Healthy Habits For Mental Health
Let’s talk about mental health in the midst of the current state of affairs. As an online therapist and life coach, I have been talking with my clients quite frequently about their transitions into a “new normal.” For some of you, you may still be asking big questions, feeling a little lost, or wondering while the world keeps moving on, “Am I the only one still struggling?” I know it can be hard to stay uplifted, to think positively, and to take care of yourself during this stressful time. Being so connected to the outside world while thinking about yourself on an individual level is difficult, but also important.
Now more than ever, we need to be taking care of ourselves and showing ourselves compassion. While self care can happen on the physical level with improving sleep habits, or keeping hydrated to boost your mood, there are other factors to consider to help you pursue joy and a healthy mindset. I’ve created a list of different mental health strategies that you can use to help with adverse side-effects of the pandemic and the newly faced challenges that this time brings. Today I want to share with you some simple ways for creating a good place for yourself, mentally.
Beneficial Breathing Techniques
These breathing techniques offer some physical exercises that go a long way to promote mental wellbeing.
This is one of the techniques that I teach most frequently since it can be done anywhere, at any time. Start by inhaling for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 4 seconds, and exhaling for 4 seconds. Before your next inhale, hold your breath again for another 4 seconds. After doing this exercise a couple of times, you can then try to increase the time to 5 seconds, 6 seconds, and so on.
This mental health strategy not only focuses on your breath, but moves more to connect your breath to your body. For this exercise, you first need to find a comfortable position, either sitting or laying down. Start by taking 5 deep breaths. Starting with your toes, notice how they feel. Clench and unclench them while continuing to breathe. Move up to your legs, releasing any tension you might have. Each time you move to a new body part, make sure you are remembering to take deep breaths. Continue up to your stomach, your back, and your shoulder muscles, flexing and relaxing.
If there is a certain area that seems to hold more tension, focus on that area more, connecting your breath and flexing/relaxing until it feels like there is less tension. Move up to your jaw and unclench. Take your tongue off the roof of your mouth and relax. Make sure you do this for your arms, hands, face, etc.
This one is good to do especially if you have kiddos around. In fact, they can do it too! Grab a stuffed animal or a pillow and lay on your back. Put the stuffed animal on your stomach. Begin breathing deeply into your stomach so that you can see the stuffed animal rise and fall with your breath. You should see the stuffed animal go up and down. Try to focus on increasing your breath. Do this as long as you’d like!
Disconnecting For Inner Peace
Now that you’ve taken a few deep breaths, you are ready to increase your inner peace. These next tips help you decrease your anxiety and connect to more calm.
Social Media Distancing
In light of the social distancing rhetoric, I want to add some social media distancing. Because of the constant stream of news and information, it makes it difficult to think of anything else. However, you want to have boundaries in place to help protect your mind from the toll this can take on your mental health. One tip is to put your phone on silent and set a timer. The timer length is up to you, whether you set it for 10 minutes or an hour. Any amount of time where you are not checking your phone will help. Now go do something that isn’t technology related!
**Side note: if you are currently worried about an emergency, let those people know that you will have your phone on vibrate for the next “x” amount of time. You can also tell them, in case of emergency, to ring you 3 times in a row so that it alerts you to break your social media distancing and address the situation. Getting off technology is a great way to reset your mind.
Boredom Buster (Non-Technology)
Now that you’ve taken a break from technology, you may wonder how to keep yourself from getting bored! Break out a board game or a deck of cards. If you have friends or family around, you can play a game! If you are alone, you can build a house of cards or work on your shuffling technique.
Puzzles are a great, non-technology activity as it makes your brain work in a different way. If you have children (or don’t; no one’s judging!) you can make your own puzzle by creating a picture, gluing it to cardboard, and cutting your own unique puzzle pieces. Pick up a book that you currently own and read a couple of chapters. Who knows? It might even be a cooking book, which might help inspire your next recipe!
Cognitive Strategies To Boost Your Mood
In addition to physical breathing techniques and getting off technology, you may need help processing your thoughts to promote better mental health. Here are some helpful exercises to help you, cognitively.
