People are under an increased amount of stress due to the ongoing pandemic, which has no concrete ending. People who don’t have a mental illness disorder, such as anxiety, are also experiencing mental health vulnerabilities during this time. They report having issues like difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering things, sleep disturbance, and decreased mood.
4 “M”s in mental health
Mindfulness is living in the present moment in a non-judgmental way, and practicing it fosters awareness. People who have completed a mindful activity say that they feel more calm and peaceful afterwards. Download and use mindfulness apps on your phone, follow along on a YouTube video, and try a variety of other mindful activities like the three below. Building mindfulness takes practice because it is a skill.
Mastery is about engaging your mind and doing what you’re good at. Ways of engaging can be tasks as simple as cooking and cleaning. Other ways of engaging your mind include creative writing and expressing yourself through art or music. Mastery can be thought of as a form of distraction. Lastly, it can be thinking about what we have already overcome in life.
Physical movement, such as walking, weightlifting, running, hiking, yoga, writing, painting, playing an instrument, and dancing are all ways to keep moving forward. Movement helps our minds de-stress and feel better. Another benefit is that mood is boosted.
Stay connected to people. If you can’t meet in-person, then stay in-touch through video chatting, social media, phone calls, and sending letters in the mail. Another idea of staying connected is by having a digital picture frame and sharing the “add photos” link with your extended family. Then, extended family members can upload pictures to your frame. This is a good way to see what they (and their pets) have been up to.
These four tips take 10-15 minutes per day and everyone can apply them.
We should be taking advantage of mental wellness strategies like these daily to build up resiliency and improve overall wellbeing. Everyone should have mental health preparedness for situations like the pandemic. People need a list of resources and coping strategies. People should also re-engage with their mental health treatment professional or seek out one if counseling is new to them. Needing support from a professional does not mean that you are weak.
I’ve been vegan for years, and I greatly care about being proactive towards my health and the environment.
I strive to encourage people to have a well-balanced lifestyle and to not only work on their mental health, but their physical health, as well.
If you think we’d be a good fit to work together, reach out and I’d be happy to answer your questions. – I’m not a certified dietitian, though I will probably recommend you find one if you need one. — I have experience working with people who battle eating disorders.
Today, I’m diving into my positive affirmations, as negative and distorted thoughts have crept in. This is completely normal and something everyone goes through. I like to write my positive affirmations, which include quotes and Bible verses, on index cards. Today, I wrote one about being a business owner. The affirmations are kept on a shelf next to my work desk. As I read through my cards, I reflected on them, noticing that I’m feeling pretty good about them and have not needed to use certain affirmations for a few months! I take them to heart, I know that they are true.
When I’m going through my day and notice physical symptoms of worry and anxiety, I know that a helpful strategy is to visit my cards. Having three to four mental coping strategies on hand, that aren’t going on a run, is key. Addressing anxiety by going on a run is my top way to manage symptoms, but I can’t always go out when I want, so I take deep breaths and incorporate mindfulness to create a different reaction. I read my affirmations as many times as I feel appropriate. There are tougher days where I keep them on my desk and will intentionally be more aware of my breathing throughout the day, as I know that an unhelpful habit is to hold my breath.
When was the last time that you read or recited positive affirmations to yourself? If it has been a while, don’t forget that this is a simple way to redirect your thoughts. Know your distorted thoughts and unhelpful habits. Know when you need to use your positive affirmations and other coping strategies, and pay attention to the benefits.
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.
How to deal with negative thoughts through cognitive reframing.
The first set of sentences are examples of “all-or-nothing” and “black-and-white” negative thoughts. The second set is the reframing.
▪︎”I HAVE to have ___, ___, and ___ happen today, otherwise the day is ruined.” ▪︎”If I don’t get this job, everything that I’ve worked so hard for goes right out the window!” ▪︎”My life depends on ___.”
▪︎”I can choose to not allow my day to be ruined. Instead, I can remain hopeful and hold my head high because this isn’t the end, it’s a bump in the road. I can move on knowing that I did the best that I can.” ▪︎”I may or may not get the job that I’ve been working hard towards, but there will be other opportunities and new doors will open. I did learn more from this experience.” ▪︎”What I’m going through is temporary and in time, things change.”