We've officially crossed into being a full year from when "the world shut down" as many people remember it. And while the state, and country, are working to reopen, the past year has felt like one emotional hit after another for people everywhere.
Parents had to become part-time homeschool teachers. Many employees had to transition to working remotely. Others had to continue working in person even if they felt uneasy about the situation. And we've all experienced plenty of loss and grief along the way. We've lost some of the freedom we were familiar with of going where we wanted when we wanted. We've lost people to illness, both COVID and others. Many have experienced financial hardships.
The past year added a lot of stress and uncertainty to our lives that already had enough anxiety and overwhelm. So, where do we go from here? While the state and world work to reopen, it doesn't automatically erase the difficult situations and trauma that we faced for the past 12 months.
We want to help provide you with some really actionable steps that you can take to protect your mental and emotional health and wellness right now.
1. Create a self-care routine that works for you
Self-care is a term that's getting thrown around a lot lately, and with good reason. The statistics show that the negative impacts to our mental health from the events last year are starting to show up in full force. People are overwhelmed, stressed, lonely and many are working through grief and depression.
Self-care is about taking care of yourself. It's the things that you do to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. It can be easy to get caught up in taking care of everyone else in your life—spouse, children, parents, grandparents, friends, or coworkers—while forgetting to take care of yourself.
If you struggle with the idea that self-care activities are selfish, it's actually the exact opposite. When you take care of yourself, you put yourself in a better position to help those around you as well. If you're burnt out, overwhelmed, and exhausted, you won't have enough energy to help others either.
We're going to talk more specifically about things you can do for your self-care below. But first, here are some quick examples of self-care activities:
Getting enough sleep each night
Self-care isn't about trying to keep up with some fancy checklist that you found online though. It's about finding the things you can do in your day that truly help you to rest and recharge.
2. Keep a gratitude journal
When stress is high, it's easy to get caught up in only thinking about the things that are going wrong or that you're struggling with at the moment. This can distract you from being able to see the good things that you have happening in your life. Keeping a gratitude journal can help.
If you're not a writer, that's OK. All you need to do is list out things you can think of that you're grateful for. It could be big things like having a house to live in, being in good health, or having friends or family that you can count on. It can also be simple things like that you woke up on time for work, found a quarter on the floor, or that your Amazon order showed up early.
If you're struggling to think of things in your life, start with the things you may overlook. This could be things like the ability to read, that you woke up breathing, or that you're safe at the moment.
3. Connect with your friends and family
Having a strong support circle in your life can help with mental and emotional health. Many people were unable to get together with friends and family over the past year. While some restrictions have eased, not everyone is comfortable or able to meet in person still. If that's you, remember there are still ways to stay connected.
Virtual calls through things like FaceTime or Zoom allow you to see people while you talk to them even if you can't be together. These tools aren't just for work and school. Many people used apps like this for virtual game nights and holidays over the past year. It can be a nice way to connect with others, even if it’s not the pandemic and just that you live far from your friends and family.
But you don't have to do virtual calls. You can make simple phone calls or even go old school and write letters or send cards to people. This can help put a smile on someone's face and maybe they will send you one in return.
If you are comfortable getting together with others in person, make sure you take the time to do so.
4. Do a little moving
Exercise is important for both our physical and mental health. There are many studies that show that exercise boosts the chemicals in your brain that help to boost your mood. That's why even when you don't feel like working out, once you get started, you start to feel a little better about it.
This doesn't mean that you need to jump into an intense workout plan. Do what works the best for you. Go for a walk, try yoga, hit the gym, or even just dance around your house. Find a way to incorporate regular exercise and movement into your daily routine. Remember, if you want to start a regular workout plan, it's best to speak with your doctor first.
5. Get outside
Much like exercise, going outside can help instantly boost your mood. Nature has been found to help reduce cortisol, lower muscle tension and promote happiness. If you find that your stress and anxiety are starting to build, give yourself a break and go outside. You can walk or simply sit and soak in a little sunshine and breathe the fresh air.
Now that we’ve finally pulled out of winter and spring is in full bloom, take time to get out and enjoy it.