Balance Your Thoughts
It might be helpful to use a pen and paper for this activity. Write down any fears or concerns you have which relate to you personally regarding the pandemic. Now go back through that list and write down your initial reactions. After listing your initial reactions to each fear, consider challenging your thoughts. This practice allows you to take into consideration the reality of the situation. Are these concerns realistic? If it is, what can you do now to prepare? Try to consider constructive thoughts, such as creating a plan and be willing to entertain beliefs in opposition to this fear.
For example, you may have listed the following: I am scared that I will be impacted financially. Initial thought: I could lose my position. Challenged thought: This is a possibility. I am going to use this time to prepare my resume and budget accordingly. I am going to reach out to my HR department and discuss their plans moving forward.
If you have experienced job-loss through this challenging time, we have put together some helpful resources for you during this transition and personal growth period:
Career Growth: How To Set Yourself Up For Success!
Find Your Focus: 7 Simple Steps to Your Dream Career
Coronavirus and Career: How We Make This Work — Advice From a Career Coach
Be kind to yourself during this time. It is 100% okay to feel nervous, worried, fearful, sad, or angry. Your feelings are valid and give you information about yourself. Focus internally about how you might be talking to yourself during this time. Is it mean or harmful? Begin shifting this narrative and talking to yourself with more kindness. Although compassionate self-talk could sound silly or be difficult to begin practicing, stick with it. As Amy Cuddy states in her TedTalk, don’t fake it until you make it; fake it until you become it. Practice becomes habit, including your self-talk.
For example, if you are thinking about how angry you are at a situation, challenge yourself. Instead of saying to yourself, “I’m angry so I’m a terrible person,” say to yourself, “yes I am angry, BUT I am also trying my best for myself right now.”
For more tips and self-compassion and how to navigate emotional self-care, check out Emotional Self Care When Your Life is Falling Apart
Being so engulfed in the news lately, it might seem as though you struggle to focus on what’s right in front of you. To be present in the moment means stepping away from the anxiety of what could happen. Take a minute to practice this mindfulness exercise. Look around and name 5 things that you can see. Notice what they look like: their texture, their colors. Now close your eyes. Identify 4 sounds that you hear. What do they sound like? Are they continuous or just a single sound? Are they loud? Are they quiet? Open your eyes and touch 3 objects. What do they feel like? What are their textures like? Are these things comforting to you? Now focus on your smell. Try to pick up on 2 different smells. You might need to go somewhere to try and smell something. Where is it coming from? Now, acknowledge one thing you can taste. Again, you might need to find something edible near you. Focus on what it tastes like, or what it feels like while eating it. This mindfulness exercise is used to bring your attention to the present.
Establishing A New Normal When You Don’t Know What That Is
Even if the world seems chaotic, there are strategies to staying sane and routine is one of them! Continue practicing your “normal” routine. This includes getting dressed for work, making scheduled meals, going to bed and waking up at the same time, as well as setting aside time for work as usual.
Added note** Keep up with your hygiene. It can be hard to keep up daily self maintenance habits when you are working from home. After all, it’s easy to stay in sweats for several days and forget to brush your hair, brush your teeth, shower, and go to bed on time. However, proper hygiene is a small change that can make a big difference in boosting your mood and creating a sense of well being or normalcy.
Exercise is vital during this time of isolation. Go take a walk, ride a bike, or climb the stairs at your apartment/house. There are also tons of free Youtube videos and apps (Nike Training Club is my personal favorite) so that you can practice staying fit inside! Yoga is especially beneficial if you are looking for low impact exercise or need an activity to help with anxiety/stress reduction.
Although many have begun the transition back to office life, eating out, and traveling, this time has left many feeling isolated and lonely. A few ways to stay connected while still social distancing could include continued Facetime with friends and family, playing co-op video games, and reaching out virtually or by phone.
Being in isolation can bring up symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. If you currently have a therapist in Colorado, DORA announced legal mandates to allow therapists to practice teletherapy. If you don’t have someone and need to talk, you can reach out to Growing Self, where we offer online coaching and therapy services.
Safety: If you feel unsafe at home, especially in this time of quarantine, you can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Call 1-800-799-7233. Or you can go to their website to chat with an advocate. There is also a list of emergency resources available on our website.
I hope these ideas help you and you are able to come up with your own ideas! Please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are ready to listen.
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