“It’s just hard. I don’t know what to do or where to begin. I just feel lost. Hopeless.” All we know is – we want to get better, right? But, the road to getting there is often meandering and less than encouraging. Mental health and self-care? Is it even possible? Do we even know what we’re doing? And are we doing it right? After all, we’re battling the intangible. The elusive bits of the psyche. The truth? – It’s easier than one might think. Routine. Mental flossing, as you will. The first step to getting better? Saying “yes” to self-love. Easier said than done, granted. Recent unprecedented times have involuntarily welcomed anxiety, depression, and other mental health obstacles into our existence. How do we fight back? Here are our top tips for overcoming mental health challenges.
Burnouts, depression, chronic stress; welcome to modern times. As unforgiving and hostile as our environment might seem, some tangible upsides exist. We’re evolving as species; the impending doom? Oh, we have the antidote; it all starts with self-awareness.
Yes to mindfulness
Yes, we know; it’s become a cliché. The “M” word. “Why don’t you start practicing mindfulness?” We’ve all heard the question countless times. But, to be fair, it’s no new-age philosophy. The animosity toward developing mindfulness, our “No, thank you” reflex, actually comes from a place of a deeply rooted insecurity; what if we fail? Mindfulness practice takes time. It requires our undivided attention – and for most of us, time is a challenge. Balancing our careers, social life, romantic relationships, and other intricately intertwined aspects leaves no room for authentic “me-time.” However, let’s not discard this exceptionally healing tool just yet. Mindfulness practices have a cumulative effect on our mental apparatus. Try:
- Breathing: mindful breathing can instantly quiet our aching mind and body. Deep breathing exercises help us pay attention to the sensation of our breath while we inhale and exhale (long, deep breaths). This simple exercise teaches us to anchor ourselves in the present moment, so we can let go of future or past-oriented rumination. Mindfulness breathing can decrease negative thinking, reduce anxiety symptoms, and help with burnout.
- Meditation: meditation affects the gray matter in the brain; the positive changes help us regulate our emotions, improve the quality of sleep and our ability to learn and process information, and alleviate symptoms of addiction, chronic pain, stress, anxiety, and depression.
Let’s get physical
The body is the mind’s vessel; needless to say, it needs nurturing. There is immense healing potential in movement. Being active for just 30 minutes a day can make a tremendous difference, and we’re not saying, “go auto-bully.” No. Regular exercise doesn’t necessarily have to be strenuous (unless we’re already into bodybuilding and other hardcore work activities). Instead, we should start slow and choose our pace. Listen to what our bodies are telling us. The most important thing? We need to pick something we enjoy doing. Otherwise, the initial enthusiasm will dissipate; sooner rather than later. The more enjoyable the activity, the more motivated we will feel. Persistence is key—simple math. Exercise is a terrific stress reliever; if the goal is to keep stress at bay, it’s a no-brainer. The road to overcoming mental health challenges? It’s easy; choose your favorite activity and stick to it religiously.
- Youtube guided workout routines
- rope skipping
- anything you like, really
Individuals with strong bonds (familial or social) are less likely to face mental health challenges than those lacking genuine support. Close connections are crucial for our sense of well-being. And, by close, we mean healthy. Not toxic. Sadly, we’re more than capable of neglecting our relationships when life gets hectic. (we’ve all done it) However, cultivating and maintaining healthy, meaningful bonds is critical to overcoming life’s hardships. Can we walk this life alone? Surely. We can try. But it’s anything but joyous. Meaningful individuals in our life will:
- provide us with a sense of purpose and belonging
- build our self-esteem and confidence
- root for us when things go south
- help us grieve and confront pain
- prevent feelings of social isolation and loneliness
- teach us how to grow and see hardships from a constructive perspective
- bring humor into our lives
- help us quit unhealthy habits
Yes to expression
We often overlook the obvious; it’s not all doom and gloom. Mental health challenges can be (if we let them) our creative driving force. False? The list is endless: Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Sylvia Plath, Søren Kierkegaard. Genius after genius after genius. What do they have in common? Fragile mental health. Our depression can be a source of tremendous beauty; why not use it? Is anxiety keeping us awake at night? Why not use it? Self-expression is of immense value when things start to fall apart. Shyness? – “No, thank you.” Creation is an utterly important aspect of self-care. Instead of accumulating all the oppressing emotions, why not articulate them? And, remember: we’re not striving for perfection. We’re merely trying to quiet the emotional and mental noise. Try:
- short stories
- insert your go-to outlet
It might sound counterintuitive, right? If I’m drowning, how am I supposed to help others? How is that self-care? Fair question. However, helping someone in need can, indeed, have positive effects on our mental health. (the opposite of Munchausen’s syndrome, we’re helping ourselves by proxy) Cause and effect; by helping others, we get to:
- boost our self-esteem
- experience a sense of renewal
- form meaningful bonds
- embrace a more positive outlook on life
- appreciate the little things
- keep things in perspective
Something as “trivial” as volunteering once a week at our local shelter can drastically shift the mindset. Helping others is contagious. It makes us feel good. It makes us smile more.
Final thoughts on overcoming mental health challenges
Overcoming mental health challenges can be an arduous journey. If you feel like you can’t cope with your current situation, seeking professional help is more than recommended. And, please, remember: you are not alone.
Author: Jacob Bowers is a full-time blogger and a poorly-skilled yet determined dancer. His lifetime project is helping the ones in need.