7 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health Right Now
By: Christine Hammond LMHC
Marcia’s small business was finally turning a profit. After years of investing long hours from her family and resources she didn’t always have, she began to see the benefit of her hard work. Even though her husband and kids were supportive of the business, the normal demands of an active family life exhausted her.
Marcia would easily work 10 hours a day at her job, run errands for her kids during lunch, dash to a soccer game at night, pick-up some dinner on the way home, and find sink full of dishes left undone from the previous few days. Her house routinely looked like a bomb went off and was only cleaned just before company came to visit. Marcia and her husband talked more about who would help with what homework than just about anything else. On good days she barely kept her head above water and on bad days she felt like she was drowning.
She knew things needed to change. But short of selling the business she loved, divorcing her best friend husband, and farming the kids off to another relative, she needed to find another reasonable solution. There was no time for yoga classes (unless she could find one at 3am), vacations (which are not really a vacation when kids come along), or making organic meals (no further explanation needed). She needed things she could do in her car, sitting at her desk, or on the sidelines of a soccer field. Here’s what she came up with:
1. Rest. The idea of getting a solid night’s sleep disappeared after the birth of Marcia’s colicky baby. So rest needed to come in smaller increments during the day. When things got hectic at work, Marcia would take a walk outside for 15 minutes just to get way from the computer and people. In her car, she would listen to 80’s music and sing at the top of her lungs. These small periods of rest helped to reset her anxiety levels.
2. Breathe. These are not the shallow chesty breaths that a person takes during a panic attack. Rather it is a long slow breath that originates from the belly. Before starting her car, Marcia would take 4 deep breaths: breathing in for a slow count of 4, holding for 4, and then releasing for a count of 4. This simple step sends ample oxygen to the brain which promotes more purposeful thought.
3. Meditate. Marcia did not have hours in the day to meditate so instead, she set a phone alarm to do it 4 times during the day for 5 minutes at a time. She meditated (which means a focused intentional thought without any distractions) on the warmth of the sun, a wise proverb she heard, a friend who was suffering from cancer, and her hopes for her kids. This prayerful time encourages a person to let go of the things they cannot control.
4. Gratitude. Part of Marcia’s new nighttime routine was to make a list of all the things she was grateful for during the day. This allowed her to focus on the good things of day instead of all the things left undone. She was thankful for her son passing his science test, her daughter scoring a goal, her husband getting recognized at work, and the dog not pooping while the family was gone.
5. Pleasure. There is an old song lyric, “These are a few of my favorite things,” from the musical, The Sound of Music. It goes on to list a bunch of ordinary items that a person takes pleasure from seeing or having. Marcia made a list of 10 items that she gave her pleasure. Some of these included: playing catch with her dog, putting notes in the kid’s lunches, taking a bubble bath, butterfly kisses, and snuggling on the sofa.
6. Focus. For Marcia, the busyness of everyday life was a huge distraction to what mattered most. It was easy for her to lose sight of the big important things when the little insignificant things got in the way. So Marcia condensed her goals into one simple statement that she put next to her phone at the office, on her bathroom mirror, and on her computer screen saver. This constant reminder kept her focused which reduced stress.
7. Emote. All too often, Marcia stuffed her emotions so she could get through the day. The problem was by the end of the day, she was too exhausted to revisit any frustrations so they got buried even further. This unfortunately resulted in random explosions over small incidental matters. Alternatively, Marcia set aside two times during the day for reflection and expression of any and all emotions that she stuffed. This relieved the pressure and reduced the outbursts.
While these 7 steps won’t eliminate the pressure of a hectic schedule, they will help to unload some of the burdens of daily living.
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