10 Timeless Tips to Protect Your Mental Health
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month here in the U.S.
So, I figured this is the perfect time to discuss this important topic, especially considering that we have a new and significant stressor to deal with this year – the coronavirus.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four people are affected by mental health issues – that’s 450 million people!
And nearly two-thirds of those with a known mental disorder do not seek help.
Depending on what you are struggling with, it may be necessary for you to work with a professional or it may be possible for you to manage it on your own by adopting some healthy habits, working through your issues, and healing your own traumas.
While I am not a licensed psychologist or counselor, I can give you some self-help advice based on my personal experience when it comes to stress and anxiety.
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Mental Health & COVID-19
Many people, especially those who were already struggling with anxiety before the outbreak, are experiencing coronavirus anxiety.
COVID-19 is the perfect catalyst/aggravating factor for health anxiety, otherwise known as hypochondria (persistent and irrational worry about having a serious medical condition despite signs to the contrary or reassurances from doctors).
After all, we don’t know exactly how the novel coronavirus originated or all the ways in which it is contracted. Some people who actually have the virus do not show symptoms at first. And we don’t know when or if there will be a cure.
If you didn’t have health anxiety before, you might now!
And of course, there are all the other stressors associated with this pandemic …
Stressors Associated with the Coronavirus Crisis
-Uncertainty: When will it all be over? How will things change in the future? Will they ever go back to “normal”?
-Financial hardship: Over 26 million people have been out of work due to COVID-19. This pandemic is slated to surpass the Great Depression in terms of numbers of jobs lost and devastating economic impact.
-Food & supply shortages: I’m sure we all know how hard it is to find things like toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, and meat nowadays. Some people are panic buying while others can’t afford to buy what they need even when it becomes available.
-Isolation: Humans (and most animals) need face-to-face contact with others and sometimes Zoom/Facebook/iPhone just doesn’t cut it. If you’re a “people person” or extrovert, the quarantine is probably taking an especially heavy toll on you.
-Fear for loved ones: Even if you don’t get sick, what if someone you love does? For those of us with elderly, immune compromised, or essential worker family members, the burden of this fear can be almost too much to bear.
-Loss of freedom: With the stay-at-home orders and 6-feet distancing guidelines, it’s impossible to engage in the some of the same activities that we did before the outbreak. This can have devastating consequences, especially when those hobbies imparted happiness and fulfillment to our lives.
What Are the Negative Effects of Mental Illness?
Because this is uncharted territory, we don’t really know what the negative effects of the COVID-19 lockdown will be or to what extent it will ultimately impact our mental health.
With an estimated 2.6 billion people worldwide on lockdown, a prominent health psychology professor calls it the “world’s biggest psychological experiment” ever.
One scholarly review published in February 2020 examined 24 studies which documented the psychological impact of quarantine.
Not surprisingly, researchers in that study found that individuals who are quarantined are more likely to develop mental health issues like stress & anxiety, anger & irritability, low mood, insomnia, depression, emotional exhaustion, and post-traumatic stress symptoms.
If left unchecked, mental health issues like these can lead to a significant reduction in quality of life.
And their negative effects can also extend beyond mental – stress is a silent killer that has been linked to heart disease, compromised immune system, cancer, and other serious physical illnesses.
How to Protect Your Mental Health: 10 Timeless Tips
It is vitally important to safeguard your mental health, not only during this crisis but at all times.
That means listening to your body and making time for self-care.
Here are some tips for protecting your mental health:
1. Identify your emotions so you can deal with them
Before you can solve any problem, you have to know what the problem actually is.
Being able to identify your emotions will better enable you to deal with them in a healthy way.
Try using the APPLE technique:
-Acknowledge: Acknowledge that you are feeling anxious, scared, sad, or whatever you are feeling.
-Pause (and breathe): Take a moment to breathe before you react.
-Pull back: Keep things in perspective- your thoughts are not facts and your emotions are fleeting.
-Let go: This too shall pass. Release the negative thought or feeling and imagine it floating away in a bubble.
-Explore: Ground yourself by being mindful and paying attention to what’s around you. Name 5 things that you can see, hear, feel, taste, and touch.
2. Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed
With everything that’s going on now, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.
One way to prevent burnout and overwhelm is by establishing and following a healthy routine.
Remember what’s most important to you and say no to things that you just don’t have time for. You’ve got to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else – you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Some ways I keep myself from getting overwhelmed include:
-Yoga & Kava tea: Every day, I do about 3 exercise videos from YouTube, at least one of which is yoga. I really like this one from Sanela.
After the yoga sequence, I drink Yogi kava tea. This healthy routine really helps me to stay calm and keep things in perspective.
-Fruit: When I eat a lot of fruit, I feel healthier, more energetic, and less stressed.
Here’s the recipe for a smoothie I regularly make. Try it for a mood boost/burst of energy:
-1½ cups almond milk
-A frozen banana
-1 cup frozen wild blueberries
-1 heaping tablespoon of plain Greek yogurt
-Deep breathing: Another healthy habit I’m incorporating into my daily routine is deep breathing. It’s remarkable how just a few minutes of deep breathing can calm you down.
-Mindfulness: Being mindful throughout the day doesn’t require any additional time. There are ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine – you can be mindful while doing things like showering, washing the dishes, going for a walk, etc.
3. Limit your exposure to negative people/influences
In order to safeguard your mental health, you’ve got to limit your exposure to negativity of any form.
