Do you prioritize your mental health? If your mental health isn’t one of the areas that comes to mind, consider moving it to one of your top priorities, elevate it. Here’s the short answer of why it’s important. When we work on our mental health, we improve all of the other areas of our lives. When we emotionally and mentally operate effectively and efficiently, other well-being pieces fall into place. Some pieces that are positively impacted are, sleep, problem solving capability, relationships, and productivity increases. All a ripple-effect benefit of elevating mental wellness. The benefits are truly endless.
Here are a few ideas of how you can focus on your mental health
What to intentionally focus on
Spend a few minutes a day addressing your mind. What areas need the most attention? Is it sleep? Anxiety? When was the last time that you did self-care? Focus on the area that needs it the most, not to feel overwhelmed, because there could be several areas that you feel could use love. Once there’s a rythm or a habit created for that particular area, move onto another area. Be gracious to yourself through the process of addressing the area, it might take some time and it’s hard work.
How to make it happen
Here are two ways to help you with planning that focus time
The first, is scheduling half an hour to an hour per day. The second, is sprinkling in the work throughout the day. The option of scheduling it in works well for people who like having structure or who are likely to procrastinate. Write it in your planner, including the time you will work on it and set an intention of what you’re going to specifically work on. – An attainable short-term goal. When the time comes, aim to do it for half an hour to an hour. Afterwards, notice or be mindful of the benefits of your achievement. Do what is helpful to you. If you’re having trouble thinking of something, reflect back to your past to see if maybe you did something helpful then, that you can apply to now.
What it could look like
This could look like journaling about your day or a problem that you have. Taking a long bath, free of distractions, and reflecting on the highlights of your day. When you wake up in the morning, thinking about something that you’re looking forward to in the near future. Participating in relaxing yoga before bed. Having a mindful meal.
The second way, sprinkling it in throughout the day, looks a little different and is go-with-the-flow. This strategy might work for someone who has a busy schedule or would like to see it organically integrated throughout their day.
What it could look like
This could look like doing a three minute breathing or mindfulness exercise while doing a simple tasks, such as household cleaning. Working on a gratitude list, jotting down what you’re grateful for as they come to you throughout the day. Stretch and do mindful movement when you’ve been sitting for too long. – When at a desk-job, get up from your chair once every 45-90 minutes for 5-10 minutes.
Doing mental wellness activities will be wonderful. Try both planning strategies, or other ways that you can think of, to see what fits best.
Elevate your mental health to reap all the great benefits. Start by identifying what needs the most attention and then figure out how to make it happen. Is it better for you if you schedule it or if you sprinkle it in throughout the day? Once you have a basic plan, just do it. There are multiple strategies and ways to improve your mental wellness. Do the ones that work for you consistently. Lastly, fully enjoy the benefits and continue the good work.
Think of something that you’ve always dreamed of doing. Travel? Opening a business? Contacting someone you haven’t talked to in a long time or ever? Dumping an unhealthy habit that you have been clinging to? It can be anything. It is probably overwhelming to think about and you might be afraid of the process. I’m talking about really stepping outside of your comfort zone and tearing down the protective barriers. Think about how freeing accomplishing that dream could feel… YOU DID IT! Think about all of the possible benefits of that accomplishment, like further opportunities, boost in self-esteem, feelings of gratitude and happiness, and reconnection.
Fear and Anxiety Holds Us Back
Being honest with yourself, what has kept you from doing that? If it is anxiety, you’re not alone. The feelings of fear and anxiety are there to protect us on a primitive level. These emotions help us to survive and make better choices. If we didn’t have these feelings, what would be stopping us from doing something dangerous? These are normal, healthy emotions and we can’t make them go away. We don’t want them to go away.
Our thoughts that hold us back can seem to come out of nowhere at times. Thoughts are naturally occurring and will come and go. Know that thoughts are thoughts and not reality. Just because we think something, doesn’t make it true. Identify the thoughts that hold you back, reframe them to better use, and learn how to better manage your anxiety. Even though we can manage anxiety, we can’t get rid of it, but we can keep it at bay.
What was that dream accomplishment that you thought of earlier? How can you make it work? What small steps can you take to get the ball rolling?
