If you want better mental health, there’s no need to completely overhaul your life. Wellness results from taking small steps and maintaining them over time. Since the change has to start somewhere, I’d like to challenge you to try seven new things, one each day next week, toward improving your mental health.
Mindfulness is the practice of returning your attention to the present moment while acknowledging and accepting all feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations. People who use mindfulness regularly report less stress, anxiety, and depression and improved sleep. It’s a simple practice that can be difficult to do. Being mindful means not being on autopilot but also not getting caught up in your thoughts and emotions. It is important to note that any task can be completed mindfully. For example, I mindfully cleaned out the refrigerator last week and then I mindfully gagged when I found leftovers that should have been thrown out weeks ago.
Here are a few mindfulness exercises to try today:
- First, choose an item near you—a leaf, a paper clip, a pen, that thing your spouse left lying around that you know you asked him or her to pick up at least fifteen times—anything will work. Then set a timer on your phone for one to three minutes and focus your attention on your chosen item. Notice how it feels, how heavy it is, its colors and angles. When your mind wanders, and it will just let those thoughts and images float by and bring your attention back to the item.
- For another exercise, set a timer for five minutes, and then use your senses to observe the world around you. For the first minute, breathe slowly in and out and observe your breath and the sensation of breathing. During minutes two through five, focus on your senses one at a time. Bring your attention and awareness to what you can hear, smell, see and feel. As in the last exercise, when thoughts or reactions come into your mind, don’t judge them or yourself. Release them and refocus your attention back to your senses.
- In your mind (or out loud if your family, friends, or co-workers aren’t all judgy), match up letters to numbers, as in A1, B2, C3, D4, and so on. When you lose track, just start back at the beginning. “A1, B2, C3, D4, E5, F6, GH, what should I make for dinner tonight…oops…A1, B2, C3…” No need to judge your error or distractibility. The practice of returning your attention to the task is where mindfulness becomes helpful.
I don’t mean literally eat tacos on Tuesday although you’re welcome to if that’s how your tortilla turns. What I’m talking about is spending mealtime with friends or family. Because of the busy schedules we keep, many of our meals are eaten on the run, at our desks, or in phases as family members get home for the night at different times. Try to pick one night per week to have dinner together as a family. Or start a weekly tradition and invite friends over for a special dish or meal. Pick a theme, wear costumes, decorate, and maybe implement a cover charge to offset costs. I’m just kidding about the cover charge. Mostly. But the idea is to do something special to honor this time you have with the important people in your life.
When you do the same things over and over, you get the same results. Change your routine today by trying something new, like pottery, kayaking, journaling, or shot put. New activities build new connections in your brain and in your social life. Hint: You don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it. Take blog writing, for example. 😉
Clutter stresses us out and contributes to mental health problems. Grab a laundry basket and a kitchen timer. Pick one room of your house and for two minutes, fill that container with items you no longer want or need. Take two more minutes to decide if the items in your basket should be donated or tossed. In just under five minutes, you’ve taken a big step toward reducing clutter from your life and your mind. Fair warning though, you’ve probably also ruined your child’s life because she NEEDED that toy you just got rid of that she hadn’t played within two years. It was obviously her favorite. Geez.
Everyone knows that exercise is good for you. It boosts self-esteem and mood and is the key to health and longevity. Yet, not everyone is physically active on a regular basis. For many, the thought of joining a gym or signing up for a class is daunting. Start simple: What did you like to do when you were younger? Tennis, soccer, swimming? Choose something you used to enjoy and try that again. Of if like me, you had your nose in a book and can’t remember enjoying physical activity even in childhood, check out a local trail or look online for some basic yoga poses. Include the whole family or ask a friend to join you. Five minutes of physical activity is enough to get those feel-good chemicals flowing and can easily turn into twenty or thirty minutes before you know it.
Nutrition and mental health go hand-in-hand. Many of the foods we eat on a daily basis are heavily processed and filled with chemicals. Create a menu for today that includes only fresh foods and foods with few ingredients on the label. Notice how you feel after eating foods that are more natural and unprocessed. (Also notice how you feel after washing A LOT of dishes–clean eating tends to involve many, many pans.)
Finally, go outside. Many of us don’t get enough sunlight which means our vitamin D levels are not where they should be. Vitamin D is important for mental and physical health and just twenty to thirty minutes in the sun three times a week can help. So today, for a quick mood boost, do some yard work, sip your coffee on the patio, or go streaking* in your neighborhood.
*This is a terrible idea.
Try each of these and see which are most helpful to you. Then repeat as needed.
Have a great week!
***The content of this blog should not be considered an alternative to quality mental health care and is intended to be a source of information only.***