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Whether we’re kicking it with our cat, hunkered down at home with our kiddos, or getting to know a lot more about our roommates than we ever wanted to, there's one person we are all definitely spending a lot more time with these days: ourselves.
And—no judgment—but for most of us, our self-care muscles aren’t exactly bikini season ready.
It’s understandable—we normally live busy lives, and many of us don’t have time to focus on (really focus, not just read memes about) our mental wellness. But letting your mental health sit and eat chips on the couch just won’t cut it anymore.
In the times we’re living in, self-care isn't a luxury—it's a necessity. If we’re going to make it through these dark and stressful days, we quite literally can't afford to not take care of both our bodies and our minds.
So, while you may not be able to attend your favorite Bootcamp right now, that doesn't mean you can't enroll in a Bootcamp of mental wellness. And honestly? It's a lot less sweaty.
Here are six helpful tips based on the tried and true advice from mental health care experts.
Cultivating good routines is one of the mainstays of a healthy mind. Sure, gratifying your inner ten-year-old and eating ice cream for breakfast for a week started off fun, but at some point, it can make you feel untethered and contribute to your anxiety. Having a routine doesn’t mean scheduling every hour of the day, but it does mean having consistent patterns for waking up and going to sleep, as well as dedicated time for both work and fun. Bonus: a sense of routine will give you things to look forward to, and will help the time pass more quickly.
Right now there's still a lot we don't know, and you probably don’t need a therapist to tell you that it’s a pretty straight shot from uncertainty to anxiety. Staying informed is smart, but spending hours reading the rants of strangers online won’t diminish your stress level and will clutter up your brain. So pick a few trusted sources of information, and limit the time you spend reading up on them. And be strategic about when you do so—for instance, consider wedging in your research during the day so that it's not the last thing you're thinking about as you try to get some restful sleep.
Now that you’ve cut back on the negativity coming from your phone or your TV, you might be noticing it from another source—your own head. That’s because it’s easy to be hard on ourselves, particularly when we’re stressed. But when the world outside gets toxic, it’s even more important for the inside of our minds be a safe place. So, make an effort to talk to yourself like you would a friend who’s going through a difficult time. Take the time to acknowledge your accomplishments for the day, even if they’re minor (you did laundry!? Heck yeah!). And if you just can’t silence the negativity, it’s okay to ask for help. There are a lot of fantastic and affordable remote therapy options, and now may be the time to make exploring them a priority.
Now that you’re in your own head—in a good way—the next step to learning what you need is to ask questions. It’s a great time to try out something like a personality test to learn more about who you are and how you relate to the world around you. But don’t get stuck feeling existential—you should also learn how to pay attention to what you need in the moment with easy mindfulness techniques like a Body Scan. Once you’re done, follow it up with some gentle probing: What would taste, smell, sound, or feel good right now? You’ll be surprised at what your body is asking for if you listen. Or, try a virtual meditation class to help you find focused calm.
Once you’ve determined what your body and mind are craving, be intentional and generous. We all have a tendency to mentally multi-task, even when we’re doing things we enjoy—but being intentional means taking time to hyperfocus on whatever nice thing you’ve chosen to give yourself. So savor the sensation of taking that deep breath of air, or throw yourself into a performance of your favorite song. And don’t hold out on yourself: do this kind of thing multiple times a day! It may seem insignificant given the larger life problems you’re up against, but performing small acts of kindness for yourself throughout the day can provide the serotonin boosts that your body desperately needs to stay functional.
Not only is learning super good for us, but it’s also a healthy distraction, which is a very powerful tool for mental wellness. If there’s a topic you’ve always been curious about or an achievable skill that you want to improve in (think organization, not opera singing) now’s the time. Listen to a Podcast on a topic that fascinates you. Open a language learning app and dust off your high school Spanish. And while you’re learning, remember to set reasonable expectations for yourself, because it’s okay if you’re not the next Marie Kondo. The point is to continue to stay mentally active, even if your physical activity’s taken a hit.
Shelter-at-home can mean a lot of time alone with some very scary thoughts. We can either be totally swamped, or we can be kind to ourselves.
Taking time to learn and apply good mental health hygiene will benefit us long after this crisis is over. Hang in there. Be nice to you.
Have you been feeling it? The big emotion floating around the last few weeks is the Big Anxiety. Coupled with the stress of what the COVID-19 pandemic has bought for millions of people, disturbed wellness routines, and worry, we have a recipe to create massive damage to ourselves.
Adjusting to the new normal, with social distancing practices in place and adapting to precautions and routines, may be the root of even more anxiousness for many as we’re navigating uncharted territories.
