Physical health receives a lot of attention, especially in the midst of a pandemic (hello, COVID-19). It feels like mental health continues to be stigmatized and take a back seat in comparison. For instance, here in 2020, there is a LOT of concern about catching/spreading COVID-19, and significantly less attention is being given to the mental illnesses that can take hold in a time like this (depression, addiction, etc.)
Mental and physical health go hand in hand. We can’t have sustained physical health without being healthy mentally. Let me start by saying, if you are going through something and battling your mental health, you are not alone. I am always available to chat with anyone in need! And in some cases, I would recommend seeking professional help. This is not something to be ashamed of – I sought therapy for help getting through two occasions so far in my life and could not recommend it enough.
My husband and I saw a marriage counselor together prior to getting married to help me navigate my relationship with my parents, who did not approve of us living together before marriage. I was keeping a lot of who I was bottled up inside and keeping secrets from my parents to avoid confrontation. Seeking therapy helped me break this cycle, and Colin coming with me helped him learn how to best support me through a difficult time. This was a HUGE breakthrough in my life. Colin and I couldn’t move forward and start our own family until I was honest with my family.
I also sought therapy after moving to Charlotte. About 6 months in, I was really missing my friends, not loving my job, and questioning our decision to move. I was unable to sleep at night and crying regularly because of the stress of it. Seeking therapy helped me learn to trust myself, fall in love with this city, connect with local friends, and get back into the fitness community. If I hadn’t gone to therapy, I would probably be back in Syracuse (loving time with my friends and family who I miss!) but not on the growth path that I want for my life.
Neither one of these situations lead to a “diagnosis” — it doesn’t need to. Therapy is for everyone and anyone who could benefit from it. But if therapy isn’t in the cards for you right now, there are still steps you can take to improve your mental health (not a replacement for therapy, just some daily practices that I have found helpful in my own life to keep my low-level anxiety at bay).
Practices for Mental Health
- Meditation. You knew this was going to be on here. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably heard about the benefits of meditation by now. I used to think meditation was just sitting silently for a period of time (which sounds sooo not fun). This isn’t the most helpful for me – my mind wanders and I am easily distracted. This is why I prefer guided meditation using an app. I like insight timer for free meditations for a variety of purposes, but I loved headspace when I was struggling through my sleep issues. The sleep course gave me my sleep (and life) back.
- Get enough sleep. Set a bedtime routine and schedule and stick to it. If sleep is hard to come by, might I once again suggest the headspace course I listed above? I also found blue light blocking glasses make a big difference here, or even reduced screen time. Which brings me to my next point..
- Reduce screen time. Set app limits or try a digital detox. There is SO much noise and distraction out there and it can lead to comparison syndrome and overall just be so draining. I took a 24 hour break from social media a couple months back and felt great, which reminds me, I should schedule another one!
- Exercise. This is another one you knew would be on here, and if you don’t know where to start, might I suggest HIIT at Home, Get Strong at Home, or Virtual Personal Training?
- Gratitude journaling. I have been gratitude journaling for close to 2 years now, and it’s amazing to me all the little things I can find to be grateful for. It really helps me see the good in every day and in my life overall. I credit my journal for keeping me sane when quarantine first began and every day started to feel like a “waste”. I found joy in the little things like more money saved, more time for my morning routine, working from my screened in porch, etc. It’s a quick practice to write down 3 things I’m grateful for every day and it helps me start my day on the right foot.
- Connect with those around you. In COVID times, there’s a lot of shaming for people spending time together in person, but this is absolutely VITAL to my mental health. And it turns out, having strong mental health can boost your immunity. Please keep that in mind next time you are judging/shaming people who are meeting up in person. Anyway, a strong sense of community and connection is great when it comes to support. Meet a friend for a hike, give them a call, or hop on FaceTime. It makes a world of difference, and feels sooo much better than texting, I promise.
- Set boundaries. This can be uncomfortable in the moment, but in the long run, it’s important and impactful to say no to what doesn’t feel good for you. That means saying no to people who aren’t supportive and keeping your priorities straight. For example, if work is always bleeding over into your family time, is that really what you want? Find a solution that stops this from happening (offload some of your work, find efficiencies, or find a new job).
- Make time for fun. When is the last time you played, or did something just for yourself that makes you smile? Put on your favorite song and dance along. Carve out time for a hobby you’ve been neglecting. Life is too short to not emphasize joy.
- Go outside. It’s amazing what a little fresh air and sunshine can do. Even if the sun isn’t out, you could kill two bird with one stone and “make time for fun” on a rainy day by splashing in the puddles.
These are just some of my favorite ways to take care of my mental health. What are some of your practices/what’s missing from this list?