How Are You Protecting Your Mental Health?

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Depressed Woman

Anyway way we look at the Covid-19 outbreak it has added additional stress to our lives. With social distancing requirements, children at home to be taught, college students losing a semester of classes, working from home or not working at all there have been major changes in all of our daily routines. This turning upside down of lives adds to the stress of our already stressful lives. The uncertainty of how long it will be before this ends and what will our world look like when it does makes it all the more important for us to do what we can to intentionally about protecting our mental health.

Our routines are all turned around and we need routines to stay healthy both physically and mentally. Let’s look at how we can take care of ourselves during this crisis.

1. Be Good to Your Body – Your mental health starts with physical wellness. Research supports our understanding that the mind and the body are closely connected. The following areas are especially important:

*  Sleep – Sleep must be made a priority. Stick to a sleep schedule such that you can get 7 – 8 hours of sleep each                night. Include in this schedule a technology-free winding down for 30 minutes to 1 hour before bedtime.      *  Move every day. Even with the gyms closed, you can find a way to move. Go for walks every day if you can where           you live. Being out of doors is good for you both physically and mentally. Another thing you can do is exercise or           yoga videos. Physical activity done regularly is known to lower stress and anxiety and improve mood, not to                   mention strengthening your immune system.       * Feed your body and mind. Choose healthy food options like vegetables and fruits, and avoid highly processed               foods and refined sugar. A healthy diet is important for your immune system. Resist the temptation toward letting           your diet turn to rubbish during this time. Limit alcohol consumption, and beware of too much caffeine, which                 can aggravate stress and anxiety. If you’re trying to eat better, focus on making one improvement to one meal at a           time, and gradually build from there. Healthy nutrition is good not just for your body but for your mind and                       emotions.

2. Follow a Schedule – It is tempting to just go with the flow when you aren’t working or attending to your usual duties. Our body and brain operate on a 24-hour cycle and need specific activities to happen at predictable times. Keeping a consistent routine is one of the best things you can do for yourself during this period of social distancing. Incorporate as many of the following routine cues as you can:

*  Sunlight: Spend time in the sunshine in the early part of the day. Exposure to natural light is the most powerful                way to establish a healthy day-to-day rhythm. If you can’t spend time outdoors, at least sit by a sunny window in            the morning.     *  Sleep: Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day.     *  Meals: Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at consistent times.     *  Exertion: Plan a regular time for exercise (e.g., first thing in the morning; after work).     *  Bathing: Keep your bathing routine the same as if you were still on your regular schedule. Do the same for your               kids at home. A good bath or shower is always good to help with relaxing.     *  Work: Follow a predictable work schedule, even when working from home. It is so easy to let things slide when               you are not in the usual place that you work.3. Be Kind to Your Mind – Your thoughts can either help or hurt you now more than ever. Practice teaching your mind to follow helpful directions that support your well-being:     *  See the story. Be aware that your mind is constantly making up stories that are just made up guesses about the              future. Right now, it may be telling you things like:          > You’re going to get seriously sick.          > You’ll be devastated financially.          > The economy is going to completely collapse.       You don’t have to believe everything your thoughts tell you. Know that they are just stories that may or may not               come true—and that other outcomes are more likely.     *  Give direction to where your attention goes. We can’t completely control the thoughts that go through our heads,          but we can decide where to focus our attention. We can choose to either focus on the worries of the day, or on                being who we want to be to deal with these challenges we’re facing. We can either camp out on our struggles, or            on opportunities to love each other through this time.     *  Practice gratitude. We can make it a practice of noticing all the things that are right in our lives, rather than                      dwelling on what’s wrong or missing. Even our current problems can point to something good—for example,         being stuck inside with your kids is good in that you have a family. Finding ways to practice thanksgiving is one        of the most reliable ways to guard your mental health. First thing in the morning spend a few minutes to stop and           think about 5 things you can be grateful for.

4. Find Snatches of Time for Stillness -Stress, and tension gather in the body and mind throughout the day even on the best days. We need to set aside time to release this nervous energy. Stop doing things like checking the news continuously if it just adds to your stress. Try to just let it be and relax. The following practices can help.

*  Release tension. Notice where stress gathers in your body, and find ways to let go of the tension. For example, try       this quick exercise:Sit comfortably and take three slow, relaxing breaths. Shrug your shoulders up toward your           ears, feeling the tension that creates, and then let your shoulders completely relax. Repeat the shrug/release cycle     twice more. End with three more slow breaths, and notice how you feel.*  Breathe. Close your eyes and take a slow, smooth breath in through the nose for a count of 4, feeling the belly rise     and expand. Exhale slowly out the mouth for a count of 8. Pause briefly before starting the next inhale. Repeat for       1-3 minutes.*  Unplug from technology. Being constantly connected to technology and its screens take a toll on the nervous             system.  It can be hard to avoid when so much of our work and home life exists online. Try to establish some tech-     free areas. This could include mealtime, the bathroom (you’d be surprised), the bedroom, and during quality time        with the family,*  Be in nature. Just going outside helps your stress level to go down, your viewpoint to widen, and your mood               generally improves. Just a 5-minute walk around the block can make a big difference. Even a few minutes outside       has benefits. Look around, feel the air, breathe.

5. Share Love – Show your genuine nature as a being a loving person. It’s not hard for our relationships to become irritating when we are with the people closest to us that we see every day. But at the same time, there is nothing more important for our health than these relationships. Invest your time and energy in the people who will be with you no matter what.

*  Be with people you enjoy. This might be virtual for now, through texts, emails, and Skype or FaceTime. One way or     another, find time each day to focus on the people who matter most to you. Make spending time with those                   you find  to be life-giving a priority.*  Forgive. Look for opportunities to let go of others’ imperfections. There may be many opportunities if you’re living     in close quarters with others! Be quick to forgive an accidental slight. Make the first move to smooth over a                 potential rift with someone you care about. These gestures can make huge additions of credits to your                           relationships. *  Serve. Find a way to be of service every day. Serving is very good as it takes your mind away from yourself. Free         yourself from a narrow self-centered focus by asking yourself what those around you need. Few things are more         rewarding than doing something to improve someone else’s life.

We have no idea how long this social distancing directive – or the virus, itself – will last. It would be wise to go ahead and start putting emotional wellness practices in place now. You can begin by choosing just one to focus on, and then adding others in the following days. You will be thankful that you did. Be gentle with yourself. There’s no need to aim for perfection in how you manage your mental health. You’re are going to feel anxious and unsteady at times as you find your stability and lose it, and then find it again.

Grant yourself grace. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s enough.

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