During times of high stress, our bodies experience a physiological strain, where essentially everything from our heart, muscles, blood, and energy have to work harder than needed in order to keep functioning at a minimum. Our body’s natural processes, like breathing, can get compromised, lessening the healing functions of the nervous system, and overworking our adrenal system. Stress management is almost non-existent. This overtaxing of the body disrupts the natural flow of energy and resources, and puts us in something known as the “fight or flight” mode. In this mode, we are constantly deciding if there is some kind of real danger and how to survive it. We feel these signals when our heart rate and blood pressure rise, our stress responses like sweating and either constricted or super fast breathing occur, and our feel-good hormones become compromised.
As we process anxiety, not only do we mentally and emotionally feel the repercussions, we also physically confuse our systems that are doing their best to naturally heal us. Staying in a state of continued anxiety with an overactive sympathetic nervous system can be incredibly damaging to your health, even if it is a small amount of stress that collects over time. Stress suppresses our immunity, digestion, deep breathing, disrupts sleep, and eating patterns, impacts mood, energy levels, and much more.
Studies show that over 50% of adults are essentially holding their breaths. They do a shallow type of breathing known as thoracic breathing, where you breathe lightly into your chest instead of into your diaphragm. For example, notice how you’re breathing right now. You’re likely holding your breath to some extent and you’re probably not breathing much at all. If you’re asked to partake in a deep breathing exercise now, you’ll puff up your chest and shoulders, and empty out your stomach. Guilty?
If you’ve ever seen a baby breathe or the breathing technique of someone in deep sleep, you’ll notice that their bellies rise and fall; the oxygen goes directly into a natural deep belly breath. Adults, however, have become acclimated to holding our breaths without meaning to. When we can slow down and practice deep breathing, we send physical and neurological signals through our entire body that asks us to rest.
The great news is that there are easy breathing exercises we can do at home that do not take a lot of time or effort. An incredible tool that anyone can use in times of high stress is remembering to inhale and exhale. Yes, breathing. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended breathwork not simply as an immunity building tool, but as a way to balance emotional and mental wellbeing. Deep breathing and other breathwork improves the body’s overall functions; improves the respiratory system, builds protective mucus in the nose, oxygenates and blood and brain, improves digestion, alkalizes the full body, and much more. Each style of breathwork sends special physiological signals—some ask us our bodies to slow down and chill, to get out of fight mode, and bring us back to equilibrium where our body’s natural healing systems can be activated; some styles of breathwork ask to pump up and energize.
It’s common to find yourself rushing through breathing practices or feel like you need to set aside special time for it. But that’s the point. We get to slow down, and we get to implement these practices even if there are distractions, business, and no perfect zen meditation corners in our homes. We can do these anytime, anywhere.
If you’ve been feeling any small symptoms of anxiousness or stress, now is the perfect time to incorporate some incredibly easy and effective breathwork techniques into your day-to-day.
This breathing technique can be done at any time of the day, for as long as you want. It’s recommended to practice this for at least 30 seconds to start and several times throughout the day. It’s a breath technique to practice before going to sleep as well. As you’re doing this breath, imagine your stomach like a big pump. As you breathe in, you’re expanding; as you breathe out, you’re emptying out.
1. Put your hands on your belly/abdomen area.
2. Take a big breath through the nose and PUSH your hands away from the belly as you breathe in. Expand your stomach as much as possible and try not to puff up your chest.
3. Slowly exhale through the mouth and constrict your belly inwards. Feel free to make a sound with the mouth when you do this.
4. Repeat for a minimum of 30 seconds.
The 6-7-8 breath can be done at any time of the day to calm anxiousness and stress, especially before doing to sleep. It’s a self-soothing technique that helps relax and calm the nervous system. You can do this practice sitting up or laying down.
1. Close down your eyes.
2. Relax your mouth.
3. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 6 full seconds. Count in your head and maintain an even pace.
4. Hold this breath for 7 seconds.
5. Pucker your mouth and exhale out through the mouth with a “whoooooossh” sound for 8 seconds.
6. Repeat this 6-7-8 breath for at least 5 rounds, or as long as you wish.
You can adjust the 6-7-8 counts to accommodate your pace. You can try a 4-5-6 sequence, or an 8-9-10 sequence. Play around with the length of time that feels good for your body. Some people love to sit by an analog clock for the ticking sound to help keep pace; some love to incorporate music.
This is another easy technique that can be done at any time of the day.
1. Breathe in for 4 seconds through the nose.
2. Hold for 4 seconds.
3. Exhale for 4 seconds through the nose.
4. Hold for 4 seconds.
5. Repeat at least 5 times.
You can play around with the timing for 6 seconds, 8 seconds, and so on to see what works best for your body.
These are the top three breathwork techniques to manage anxiety and stress. Plenty of other techniques work on sleep, inner healing, subconscious programming, altered states of consciousness, and more. Play with the three techniques above and see what feels great for you. It’s common to find a sense of calm almost immediately, some gentle tingling, and relaxation! As we’re adjusting to the new normal, let’s all contribute to creating peace both inside and out.