My Real-Life Example
Here is a simple example of a long-term goal of mine and thoughts that I struggle with. This is in regards to participating in the BADWATER 135 ultramarathon (I am a seasoned ultrarunner). This is a goal that has been several years in the making and there are a few more years to come in this journey before I stand at the start line. Many doubts have popped up in my mind over the years. Doubts that I’m not good enough, and doubts that details would never come together to make this dream a reality. Anxiety comes and goes. I experience anxiety over what people might say or think if I ever bring up wanting to run The World’s Toughest Footrace, so I rarely talk about it. Anxiety over becoming injured and never being able to run ever again. These thoughts have been bothersome, coming and going, since I got started. I want this goal bad enough, and I’m going to give my best effort, so the thoughts aren’t going to keep me from doing what I am passionate about.
Reframe Fearful and Anxious Thoughts
The unhelpful thoughts are identified, now let me show you how to reframe this fearful way of thinking. The doubt that “I’m not good enough” can be reframed to, “I am hardworking and have been thoughtfully and skillfully working towards this goal for years. I have grown so much, not just as an athlete, but as a person. I’ve come so far, I’m not going to give up now.” And “things won’t ever come together for me,” to “continue to be patient, every year you are steps closer to this goal, and you are diligent in catching all of the preparation details.” As for the anxiety, “I can’t ever tell anyone without being judged,” to “who cares what people have to say about it, this is something that I love.” For anxiety over injury, “I’m worried that I’m going to get injured in a freak accident on the trail while training,” to “I’m a careful and skilled runner. I rest my body and care for it enough, so that I can do what I do. My running coach is also mindful when it comes to injury prevention.” That is how to reframe, think realistically.
More Anxiety Management
There are multiple ways to manage anxiety. Self-care should be the top priority because it is the base from which we build upon. This includes proper diet, exercise, and sleep. Use the reframing skill from above. Learn Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy coping strategies. Talk with a licensed professional counselor to have support in sorting out the details and find what works for you. Practice yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises. Practice these things consistently overtime to create helpful habits. The process isn’t always easy, there are challenging times, stick with it, and give yourself grace. It is a true learning process. I have been using these strategies consistently for years and they work. As you do the strategies, you will find favorites and learn when to use which strategy, as one will be more helpful than another in any given scenario.
When Your Dream Becomes a Reality
When the time comes to tackle that dream, reflect on your journey. How does it feel to be where you are, today? What is the biggest thing that you learned in those smaller steps? How can you apply what you have learned in the future? Continue the helpful habits that you have established or are continuing to work on. Honestly, the work never ends, and having a healthy mind is a ton of work, but we absolutely need to nourish it.
When that dream becomes reality, be connected and in the moment with it. Take it in. What does it feel like physically, emotionally, and spiritually? What is the greatest part of the experience? How proud do you feel? What have you learned? When it’s all over, would you do it again? It is important that we acknowledge the benefits of the hard work and perseverance. There is a mountain of experience to take away from accomplishing a dream.
I hope that you found this article insightful and are perhaps examining anxious thoughts that are keeping you from achieving your dreams. Incorporate the strategies that I have discussed into your day-to-day life and notice the benefits. Keep striving towards accomplishing your dreams, soaking in that journey.
To help resolve any unfinished business that you have with another person, write a letter. This may be written to a person who has hurt or wronged you, and who is no longer a part of your life. DO NOT ACTUALLY SEND THEM (or anyone) THIS LETTER, this letter is for YOU. Keep it confidential.
I STRONGLY suggest doing this activity with a professional counselor and talking through the situation with them. They can support you.
Writing this letter will help you to:
Reflect and process
Think more slowly
Maybe to forgive the wrong-doer
Forgive yourself, if you need to
Put your thoughts and emotions to paper
Release pent up thoughts and strong emotions, like pain, sadness, and anger
Find some peace, healing and resolution
Empowerment and improve self-esteem
Increase self-care and self-love
There are no set rules for writing this letter. You may find it difficult to start this process, just dive right in. The letter can be edited and re-organized to how you would like. Start with the wrong-doer’s name, like you are writing a letter. If you’re unsure of how long your letter should be, try aiming to write one to three pages just to get an idea. Once you have that, you will better know if the letter should be any longer. The letter is to benefit you and to help resolve any unfinished business, the length of the letter doesn’t matter quite as much. End the letter with your name.
