It is an urban myth that improving your mental health takes a long time. In fact, great gains can be made fairly quickly if we take the right steps. Today we are going to explore some of the most effective strategies for reducing stress and decreasing your risk of burnout, anxiety, and depression!
Take a Pause
When your mental health starts to dip, it’s time to stop and regroup. With so many demands and expectations coming at you each day, it is easy to go months (or even years) without taking a break to reflect on your life and how it is going. Are you living a life that feels fulfilling? Are you working towards goals that are meaningful to and excite you? Do you feel you have time to tend to your own needs? Are you happy?
Not taking time to pause and reflect on how you actual feel about yourself and your life is akin to driving through a new country and never checking the map. You will have no idea if you are headed in the right direction, how long to the next gas station, or where you can stop to rest. Your brain and subconscious mind keeps track of your journey through life much like a GPS does and when we start to get off course (e.g. away from our goals and needs) so does our mental health. So, if you are starting to feel worn down, now is the time to stop and re-assess how things are going.
Lighten the Load
We live in a world that praises us for working until we burnout and then shames us because we burned out. One look at the controversy surrounding Simone Biles’ decision to step back from Olympic competition to tend to her mental health tells us how far we still have to go to eliminate the idea that rest is weakness.
If you feel yourself slowing down and everything you do starts to feel more difficult, it is likely you have taken on too much for too long. Our brains were NOT designed to manage the daily multitude of stressors without extensive recovery. So, the more you take on without adequate rest and recovery, the more you compromise your mental health and performance.
What can you do to lighten the load? If you were put on bedrest for 30 days, what would you hand off to someone else? What problems (or people) would you stop spending energy on? To improve your mental health, you will have to lighten the load you are carrying even if it is only temporary. And yes – that means you might have to ask for help (#sorrynotsorry) but it also means that you give yourself the opportunity to see how much stress and pressure is coming from all the “little” things you’ve taken on over time.
Mind your Inputs
A full cup makes a healthy mind.
Inputs are experiences or activities that help us create energy. Close your eyes and imagine the last time you had a good laugh. Put yourself back in that moment and as you relive it, feel the change it makes in your body. Are you laughing?
Inputs can be psychological like a happy memory, time with loved ones or feelings of gratitude. They can also be physical such as sleep, nutritious food, water, and movement. The easiest way to identify if something is an input is by the feeling you have when you are done. Look for that “that was great” feeling or “wow, I feel so much better now”. Once you identify what fills your cup, make sure you prioritize it. Block off time in your schedule. Act like it is a prescription for life and take it religiously!
Hobbies, downtime, and other opportunities for meaningful connection are not luxuries for living, they are the very ways in which you harvest enough energy for the busy lives we live. Never take on a task without finding a way to compensate for the energy it will require!
Forget the Shoulds and Have Tos!
If you change nothing else, change this… Stop Shoulding Yourself!
These terms are fear-based and force your brain to focus on the negative consequences of something rather than the positive benefits of the same.
Consider the following statement and its reframed alternative:
I have to get that laundry done before we go out to dinner tonight.
I’d really like to get that laundry done so I can relax when we go to dinner tonight.
Which feels less stressful?
When we reframe things in a way that connects them to what we want, our brain works to make it happen without triggering heightened stress and anxiety. Without the stress and anxiety (aka panic), we do not need to waste time on worry or procrastination. Instead, we are free to focus on getting it done so we can enjoy the reward.
For the next 24 hours… pay attention to how many SHOULDs and HAVE TOs you are responding to. Then, reframe them in a way that helps you connect to the benefit of each action – no matter how big or small the task. If you can’t find a benefit… ask someone else for help or consider why that action needs to be taken in the first place. Give your mental health a substantial boost by ridding yourself of the weight of some invisible authority and start calling your own shots!
Be Intentional About Engagement
As a child, you did what you were told (maybe 😉). As an adolescent, you did whatever helped you avoid feeling anxious. As young adults, you likely did what you thought you were supposed to. But why are you doing things now?
So many of us are moving through the world without intention. We nurture friendships that went stale years ago. We work at jobs that drain us. We take in news and information that has no relevance to the lives we want to create. We do all of this to the detriment of our mental health.
To improve your mental health, you will need to be intentional about the things you do and the people you do them with. You #1 job is to make sure that everything in your life has meaning and relevance to you, your goals, and your well-being. So, what is in your life that needs to be intentionally reconsidered? What needs to be added or removed to move you closer to the life you want?
A full cup and a bright future!
Improving your mental health is about establishing balance between the energy you create and the energy you spend. Keeping a full cup mentally is a sure-fire way to protect yourself against anxiety, depression, and a variety of mental illnesses. Small changes can have big rewards so start with just one of the steps above and see the impact it can make. Then when you have mastered that habit, add another!
Have you found these tips helpful? Are you looking for more? Jump over to our Facebook page (@bskinnerpsych) and leave a comment or join the BSCP Resource Group (BSCP Resource Group | Facebook) for more tips including live Q&A!
Bonnie J. Skinner, MEd, CCC, RP
B. Skinner Coaching & Psychotherapy