Now is an imperative time to be focused on our mental wellness. With so many fears, uncertainties, threats to the safety of ourselves and loved ones, and anxiety-producing situations happening daily, we cannot deny the importance of our collective mental health.
Those in our community who have serious mental illnesses may feel this way all of the time, not just during a pandemic. Acknowledging those challenges for us all can bring an important experience of empathy, compassion, and connection with our community that perhaps we had not felt previously. We hope that this may be one of the silver linings of this situation; because of it, our culture will adopt better practices that care for our most vulnerable populations as a rule, not an exception. Until then, we must deal with our own mental health challenges in order to make it to that next phase in our culture and get through this situation with resilience.
Now is an optimal time to practice these tips, and hopefully they will become the norm for many more of us more often. Read below for my top 5 best mental health practices:
Feel your feelings. Having a healthy relationship with difficult feelings is imperative for good mental and emotional health. Our current situation has forced many of us to deal with very difficult feelings that range all over the spectrum throughout the day. Being with them, allowing them to flow through us mindfully (without judgment and with kindness and compassion), and sharing them with others has a positive effect on both our emotional and mental health. Journaling, expressive drawing or painting, singing, and other types of art therapy can help this process. If your current situation does not allow you to feel things in the moment, such as in an emergency situation, take time at night or sometime afterwards to reflect on your experience to be better able to let it go.
Move your body. Exercise has been shown to help decrease the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Often people may get overwhelmed by this idea and think that you must run a marathon in order to get the benefits. Mental health benefits can come from simple, gentle movement that does not take a lot of time and is accessible to nearly everyone depending on their circumstances. A 10 minute walk at lunchtime or a few minutes of gentle stretching may not burn a lot of calories, but it will clear your head and help you release stress that may be fogging your mind and clarity of thinking. These benefits are often underestimated and therefore, getting up and moving your body may not be practiced as often as it should. Simply put: move in a way that feels good and that you enjoy for at least 5 minutes every hour!
Be fully present in nature. The mental health benefits of being in nature are widely documented and supported throughout the medical community. What may not be as widely practiced is being mindful amongst nature. Perhaps we get out for a walk in the woods but bring our cell phone along and take pictures every 5 minutes. That's ok! That's great! However, we could get even more out of the experience and increase the health benefits by putting our focus completely on what is around us and how our body and mind feel within nature. Forest bathing, mindful nature walks, and gardening with full presence are just some of the ways that we can be fully present in nature in order to get the most out of the experience. It is also a great way to spend time with family with our full presence.
Focus on the basics. In this time of great cultural strife, we are being asked (or rather forced) to slow our lives way down, spend more time with our immediate families, only purchase and acknowledge what is "essential" to living, while trying to maintain some amount of happiness while doing it. Unfortunately, we don't often do this voluntarily to experience the benefits of living a simpler life, or at least a life whose values are truly lived supporting these concepts. When we practice this during a time that it is not forced upon us, we can relieve the stress that comes from the higher expectations we create, such as comparing ourselves to others and what they have accumulated, or putting too much emphasis on things that, in the end, don't really matter that much. Life can be much simpler and more joyful if we learn to be happy with less. Our earth, our community, and our future will thank us for it.
Keep it simple. In reviewing this post, I realize that something I think we all struggle with is keeping things simple. There is so much complexity in our lives that we miss the wonderful benefits that come from simplicity. Whether we think it means things are boring, or we have too much time with our thoughts and feelings that may be uncomfortable for us, focusing on one thing at a time - the really important things - can reduce unnecessary stress that is harming our health. Overwhelm comes, especially now with the constant stream of digital information coming at us. Taking a more mindful approach to what we read, process, and then letting ourselves take a break, can truly allow us to fully integrate what we've consumed in a way that enhances our focus and learning. Truly focusing on one thing at a time, allowing it to process, and then moving on is a practice we all need for our health.
Thank you for taking the time to slow down - on purpose - and join in our movement towards mental wellness being an accepted and welcomed new paradigm in our world.