Important things to think about including:
Things that you want the wrong-doer to know.
Anything that you want to say to them.
Talk about what they did to you.
Talk about how you feel.
Talk about your reaction to what they did.
Talk about the impact that it has had on yourself. What areas of your life have been impacted? How has it been changed?
Write about what you wish went differently.
Write about how you wish things ended with that person.
Is there anything that you could have done differently?
Allow yourself to be open to writing anything that comes up.
This is a challenging exercise, so take a break if you need to, re-visit it. *Self-care is very important through this process.* Work on acknowledging your thoughts and emotions, know that they are natural and occur for a reason, but let them roll away (not sticking in your mind) as you write. Utilize coping strategies to reduce intense stress, anxiety, emotions, etc. Try to make sure that you’re in a good “mental space,” not overly anxious or panic when you write this. It is helpful to be able to think clearly and be focused. After you finish writing this letter, read it out loud to yourself. Reading it to yourself might be emotional because your brain will be processing the information slightly differently, hearing your own voice read what you wrote is powerful. Read it to a counselor, they will listen and be able to guide you. If you think that it would be beneficial reading it a second or third time, then do so. Notice if your thoughts and emotions changed the next time through. Lastly, when you are ready, you completed the letter and read it out loud, destroy the letter for resolution (and confidentiality). There is symbolism in destroying the letter. It isn’t returning. Allow yourself to be healed and empowered. Love yourself. Notice how you feel while destroying the letter and afterwards. Do you feel physically lighter, like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders? Do you feel empowered? Did you sigh in relief or smile?
Once again, please talk with someone if you need to, don’t hesitate to reach out. It is rewarding to speak with someone, brain imaging research shows that talk therapy (psychotherapy) can be impactful right away.
The types of thoughts that we have can make a big difference in the way that we handle going through a crisis or difficult time. An affirmation is a short and simple statement that is used to bring subconscious thoughts conscious. As thoughts become conscious, we can begin to take control of our way of thinking.
By adopting positive affirmations, we can build a more resilient brain, allowing us to better cope through tough times. Over time and with repetition, our thoughts can change our brains, and even our cells and genes. This process of the brain changing is called neuroplasticity. Affirmations activate the brain’s reward center. – I’ll include a link to an easy to read article that explains the science at the end.
Choose a few affirmations that you feel are most relevant to the crisis or difficult time. You may also create your own. You can download and print out this sheet and place it somewhere in your home or at your workplace. If the affirmations are visible to others, maybe they will benefit? Another idea is to write them on a sticky note or index card. Since sticky notes don’t take up a lot of space, good spots to place them are, on a mirror, refrigerator, or work computer.
Repeat the affirmations a couple times per day to yourself and read them out loud. Reading them out loud is effective because you’re hearing them in your own voice. Neuroplasticity occurs overtime, so give the process time to unfold before you give up on it. The best time to practice the affirmations is when you feel
Let me know if you have any questions.
I remain calm in a crisis.
I am slowly becoming the kind of person who can survive this storm.
I am free of anxiety and am living a calm life.
When circumstances change, I will feel all the more grateful for what I have.
I am replacing my negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
I am attracting positive energy into my body.
I am safe and in control.
I’m not going to be struggling my whole life.
I’m not alone in this world.
The situation I’m currently dealing with is only going to make me stronger, wiser and powerful.
The feelings of panic are leaving my body.
My mind is clearing and I am in control.
My body is calm.
I find joy in moving forward.
I choose to shine, not to suffer.
I have what I need to get through this.
Problems are opportunities for growth.
I am able to see what needs to be handled first move through the rest after that.
Living according to my values is what really matters.
I acknowledge all the good in my life because I know that this is the foundation for all abundance.
I move through life with easy and grace.
Life is as good as I make it.
I have the power to change the world in a positive way by being myself.
Failure is part of the road to success.
Good things are going to happen.
I am confident that I will get through this.
I will always remember how far I have come, not just how far I have to go.
I will start where I am, use what I have and do what I can.
I know that I can do it.
I make wise decisions.
