Consistently practicing self-care can boost both your physical health and your mental well-being, and doesn't have to involve spending a lot of money on fancy tools or experiences. You may have heard of some buzzworthy "new" self-care methods to boost your mental health, such as cold plunging, floating, grounding or earthing, and more. These techniques rely on connecting with the natural elements of water, earth, air, and fire in some capacity, but how much do they actually help mental health?

Here are some "all-natural" self-care methods to consider and ways you can try them out in your own home. While these techniques, along with many others, may help you manage your mental health on your own, it is important to note that sometimes life gets more overwhelming than we can handle by ourselves. If you find that you are struggling to manage your stress, anxiety, or depression, reach out to a trusted friend or a mental health professional. If you need immediate assistance, don't hesitate to call or text 988, the national emergency mental health hotline, or BH Link (for adults) or Kids' Link RI (for anyone under 18).

Cold plunging, or cold water immersion

Ever heard of a polar bear plunge, in which people willingly jump into almost-frozen bodies of water in the middle of winter? That's one variation of a cold plunge. Some people who practice cold plunging, whether in a pond or in a spa or athletic facility setting, have reported experiencing numerous physical and mental health benefits from the practice.

As NPR reports, the science behind whether cold plunging is actually beneficial is a bit scarce at the moment. Some studies have shown a few health benefits, including small improvements in cardiovascular health and mood or lower back pain and stress reduction. But some scientists point out that the studies so far have used small sample sizes and may not be showing a direct correlation between cold water immersion and health benefits.

Cold water immersion can help reduce inflammation, especially at the joints. And joint health can have an impact on mental health. If you have an acute injury, such as a sprained ankle or tendonitis, you can try immersing the body part in ice water, or using ice packs to help reduce the swelling and facilitate healing.

If you want to try a cold plunge to see if it helps improve your mental health, there are very few reasons not to. You can try it inexpensively at home, by filling your bath with cold water and adding bagged ice from the grocery store. Or if a full body experience seems a bit too much, try running cold water or an ice cube over your wrists.

If you have chronic medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, circulation issues, or peripheral neuropathy, talk with your doctor before trying a cold plunge. And if you are using ice baths or ice packs to help with any pains or swelling, it's a good idea to check with your doctor as well to make sure that you are not missing a more serious concern.


Maybe dunking yourself in ice water doesn't appeal to you. But what about floating in warm water? Floatation therapy, sometimes known as floatation restricted environment stimulation therapy (REST), uses sensory deprivation created by floating in warm water saturated with Epsom salts. Floaters can usually choose to have a completely closed off experience in a float tank, or experience less restriction by having the float tank open or using a large tub.

As with cold plunging, the benefits of floating are difficult to directly connect to certain outcomes. That said, some studies indicate that floating may benefit people struggling with anxiety or body dysmorphiadepression or stresshigh blood pressure, or recovery after a strenuous workout. It is believed that floating enhances one's interoception, or the sense that controls internal feelings (such as hunger cues).

Perhaps the only problem with floating is that it can be a more costly therapy to try. Most individuals likely don't have at-home tubs that allow them to fully stretch out, which is needed for floating, and floating tanks for the home are very expensive. There are some spas and float therapy centers that provide timed sessions at a cost, but may not be financially available to everyone.

To try and create a similar, but definitely not quite the same, experience at home, you can pad your bed with pillows and blankets to make it extra comfy and make sure the blinds and curtains are drawn. Earplugs and an eye mask can help to close down your sense of hearing and sight, though you likely won't feel as though you are floating. Meditation can also help enhance interoception.

Grounding or earthing

If you've done guided meditations or taken a yoga class, you may have heard about "grounding" yourself in the moment—the idea of becoming very present and connecting with the experience. While the idea of grounding in those situations is a bit more figurative, there is a practice of grounding, sometimes called earthing, that is literally about connecting to the earth.

The theory goes that stepping outside and literally connecting with the earth, with bare skin (it can be as simple as taking off shoes and socks) or grounding equipment, such as a grounding mat or grounding sheet, allows us to connect with the earth's electrical currents. This connection with the electrical charges of the ground in turn slightly resets the connection between the cells in our body.

There is very little independent research so far that demonstrates a clear connection between grounding and any health benefits. Some small studies indicate some health benefits might be achieved, including a reduction in cortisol stress levels, lower levels of inflammation, and possible benefits for thyroid conditions or diabetes.

While health benefits from connecting with the earth may not be measured or studied much at the moment, there's a similar therapy you may have heard of that has been shown to have mental health benefits—forest bathing.

Forest therapy and mental health walks

Forest bathing, or forest therapy, became a sensation in Japan in the 1980s, as a response to a dramatic increase of stress-related illnesses. This therapy consists of deliberately and slowly walking through a forest, sometimes with a trained guide, and very mindfully connecting with the experience of being immersed in nature.

This therapy has been studied quite a bit, and does show significant health benefits—not just for mental health. One review of 127 studies showed that forest therapy benefits cardiovascular health, diabetes, COPD, alcohol addiction, and more.

Getting outside and walking in nature can be great for our mental health, and is usually free and easy to do. But if you can't find a lush forest within an easy commute for any reason, just getting outside for a "silly mental health walk" is incredibly beneficial. Studies have shown that taking a walk for 10 to 15 minutes a day, or 75 minutes per week, can reduce a person's risk of depression by 18 percent. If you can get in 2.5 hours, or the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week, the risk of depression decreases up to 25 percent. And that's in addition to the physical health benefits associated with walking, even in short bursts.

Getting outside for a walk, whether in your neighborhood or in a forest, is one of the easiest things you can do to boost your mental health. Even if you're not feeling particularly up for a walk one day, take a spin around your house and see how you feel. If you do venture further afield, be sure to stay safe:

  • Wear appropriate clothing for the weather, and wear supportive shoes.
  • When walking anywhere while using headphones, keep the volume at a level that won't damage your hearing and allows you to hear any vehicles or warning sounds.
  • If you're walking in a natural area during hunting season, make sure to wear a safety orange vest.
  • Wear sunscreen and use bug repellent.

Somatic breathwork and slow breathing

Take a deep breath in and slowly release it. Notice how your body relaxes a bit with just one single deep breath? Now imagine all the benefits that can come with mindfully and purposefully breathing through somatic breathwork exercises. Breathwork is one of the easiest things a person can do to help reduce stress, as it can be done anywhere and at any time. 

Breathwork is simply controlled breathing patterns—you may have heard of "box breathing", and some yoga classes may include specific breathing patterns such as "alternate nostril breathing." Studies show that by breathing slowly and deliberately, we activate parts of the brain that are responsible for relaxation and comfort. 

Breathwork is not only great for our mental health, but may also contribute to physical health. One study noticed that a consistent, long-term breathwork practice led to reduced glucose levels in people with diabetes, and that it may also have benefits for cardiovascular health. 

To get started with breathwork, try a box breathing pattern. Breathe in while counting to four, hold your breath while counting to four, breathe out to the count of four, and hold your breath again to the count of four. You can use any counts you want, but the goal is to breath in for equal counts. See how you feel after doing a few rounds of this breathing pattern. 

Pick one of these all-natural self-care techniques to try and you just might feel a little bit better than you did before. 

For more tips on living well, visit the Lifespan Living health and wellness blog. 

Lifespan Blog Team

The Lifespan Blog Team is working to provide you with timely and pertinent information that will help keep you and your family happy and healthy.