Last week I shared a very important post,
one in which I discuss mental health issues, my own struggles with it, and why I think it's so very crucial that now, more than ever, this is a topic that we need to be talking about, discussing, addressing and finding better solutions for. In the last week alone, since hitting publish on my post, I've seen countless articles detailing the alarming + rising rates of anxiety, depression and suicide, the issues with glorifying stress and busyness and, just the other day, the world lost an incredibly talented woman and beloved designer to mental health struggles. So, in case it still isn't obvious, I will say it again, this is a topic we need to be talking about well beyond the confines of just a month that is labeled as Mental Health Awareness month.
It's a crazy world out there, and mental health issues don't discriminate. Whether you're rich or poor, educated or uneducated, living in a penthouse or a third-world country, running a company or working the fast-food drive-through, anxiety/depression/panic attacks can rob us all of our mental well-being, like a thief in the night.
I definitely think one of the reasons mental health issues are on the rise is due in part to technology. It's made our lives more efficient with streamlined technology, but it's also made our lives busier because it leads us to believe that we can accomplish even more. It's made us more connected but also more alone, with real friendships and connections being replaced by superficial virtual ones that thrive on things like likes and comments. We used to have to just "Keep up with the Jones' " but now we have to keep up with an entire world of bloggers, Youtubers and Instagrammers who make it seem like they "have it all". And we're all so busy pretending, streamlining and keeping up that we often forget to slow down and truly check in with others, and more importantly, with ourselves, until, often, sadly, it's too late.
There are so many ways to help yourself or get help if you're struggling. I'm certainly not a professional, but I am an expert in dealing with some of these issues myself. So, I wanted to share a few of the things I've done that have truly, actually, really helped me. For years I've read article after article feeding me the same B.S. "get more sleep, eat more veggies" as if those simple steps are easy, magical cure-alls. If they were, trust me, I wouldn't be writing this post. I mean, don't get me wrong, those are certainly important steps, and I'll mention variations of those below, but it's not all that simple.
I definitely don't do all 26 of these all of the time. Some (like meditation and prayer) are daily habits, others (like coloring or avoiding caffeine) are dependent on what I feel like I need at the time. Regardless, I hope some of my suggestions help you, if you too struggle, but again, please remember, I am not a doctor or trained medical professional, and not all of these suggestions are right for everyone or will help everyone. These are merely things I've found that have helped me, and I beg you, if you are really, really struggling and nothing seems to be helping you, please, please, please seek the help of a professional. It is worth it, you are worth it.
Saying 'No' // I used to be a 'yes' person. I said yes to everything because I feared missing out on the best event, a great connection, a career-making move, losing a client, not getting paid for my work, losing friends, not progressing quickly enough in life. After all, every advice column, business speech and success story seems to tell us the secret to achieving it all is saying yes to it all. But the one thing many of them leave out, and the one thing, I left out, was saying 'yes' to my health + well-being. Over the last year I've realized that if I didn't start saying 'no', I wouldn't even be around to say 'yes' to anything at all. So learn to say no. Trust me, you'll be just fine and that missed event will be the last thing you'll be caring about if you're lying in the hospital. Know your boundaries, know your limits, know what you can handle, say 'yes' to your health + well-being, and say 'no' to everything else.
Activities that Require Your Hands (no, not like that *insert eye roll*) // Think pottery making, painting, cooking, baking, giving yourself a mani/pedi, knitting, gardening, etc.
Activities that Require You to Be off Your Phone // In addition to the above, think of things like workout classes, hiking, swimming, getting massages, going to the spa, not events or time with friends where you'll want to be on your phone documenting everything.
The 5 Rule // This usually applies to a decision that is giving me a lot of anxiety, but I stop and think about if whatever is giving me trouble will have an effect on my life in 5 years. If it won't then, I move on.
Seeing a Therapist // No explanation needed. Just do it. It will help.
Having Morning and Evening Routines // While I think the is important for everyone, I believe it is absolutely necessary if you work for yourself/from home. You need something to keep you accountable and give you purpose while also giving you something to either fuel your day or help you sleep. For example, my morning routine involves, meditation, prayer, gratitude journaling, hot lemon water, working out and breakfast, before ever even diving into emails and social media.
Limit Phone Use At Specific Times // I try to limit my phone use before 9:30am, after 6pm and at meals. Trust me, no email or Instagram comment is so detrimental that it needs to be repsonded to immediately.
Animals // Ok, this may just be me, but I find animals incredibly therapeutic. I follow various zoo and animal accounts on Instagram, find animal videos on Youtube, watch the birds out the window and may or may not make my husband stop to see some local goats by our favorite hiking spot whenever we go hiking.
Coloring/Drawing/Painting // This could also be filed under "Things to Do that Don't Require your Phone", but I decided to put it in it's own spot because it's that helpful to me. There's something so mindless and relaxing about getting lost in creating artwork. And if you think you can't draw or paint, just get a coloring book. There's so many options available, they're basically fool-proof, and it's a great whether you have 10 minutes or 2 hours.
Playing Board Games // Another great way to get out of your own head and think about things other than your anxiety or stress. We especially love scrabble in our household!
Reading // Self-help books are great and all, but when you're anxious or stressed is not when you should be reading them. Instead, you should be ready chic lit/beach reads aka things that are easy to digest, light and fun, and won't require you to question your own life decisions too much.
Avoiding Caffeine // This is a tough one for me, since I love coffee so much, but I try to only have one cup of coffee a day, avoid strong brews, opt for decaf when I can, and, if I'm really struggling, I'll swap coffee for a calming tea instead.
