into nature lowers our stress levels and reduces mental fatigue. When you add collecting beautiful leaves, flowers, stones and sticks and creating a nature mandala, you give yourself a chance to connect to your playful, childlike side and disconnect from the stressors of adult life.

How to get started?

Google “nature mandala”. Get inspired and go for a walk, collecting any natural materials that inspire you. Find a nice spot to lay them out symmetrically – you will be surprised at the beautiful artwork you are capable of creating!

5. The Island of Calm – if you are worried about the future

Why should you try it?

Doing a creative activity has been shown to lower stress levels, increase happiness and even boost the immune system. It has also shown links with improved performance at work due to better critical and innovative thinking. How to get started? 

How to get started?

Get out a piece of paper and some pens of your choice. Ask yourself: If you could design a whole island for yourself, a place that had the specific purpose of helping you feel as calm and relaxed as possible, what would it be like? What would it smell like? What sounds would you hear? Where would you sleep? What music would be playing? What would you eat? How would you spend your day? Now draw your island of calm with as much detail as you like OR describe a walk through your island.

Partner organisations: YET, Sztukater, Teach for Romania, Aktive Kosmos, IDEATORY.

This project was financed by Erasmus+ and supported by the German National Agency (JUGEND für Europa).

Thema: Morning Mental Health