How do we support our mental health when we are forced into isolation, forced to slow down, forced into uncomfortable realities about our existence in this world?
Well first of all I want to acknowledge that there are a lot of people out there who are suffering from loss of jobs, loss of life, loss of security, etc. These are awful realities and I don’t want to minimize them.
But what I can do is offer some of the coping strategies I use when I’m down in the dumps, when life feels overwhelming, when I can’t see past my immediate circumstances, when my heart feels broken, when I feel hopeless, when I feel flat and unmotivated OR frozen/paralyzed by fear (yes, I have those moments, days, weeks too).
For me, getting out into nature (the trees specifically) is incredibly humbling, grounding, nourishing to my body & mind. It reminds me that life is actually quite simple. It reminds me that we actually live in an incredibly beautiful world (even when circumstances don’t seem that way). It reminds me that being happy doesn’t involve buying, doing or achieving anything.
It’s so basic. But focusing every ounce of my energy and attention on just feeling my breath going in and out is incredibly humbling and calming. And I’m talking about DEEP belly breathing here…expanding my abdomen, forcing air into the deep bellows of my belly. In doing so I know I am activating my parasympathetic nervous system…and I will be rewarded with a calmer, more balanced energy. If nothing else, it takes me away from thinking. It gives me a break from all my irrational thoughts.
I nourish my body
Food is such a centerpiece of my life. It always has been, for better and for worse. I have learnt that you get what you put in. If I want to feel calm, balanced, clear headed and optimistic I have to feed it fresh fruits & vegetable, good sources of protein, healthy fats & calming teas (or just plain water). On the flip side when I feed it too much coffee, alcohol, sugar, processed foods I feel anxious, unbalanced, easily stressed out and unproductive thinking. So I choose wisely when life gets tough.
This is a such a big one! Sleep is so so so so important for my mental health. I know when I don’t sleep well I make poorer food choices, I am less resilient to stress, I fight more with my husband, I move my body less, etc. So when things start to feel “out of control” or when my mood starts to dip…I know I have to re-prioritize sleep even more. I stick to consistent sleep/wake times, I focus on good sleep hygiene (dark/cool room, no screens before bed, etc) & I sleep more if needed.
I disconnect to reconnect
Social media is a double-edged sword. I know many of us get incredible value from the community and inspiration on platforms such as Instagram & Facebook. But it does come with a price if we are not careful and intentional in how we use it. In fact, a few years ago I really scaled back who I followed (friends included) to mostly reflect things that inspired me. I now mostly only follow foodies, other doctors and travel bloggers. However, even when I start feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed about the world I live in…I disconnect. I take time to focus on my immediate surroundings….MY family, MY friends, MY husband, nature, etc. Sometimes you have to make your world small & intimate to create the emotional resilience to go back out into the intense & overwhelming big world.
I just take it one day at a time
Honestly, sometimes all we can do is just take it minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Some days, weeks, months, years SUCK. And all you can do is just focus on the small wins each day. Did you brush your teeth? Did you drink a glass of water? Did you make yourself breakfast? Did you make your bed? It’s the little things you have to focus on. Sometimes you can’t do big things, and that’s ok. You have the rest of your life to worry about the rest of your life. Give yourself a break.