Journaling // Sometimes the best way to stop replaying thoughts on repeat is to get them out of your head and onto paper, which is exactly where journaling comes into play. I used to journal every day, but sometimes I don't have anything to say and trying to force words can be an anxiety trigger, so I journal when I need to and don't when I don't.
Watching Mindless TV // The funnier and the trashier the better because the point is to distract you from your own thoughts and, most importantly, make you laugh, not watch a movie about murder, monsters or world demise.
Breathing Exercises // Simply pausing and remembering to breath can really help you get a grip on a panic attack or anxiety. My favorite one to do is breathing in for the count of 4, holding for the count of 4, then breathing out for the count of 7, then repeating several times.
Spending Time in Nature // Obviously this depends on where you live, so, when we were in NY it meant hanging out on our rooftop deck or going to places like Brooklyn Bridge Park. In LA, it means going to the beach or going for a hike in the mountains.
Wine All Else Fails // Ok, obviously wine isn't always the answer, and sometimes it makes mental health issues worse, but other times, pouring yourself a glass of wine is exactly what you need to chill out. That and a piece of dark chocolate ;)
Gratitude Journal // You don't need anything but a simple notebook to have a morning gratitude journal (although I know you can buy specific gratitude journals to help guide you). Every day, in mine, I write an inspirational quote, followed by a few things I'm grateful for, what will make my day great and an affirmation. In the evening, I add a few highlights from the day (things I'm thankful for, things that went well, etc).
Accomplishment Lists // For me, a lot of my anxiety comes from thinking I haven't done enough or I'm not doing enough, or I'm failing. So, towards the end of every work week (i.e. Friday afternoon), in my gratitude journal, I write a list of all my accomplishments for the week, literally everything from the silly and simple (like responding to a specific email, unloading the dishwasher, washing my hair, etc) to the bigger and more complex items (like closing on a client deal, shooting a big campaign, etc). I will also do this anytime I'm having a particularly tough time getting through a day or project. It may be silly to write down such simple things like getting up or getting dressed, but trust me, when you are struggling, those simple things can be big accomplishments, and seeing pages filled with all your "silly" accomplishments can be just the push you need to help you out of your funk.
Meditation // I resisted meditation for the longest time, mostly because I (wrongly) assumed it to be some weird religious thing. I can assure you that it is not. It is, however, incredibly helpful. When things we're getting particularly difficult for me recently, I finally decided I needed to give in and try meditating, as I was so desperate for something to help me, and this was one of the few things I had yet to try. It has truly been my saving grace over the last month, and I now can't go a day without meditating at least once (often times I even meditate two or three times a day...I know, #SoLA of me!). There are lots of apps, classes, etc out there to guide you in meditation, but the one I have been using is the Calm app, which I am obsessed with. In particular, I find the breathing circle and emergency calm helpful in difficult situations, I love the Daily Calms to kick off my day, and the sleep meditations are pretty much the only way I fall asleep now.
Getting a Support System // It is absolutely crucial to find a solid support system. And no, the people who only comment on your Instagram photos if you comment on theirs does not count. You need someone, like a family member, a friend or a spouse, who truly knows you so well they'll know when things are off, someone who can truly be there for you to support you and love you, someone who will remember to take time out of their day just to see how you're doing. Mental health issues can feel incredibly lonely, but they should never be tackled alone.
Helping Others // Volunteering allows you to get outside of your own head, and takes the focus off your issues. Plus, the feel-good factor of helping others is a great boost for your own self-esteem.
Prayer + Church // I am by no means telling you to go to church, become religious, etc. but for me, my faith life has helped me tremendously. I pray daily, talking to God when I feel like I have no one else to talk to. At my lowest low points, it has honestly been the only glimmer of light that has kept me going on, and the weeks when I don't go to church, or the times I'm not praying as much, I feel far less at peace and centered than I would otherwise. To each their own, but for me, this has become a non-negotiable in dealing with my mental health struggles.
Taking a Bath // It's relaxing, you can read or chill (sans phone), you can even have a glass of wine...I don't think any further explanation is needed.
Afternoon Breaks // My preferred choice is taking a nap, but obviously that isn't always realistic. However, stepping away from your computer and/or phone, taking a quick walk around the block, reading for 15 minutes, grabbing a coffee/tea/juice, doing a little coloring, etc are fairly reasonable and quick breaks we can all take that have a huge impact on how we feel throughout the rest of the day.
Sweat it Out // On days I don't workout, I feel much worse than the days that I do. That being said, it has to be a workout you WANT to do, or you'll be stressed at the thought of doing something you dislike. For me, I like boxing, pilates, yoga, beach walks and hikes. Classes typically give me anxiety so I stick to at-home videos (because they're convenient and free and I can do them alone).
Being Aware of What You're Putting into Your Body // I 1000% believe that food is medicine and what you put into your body is what you get out of it, i.e. if you fuel it with shit you're going to feel like shit. I also believe supplements are incredibly powerful and I notice a big difference when I skip mine for more than a few days. I also think you have to listen to your own body and what works best for it, not what some diet or plan tells you. For example, I've noticed that if I have my daily smoothie for breakfast versus an afternoon snack it drastically effects the way I feel. So listen to your body, do your research, cut out the junk.
This to Shall Pass // Whether I'm caught up on a decision or terrible thoughts, I feel hurt or down or when I'm having a panic attack, I repeat to myself that nothing lasts forever and this too shall pass, even reminding myself of examples of past times where things have passed. Another way I like to look at it (that I learned via my mediation app) is the practice of viewing our thoughts and feelings like clouds in the sky, and how they just keep on floating by, until eventually they're gone.