This means people, movies, places, the news … anything that has a negative influence on your life.
Some types of toxic people are not open to receiving help. Do not allow your mental health to suffer because you are trying to “fix” or “be there for” them. Here are some tips for dealing with negative people.
Also, limit your exposure to the media coverage of COVID-19. Constantly reading about it/watching it can keep fear and anxiety levels elevated, which is not good for your mental (or physical) health.
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When you reflect on widespread problems like hunger, homelessness, cancer, animal cruelty, etc., it may lead you to feel helpless.
But, there’s often something - however small - we can do to make a difference. And if everyone did just that little bit, the results would be astronomical.
So, please take action!
If you are able, donate to a cause that you are passionate about. Lots of charitable organizations are having a tough time, especially now due to the pandemic.
There is a special charity I’d like to mention, one that has a special place in my heart – Taki’s Shelter. The kind, selfless guy who runs this shelter is my hero!
He takes in stray, hurt, paralyzed, abandoned and abused animals from the streets and gives them wonderful lives on his picturesque property of over 33,000 square meters.
I follow Takis Shelter on YouTube - Takis regularly streams and uploads new videos to YouTube so you can see his heartwarming rescues and get updates about the animals' lives-
Check out Takis Shelter on YouTube.
With over 450 dogs, as well as some cats, birds, goats, and sheep, Takis needs all the adoptions and donations he can get!
He also offers opportunities for people to visit and volunteer at the shelter, which is located in gorgeous Crete, Greece.
5. Focus on well-being, not productivity
Self-care is vital for mental health.
Now more than ever, make sure you are setting aside time to take care of yourself.
Nothing is more important than your health. To prevent overwhelm and burnout, focus on well-being, not productivity.
While in quarantine, don’t allow yourself to fall into destructive patterns like drinking too much alcohol, overeating, or slacking on exercise.
Instead, try to incorporate some new healthy habits into your daily routine – ones that will benefit your mental health like journaling or doing gratitude exercises.
6. Have some creative outlets
Boredom is dangerous.
You mind and your body are meant to be used. So, don’t let them sit idle and deteriorate.
That’s why having some creative outlets is another great way to protect your mental health.
Research shows that we are our happiest when we are in a state of flow, not lethargy.
So, while it may initially feel good to veg out and binge watch a show on Netflix, you’ll ultimately be much happier doing something creative.
Stumped on what to do? Here are some ideas:
7. Focus on what’s in your control (and let go of what’s not)
Anxiety often revolves around an unknown/uncertain future event.
When we have an anxious thought, it’s almost as if the future event is occurring in the present.
Our fear triggers the fight or flight response, which is physical. It causes increased heart rate, rapid breathing, blood vessel constriction, muscle tension, and other physiological reactions.
This is all to prepare you to face an imminent danger (which is not actually imminent, nor life-threatening).
You may not be able to control the anxiety you initially feel or the stress response that your body has, but you can calm yourself down.
Start by focusing on your breathing.
Take deep breaths – breathe in through your nose, allowing your stomach to expand to the count of four, hold it to the count of four, exhale to the count of four through your mouth and hold to the count of four.
Do this a few times. Then, focus on your body – try doing some exercise, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation.
This will help your body – and in turn, your mind – to calm down.
Remember that you are not in control of everything and you don’t always have the answers.
Surrender. Trust that everything is happening as it should and that you will be able to handle whatever comes your way.
Allow yourself to be carried by the waves instead of fighting against the current.
8. Embrace your alone time
Embrace your alone time, even if you’re not an introvert/HSP/empath (who all desperately need alone time to recharge).
Quarantine is a rare opportunity to take a break from the normal hustle and bustle of life. An opportunity to self-reflect, regroup and recharge.
Use this precious time to take account of all aspects of your life – physical health, mental health, finances, career, relationships, fun/creativity, spirituality, and fulfillment.
Rate them from 1-10, 1 being extremely dissatisfied and 10 being fully satisfied.
Get access to this Wheel of Life Worksheet (and other downloadable PDFs) in the Freebie Library.
From there, you can see which areas you are most dissatisfied with and therefore which areas you need to work on.
If you have always been too busy to create a personal development plan, now is the time!
9. Connect with others
Social interaction is crucial for our mental health.
While social distancing limits our face-to-face interaction, we can still connect through other forms of communication, such as video, phone, instant messenger, or mail.
Loneliness is a real possibility during this time, so make a concerted effort to keep in touch with loved ones.
You may also find comfort in playing multiplayer video games or connecting with others who have similar interests or struggles.
Quarantine Chat is specifically designed for people isolated at home during the coronavirus.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a website on which people can share their stories – You Are Not Alone.
10. Take it one day at a time
As with habits and goals, it’s important to take it one day at a time.
Each day make a commitment to protect and nurture your mental health.
Catastrophizing about the future or dwelling on the past is bad for your mental health, not to mention a complete waste of time. We don’t know what will happen in the future, nor can we change what happened in the past - all we really have is now.
When we look too far in the future, we can become overwhelmed. We can become paralyzed by feelings of fear and helplessness.
So, focus on what you can control, what matters – the present moment.
Help Spread Mental Health Awareness During National Mental Health Awareness Month
Hopefully, these tips have helped you get some ideas about how to look after your mental health, especially in times of crisis.
Help me spread awareness about the importance of protecting our mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month by sharing this post.
Also, what do you think is the most important habit to establish for mental health? Leave a comment below!
Share this & help someone else!