6. Lower the bar for yourself
Are you in the habit of setting high expectations for yourself? While it's good to have dreams and goals that you're working for, there are times in life when it's helpful to be OK with lowering the bar.
After the year that we've all experienced, it may help you to lower the expectations that you're trying to hold yourself to. This could include goals around your finances, fitness, and work. It could also be the expectations around your personal commitments.
If you find that you constantly feel like you're not accomplishing the things that you have on your list, you may be trying to do too much at the moment. If you're dealing with stress and anxiety, it's OK to lower the bar for a while to help your mental health.
7. Create something
Some people thrive when they are able to put their creativity to work. It can help to relieve tension and give you something else to focus on that's not connected with the trials or anxiety that you're currently facing.
Paint a picture, try a pottery class, build a birdhouse, write a poem, build a container garden. Whether it's something that you've always loved to do or something new that you want to try, make time to use your creative energy in a way that you enjoy.
8. Change what you're eating
What you consume can have an impact on how you feel mentally and emotionally. Do your best to eat a healthy diet with treats in moderation. Don't overconsume things like alcohol or caffeine. Some people find that they feel their best mentally when they do things like eliminating sugar or gluten from their diet. Find what works for you.
And remember, much like with starting an exercise routine, it's best to speak with your doctor before making big adjustments to your diet and nutrition.
9. Double check your calendar
If you're feeling stressed and overwhelmed, you may be overcommitting yourself. Take a look at your calendar and see if you need to cut anything out for a time. Even if your calendar is full of good things, it can quickly become a lot to handle.
Your children will be OK if they aren't involved in every sport and activity that comes across their path. The school will be OK if you don't lead the bake sale because you're already committed to other areas.
And if it fits in the budget, there is no reason to feel guilty about hiring help. You could have your groceries delivered to your doorstep. Pay a neighborhood kid to mow your yard. Or, get someone to help with cleaning your house or watching your children. Instead of feeling like your failing because you need help, look at the positive side. You're helping another person make extra money for their family too.
10. Practice deep breathing
Deep breathing can help you start to reverse some of the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety. Imagine this for a moment. When you start to feel anxious about something, your heart rate beings to increase. You start to take faster and shallower breaths. These two things continue to impact each other. Then you start to experience things like muscle tension, headaches, and stomachaches.
When it comes to stress and anxiety, one symptom tends to lead to another and another like a cycle. If you're able to get control of your breathing, you can help to shut that cycle of symptoms down.
When you practice deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed, it can help to slow your heart rate back down to normal. Focusing on your breath instead of your stressful situation can help you to release the tensions from your muscles. By stopping these symptoms, you may be able to avoid reaching the point of chronic pain, headaches, and digestive issues.
When to see a therapist
As you can see, there are many different things you can do to help ease anxiety and take care of your mental health and wellness on your own. But know that it's OK if you need to reach out for help from a professional.
It's common for people to think that therapy is only for those that have serious challenges they are facing or those that have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. But that's not the case. Anyone and everyone can benefit from working with a therapist.
Licensed therapists are able to help you with even the daily stress and anxiety that you face. Your therapist can help you learn to identify the triggers that lead to stress and anxiety in your life while also finding strategies to help address them.
Along with the ideas above, your therapist can help you find coping techniques that will help you to feel better even when you face difficult times. And there's something that can help you feel free about being able to open up and talk to someone about situations that you might not discuss with the people in your personal life.
How to find the right therapist in Stillwater MN
There are many different therapists out there that you can work with. When looking for the right one, it can help to think about a few things including:
Are you more comfortable speaking with a therapist of a certain gender?
Do you have specific events in your life that you want to discuss? For example, if you're having relationship challenges, a couples therapist may be a good option. Or if you're struggling with stress during pregnancy, it can help to speak with a therapist that specializes in maternal mental health.
Are you part of the LGBTQ+ community and want a therapist that will be validating and accepting?
Do you have a budget that you need to meet?
Would you like a clinic that offers medication management along with therapy?
Our therapists at The NEST have many different specialties. If you're looking to find the best match for you and your specific situation, we're happy to help match you to a therapist that will customize your treatment plan to your needs and wishes. We offer virtual sessions to make it easier than ever to get the help and care you need. Call our office in Stillwater, MN today to get started.