With the lazy days of summer mostly behind us, we find ourselves moving into one of the busier, and potentially more stressful, times of the year. The good news is, forewarned is forearmed, and there are plenty of things you can start doing today to help boost your mental health and emotional well-being.
From a recent article in the Houston Methodist publication On Health, here are some simple tricks to help you control stress and maintain an optimistic outlook on life.
Start your day on a positive note
Your mindset has a lot to do with your perspective, so starting your day on a positive note is very important. We all go through ups and downs, but taking some quiet time each morning to consciously focus on something positive – giving yourself a compliment, acknowledging something or someone you're grateful for, or identifying something in your day to be excited about – can improve your mental health and outlook on the day.
It can be easy to fixate on questions like: What if? Why me? and What's next? However, these questions can distract your mind from enjoying life and completing tasks.
Rather than worrying about what might be, focus on what is happening now. Your coffee is hot. This new playlist sounds fun. Your dog looks extra fluffy today. Whether it's a sound, smell, taste or sight, focusing on physical sensations you're experiencing can help quiet your busy mind and ground you in the present moment.
Make time for exercise
We all know that exercising regularly is an important part of staying healthy, but exercise also benefits your brain — supporting cognitive function, improving mood and reducing stress and anxiety.
Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, all of which help to relieve stress and regulate your mood. Even 20 minutes of exercise can help you cope with stress and improve your mental health. It's also a great way to feel a sense of accomplishment, as well as a healthy way to take control of your life during a time of uncertainty.
Your brain is one of the busiest organs in your body — and it needs the right kind of fuel to keep it functioning at its very best.
Eating well-balanced meals full of foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can help improve your mood and promote cognitive function. A healthy diet includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Take note that processed foods, which can be high in refined sugars and saturated fats, are not on this list.
Social distancing will remain important throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but social distancing does not have to mean being socially isolated. From phone calls to video chat and other digital tools, there are plenty of ways to stay connected with friends and loved ones during the pandemic.
After all, humans are social creatures. Both the quality and quantity of our social relationships impact our mental health, so it's important to stay social. Plus, socializing with another person can be a great way to learn new things, reminisce about happy times in the past or even just laugh — as well as serve as a second set of eyes to help find the silver lining in a stressful or frustrating situation.
Set goals for yourself
There's nothing like the feeling of accomplishment. Whether it's losing 10 pounds, saving up money for a down payment or finally getting that junk closet cleaned out — achieving a goal can help boost your self-esteem and self-worth.
Big or small, goals give you a purpose and provide motivation to continue moving forward. Make a list of five to ten possible goals, then narrow them down to the two or three you want to focus on most. Don’t shy away from making them challenging, but be sure to keep them realistic and attainable.
Take sleep seriously
Streaming television shows, social media, the latest game on your smart phone…there are so many temptations to make us put off bedtime for just thirty more minutes.
The truth is, lack of sleep, as well as low-quality sleep, can have a big impact on how you feel the next day. It can make you more irritable, as well as reduce your ability to concentrate on tasks.
This means it's important to make sure you're getting enough sleep every single night. It's also important to make sure you're setting yourself up for sleep success — develop a nighttime routine that helps you unplug, relax and ease into a good night’s sleep.
Reach out for help
If you feel like stress, sadness or negative feelings are starting to pile up, try confiding in a friend, family member, or counselling professional. Talking to someone about your concerns can help you process your feelings more fully, and may help reduce some of the burden you're feeling.
Where do you start? It doesn’t really matter, just pick one that feels right and try it. The simple act of starting is more important than your starting point.