Sometimes, life comes at you fast. Other times, the hustle and bustle just manages to catch up with you. With it can come stress, anxiety, sadness or fear of the unknown — all of which can impact your mental health.
Managing your feelings and handling everyday challenges is an important part of maintaining your overall well-being, but sometimes this is easier said than done.
Keeping up with your mental health can sometimes mean seeking support from a mental health professional, but it can also mean taking the everyday steps needed to boost your mental and emotional wellness.
Here are seven things you can do every day to boost your mental health:
Start your day on a positive note
Having a morning routine is good, but making sure you’re starting your day on a positive note is important, too. Showing gratitude, whether it’s towards yourself, someone else or something else, can improve your mental health and emotional well-being.
Instead of firing up your social media apps as soon as you wake up, take some time to give yourself a compliment or to acknowledge something or someone you’re grateful for. Or do both! Promoting feelings of self-worth can have a powerful effect on your mood, and keeping a journal of the things or people you’re grateful for can help fill you with joy and happiness.
Proactively manage your stress threshold
Try to lay a solid foundation for your mental health and well-being by prioritizing your sleep, and practise good sleep hygiene (for example, avoid blue lights before bed, and maintain a routine around your sleep and wake times). Eat well (be conscious that you might be inclined to lean on alcohol, or other indulgences, to manage stress — this is understandable, but potentially damaging in the long run). Exercise: it will lower your stress levels, help you to better regulate your emotions and improve your sleep.
Schedule a meditative time out
It’s vitally important to protect your mental wellbeing, even if you’re not outwardly showing the signs of anxiety (here’s how to spot them). Tuning out from the ‘noise’ of online news resources helps. Go analogue and delve into a passage by your favourite black author or a pull up a powerful speech — Audre Lorde’s 1982 Harvard University presentation Learning from the 60s springs to mind. There are also meditation apps that will take you directly to a place of peace. Liberate Mediation is just one of the black-owned tools that share the knowledge of black wellness practitioners.
Make time for exercise
We all know that exercising regularly is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight, and you may also know that it benefits your heart. But exercise also benefits your brain — supporting cognitive function, improving mood and reducing stress and anxiety.
Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, which relieve stress. It also stimulates the release of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine — which help regulate your mood. For instance, the serotonin boost you get from exercise can help improve your sense of well-being. In addition, exercise helps balance adrenaline levels in your body, which can reduce stress.
This means that regular exercise, even if it’s just a 20 minutes a day, can help you cope with stress and improve your overall mental health. It’s also a great way to feel a sense of accomplishment, as well as a healthy way to take control of your life during a time of uncertainty.
Know your red flags
One way to manage moments of distress is to identify key thoughts or physical sensations that tend to contribute to your cycle of distress and feelings of being overwhelmed. Our thoughts (“Why can’t I concentrate?”), feelings (frustration, worry, sadness), physical sensations (tension, upset stomach, jitters) and actions (such as compulsively checking the latest COVID statistics) each feed into and amplify these negative emotional spirals. Addressing one aspect of this loop by, for example, actively reducing the physical symptoms (I use box breathing: breathe in for four counts, hold for four, breathe out for four and hold for four, then repeat) can de-escalate the cycle and help you regain control.
Be compassionate with yourself and with others
There is much that we cannot control right now, but how we talk to ourselves during these challenging times can either provide a powerful buffer to these difficult circumstances or amplify our distress. Moments of feeling overwhelmed often come with big thoughts, such as “I cannot do this,” or “This is too hard.” This pandemic will cause a lot of stress for many of us, and we cannot be our best selves all the time. But we can ask for help or reach out when help is asked of us.
Even the most introverted of us need some sense of connection to others for our mental as well as our physical health. Many working groups have created virtual forums where you can contribute or just sit back and enjoy the chatter. Staff teams have instigated virtual coffee groups, online book clubs and co-working spaces where you can work in the (virtual) presence of others. We are in social isolation, but we need not feel alone. Reach out to those who might be particularly isolated.