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Mental Health Awareness Week + Ways to Take Care of Your Own Mental Health

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?

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How To Get Out Of A Rut

Is it just me or has 2020 felt like a rut? Nothing like a global pandemic during an election year to force you to take a hard look at the way you live your life! Being in a “rut” can feel pretty icky – when I’m in one, I feel completely stagnant. But it also provides an opportunity. Coming out of that rut is a new trajectory. So what’re you waiting for? Here are a few of my tips to get out of a rut.

  1. Create a routine and/or to do list and stick to it. This one is especially helpful if you’re struggling to find purpose in your days or stick to healthy habits. I find it helpful to put pen to paper in my planner. I outline my intentions and everything I want to accomplish in a day. Identifying what I want to do and actually doing it helps me believe in myself and builds momentum to help me out of the rut. If you don’t know where to start, I recommend something as simple as a guided meditation or a morning walk/run/bike ride. I find that these activities allow ideas to pop into my head and give me clarity on the path forward.
  2. .. Or don’t! Shake it up. This is helpful if the monotony of your routine is getting to you. Sometimes routine is freeing, sometimes it feels like a prison. If you’re feeling the latter: shake things up. When’s the last time you did something new for the first time? Get out there and do it! In a pandemic there might not seem like many opportunities to “get out there” but you could hike somewhere new, or sign up for a virtual class. It could even be as simple as picking up a different book genre and finding that you love it. While routine tends to bring me comfort and purpose, adding novelty to my days helps me feel like I’m “living life to the fullest”.
  3. Connect with loved ones. Sometimes all it takes it talking it out. Tell someone how you feel. I recommend specifically choosing someone you relate to, whose advice you value or who makes a good hype man! If we’re still in the pandemic when you need this, ask a friend to have a socially distanced or virtual coffee date or happy hour. We’re meant to communicate and connect with others – a little bit can go a long way when you’re in a tough spot.
  4. Treat yoself! Make today special. Pick up a nice bottle of wine, takeout from your favorite restaurant, whatever is a “treat” to you. Find a little reason to celebrate each week (maybe you checked off your to do list every day this week?). In my daily journaling I have a prompt: what am I doing to make today special? Often it’s little things like “a great workout” or “walking to get a Starbucks pumpkin cream cold brew”. Identifying those little opportunities in everyday life helps me have something to look forward to.

How do you get out of a rut?

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How (And Why) to Put Yourself First

ICYMI, I recently read Untamed and since then, have had near constant reminders of the importance of honoring yourself and your needs.

I don’t want to speak on behalf of all women in saying this, but I was raised to believe that the “right way” to be a woman is to put others’ needs in front of my own. That through sacrifice and suffering, I am doing my part to make the world a better place. A “good girl” doesn’t complain or speak up or cause conflict. I spent years of my life succumbing to this school of thought, but now, I couldn’t disagree more. I’m no longer interested in competing for a “she-who-suffers-most” award or pleasing everyone around me at the expense of myself.

Why It’s Important to Put Yourself First

I now believe that the best thing I can do is bring my best self into the world. No one can be me but me. By putting my thoughts and needs to the side in order to please others, I’m not only sacrificing myself, but I’m sacrificing the gifts that I could potentially be giving to the world. People pleasing is draining–it takes away my energy, emotionally and physically. You can’t pour from an empty cup. By giving away your energy to “people please” you end up not bringing your best self to the relationships that matter most to you, so who is actually benefiting?

If the idea of pursuing your desires sounds foreign or selfish to you, you may be thinking: but what about all of the things I want to do that I actually shouldn’t? What about my desire to have a bottle of wine at home by myself instead of attending a family event? To which I ask: is that really putting yourself first? In those situations, you may need to dig a little deeper to uncover where that desire comes from and have a different course of action in mind. Putting yourself first does not mean to self-sabotoge.

It’s also worth noting that if you choose to take this path, it is not the easy path. It requires work to get to know yourself. Standing up for yourself, especially at first, can also take energy you don’t want to spend (even though this is energy you’re spending for yourself–it leads to a payoff). Putting yourself first also causes conflict. You may lose relationships (in favor of strengthening the ones that matter). It takes work to change like this, but I have decided it’s worth it.

So, who’s with me on this journey? Here are some examples and action items I’m using.

Recognizing When You’re Abandoning Yourself

Do you notice when you are putting your own wants and needs aside to please others? Here are some of the signs that clue me in.

  • General agitation. Do you feel like your energy is drained and you’re quick to snap? Something may not be in alignment. Instead of trying to distract yourself from those feelings, examine them.
  • Rumination. When I ruminate on a situation after it passes, it is a sure sign that I did not act in alignment with how I felt. I will keep replaying the situation in my head and trying to rewrite the outcome. Why put myself through that mental torture? I did this recently when the doctor suggested an induction date earlier than I was comfortable with. I agreed in the moment because who am I to tell a Doctor what should be done? Then when I left the office, I cried. I knew I hadn’t honored myself and I wouldn’t feel better until I spoke my piece. So I called the office and asked to push the date back–they agreed and I can breathe easy again.
  • Defensiveness. If you find yourself explaining and defending your actions, you’re giving your power to the person you are trying to convince. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for doing what’s best for you. You do not need external approval. I find myself doing this often–I’ve asked my husband to call me out when it happens, and I know I need to examine the situation a little further.

Getting Back to Yourself and Your Needs

Once I’ve identified that I’m abandoning myself or people-pleasing, I find the following to be helpful.

  • Meditation. Sometimes quiet and stillness gives my brain room to let ideas come forward. You can go into meditation with a question in mind, or nothing in mind, or even look for a guided meditation to help you visualize what you’re seeking. I find use in each of these approaches depending on where my head’s at.
  • Journaling. This can have similar effects to meditation, though sometimes my thoughts flow more freely when I am putting pen to paper. You can approach journaling similarly to meditation by coming in with a question, or nothing at all in mind, or look up prompts to give you a place to start.
  • Movement. While stillness has its perks, I find that some of my clearest thoughts come when I am out for a walk or run. When my body is occupied by putting one foot in front of the other, my brain has a little space to wander and my truths float to the surface.
  • Embrace conflict. When you start putting yourself first, you may surprise and upset people who have gotten used to you putting their needs first. But why are others’ wants more valuable than yours? Are these really the kind of relationships you want to fight to keep? This is a huge challenge for me, but conflict over something that’s important to me is conflict worth having.
  • Set boundaries. Once you have an idea of yourself and your needs, set boundaries around them. Know the ways you won’t accept being treated and make them clear as people approach or try to break those boundaries.

How do you put yourself first?