The times when the topic of mental and emotional health was taboo seem long gone.
Thanks to many initiatives to increase awareness of mental health issues, the subject is becoming increasingly commonplace. It is fair to say, however, that awareness alone is not enough: better mental and emotional health, whether individual or collective, requires thoughtful actions, support resources, and preventative measures.
Whether you struggle with a mental condition or simply could do with some resilience: these tips will help you stay balanced and in touch with your mental and emotional health needs.
1. Get to Know Yourself
It might sound a little obvious, but if we dig deeper into what we actually know about ourselves, we will often discover that a lot remains hidden.
We have an idea of who we are and a general sense of our likes and dislikes, but when it comes to our behavioral patterns or even the quality of our thoughts, we can be quite clueless.
Consciously spending time investigating your thoughts and how you relate to your life will inevitably reveal some surprising insights into who you are and what you need.
And this will support you to make healthy choices to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health.
There are many daily practices for checking in with yourself and it will vary for the individual what works best. The general goal is to externalize your thoughts and experiences, transferring them from your head onto paper, audio, video, word document, etc.
In order to remain engaged in and committed to the process, it is important to know what you respond to best.
Are you a nervous sort of person? Maybe taking time away from your screen to write with some good old pen and paper is best for you, perhaps even in a garden or park. Do you need help sticking to regular journaling?
Then it can be useful to have an audience and/or community support. Consider starting a YouTube channel or even see if blogging is for you. However, make sure you figure out a way to stay healthy in your interactions.
2. Reach Out
Humans need regular social interaction to maintain good health – literally. We are wired to enjoy better physical, mental and emotional health if we are part of a community.
While some people will rejoice at hearing this, others are cringing in horror – especially as an introvert, sufferer from social anxiety, or otherwise isolated. The good news is that a little goes a long way.
Yes, you will have to come out of your comfort zone if socializing doesn’t come naturally to you, but there is no need to force yourself to become the life of the party.
Instead, start where you are, think of what is doable for you now, and find people you have something in common with.
The main point is that you feel seen and you get into the habit of sharing some of what goes on with you. Moreover, you get to be there for someone else, too, which will likely make you feel useful and valued.
Discussing the harder things in life can also do wonders for your mental health, for instance, in safe spaces such as anonymous support groups, online communities, or a therapist or coach.
3. Get Moving
You’ve already heard countless times that exercise helps to lessen depression and keeps us physically and mentally flexible, which in itself is reason enough to get some of your favorite sports in.
But it’s more than just exercising; your mental and emotional health benefits from keeping your energy moving freely and not allowing yourself to get stuck in a funk for too long.
Again, it’s all about balance, so forcing matters is never helpful, especially when you are only trying to get rid of very real emotions and experiences that need the space to be processed.
However, gentle ways to keep things flowing – even in difficult and painful times – can create a bit of perspective or, at the very least, some distraction.
For instance, try going for walks, taking three deep belly breaths throughout the day, doing some light yoga, getting that one house chore done, painting or creating in some other way, or even just putting on your favorite music to dance to in your living room.
Fresh air and nature have also proven to enhance well-being and reduce stress, so be sure to get outside when you can.
4. Schedule Breathing Space
In between your daily duties, routines and all the supportive – but at times overwhelming – self-help practices, make sure you have space to simply take a breather. If your schedule allows creating that on-demand, that’s a great luxury.
However, in order to prevent any self-sabotage and to ensure you actually take the time you need, it’s best to simply schedule some free time for doing absolutely nothing.
If doing nothing makes you anxious, then find another way to take a breather, such as sitting on a bench in the park or practicing some form of meditation. Whatever you do, allow space for your mind to wander and your feelings to show up as they are.
Practice befriending the moment and allowing whatever arises to simply come and go.
5. Prepare for Lesser Days
When we talk about self-care, it is tempting to immediately visualize a day at the spa, decadent meals, and retail therapy. Indeed, self-care is often associated with a ‘treat yourself‘ mentality, which completely misses the point.
To take care of yourself means taking responsibility for your own mental and emotional health, as well as physical wellbeing. After all, you are the person with access to the most data on you, so it makes sense that you should be the one to put this information to constructive use.
One of the ways in which you can practice effective self-care is by celebrating the good days and preparing for the not-so-good days. Whether you have a mental condition or not, life inevitably throws us curveballs and it is useful to know what we need when it does.
If you have arrived at some sort of routine journaling practice, you will be able to track your patterns and triggers. Knowing your boundaries and limits, as well as your sources of energy and support, will help you prepare for difficult times.
For instance, you can draw up a self-care checklist that you can go through on days when you just don’t know what to do with yourself.
Include basic needs, such as water, food and sleep, as well as needs specific to you personally, such as distractions that work for you, people or helplines to call, and practices that bring you comfort or relief.
Perhaps even make a self-care emergency kit with items that have proven great sources of support in the past. This way, once a ‘bad day’ does arrive, you don’t have to rely on your already overwhelmed brain to think of how to proceed.