Everything will be okay.
I’m human and I can learn from my mistakes.
I face problems bravely.
I am strong.
All I can do is my best.
Everything that I have gone through has helped me grow.
This life is mine to live and I’m going to make the most of it.
I’m not going to quit.
Things always get better with time.
Happiness begins with me.
I am resilient and capable.
I’m grateful for everything that I have.
My mental health is improving.
I can deal with it.
I feel free and happy.
I have abundant energy, vitality and well-being.
Five years from now, this won’t matter as much as I think it will.
Everything will be okay.
I inhale confidence and exhale fears.
I’m thriving and make the most of every moment.
I’m in a safe space.
I’m letting go of my stress.
I’m not getting discouraged.
I have a positive mindset.
Things in my life will start to be better.
I am holding my head up high.
I breathe in relaxation, I breathe out tension.
I can get through anything.
I welcome challenges into my life.
Challenges are opportunities to learn and grow.
I’m stronger than I think.
I am getting stronger everyday.
I am a strong and capable person.
I can handle feeling uncomfortable.
I am in control of how I think, feel and behave.
Hard times do not get the best of me.
I have the ability to overcome every obstacle.
I will not let fear take control of me.
I release all negativity from my life.
When I have done all I know how to do, I choose to let my mind rest.
I’ve been knocked down before and I can get back up again.
I welcome fear as a sign to be careful, but choose to let go of it when it no longer serves me.
One day, your “hard” will become your “easy.” Whatever mountain you’re climbing, whether it is the loss of a loved one, difficulty at work, anxiety blanketing everything, a conflict, etc, don’t give up. Don’t lose hope and faith.
Keep moving forward, though a short rest is okay, you should take action in the valley and continue working in the climb. The first step is to acknowledge that what you’re going through is difficult and allow yourself to feel your emotions. Acknowledgement is a key to being able to move forward. Along side of acknowledgement, look after your well-being and practice self-care.
Take a deep breath, find something relaxing, something that works for you. Read a book or articles about what you’re going through, use credible sources. Talk to a professional. Try something new; this can be stressful because one, it is hard to think of something new to try when you feel like you’ve tried everything. – Your mindset may not be in the right place. Two, because trying something new is taking a risk, it is unfamiliar. It is worth the risk because it might be highly beneficial, and even if it ends up falling short, at least it was partly beneficial. We learn from taking action and risks.
The things that we experience in life make us stronger. Climbing mountains make us stronger. Muscle fibers must be broken down in order to rebuild, becoming more powerful. We learn about ourselves and figure things out, like how to boost ourselves up. Eventually, the situation becomes easier. We face, adapt and work through what is going on, and the more we practice this, the easier it becomes. As we’re strengthened, it becomes easier and you gain confidence that you can reach the peak. Don’t give up, keep moving. Remain hopeful and have faith. The view at the top is beautiful.
I came up with the name Finish Stronger Counseling from my experience and passion for running. To “finish stronger” means to end the session better than when it began. Think about training for a marathon. During training runs, sometimes the goal is to have negative splits (a faster pace per mile) and to push harder as the run progresses. “Hanging on” or maintaining mental toughness for the final stretch is also considered finishing strong. Keep in mind that finishing strong can look different for everyone.
Through these experiences, there is opportunity to learn something new about oneself and about running. The runner can gain empowerment, self confidence and strength. “I can because I did!” “I can do it again.”
If the session didn’t go quite as the runner hoped it would, they may consider the attempt a failure, but there are still things to take away from the experience. The runner has to CHOOSE to have a positive outlook and approach in what they take away from that training session. This bump in the road or “failure” is not an “end all” experience, it does not define the runner. Having that positive outlook and approach leans into the concept of finishing strong.
Runners can learn how to adjust and tweak weak areas and how to challenge themselves more. There is always room for improvement. When practicing pushing beyond the comfort zone, one can begin to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. The runner becomes more familiar with feeling uncomfortable and gets into the habit of finishing strong, which then transfers into other parts of life.
Just as finishing strong is to running, it can be applied to counseling. Through having hard work ethic, positive thinking, resilience, and appropriate interventions and treatment, a person may leave their counseling session feeling better, more knowledgeable and well-equipped than when it began.