Sometimes mental health can feel like a battlefield. Many of the events in 2020 have made the battle for our mental health even more challenging. The good news? Your actions have direct impacts on what your battlefield looks like. If we manage our decisions in a healthy way, we can set the battlefield in our favor. Here are three big ways to help you better stay on top of your mental health.
Exercise—I know, leading right off the bat with the one that makes everyone groan. I will be the first to admit, I do not always like exercising. But I always like having exercised. Our body thrives on the war-time economy of physical exertion. When you exercise—even for short periods of time at low-intensities—your body creates endorphins. That is an immediate chemical boost to your day. Furthermore, exercise often comes with a sense of pride, which can ultimately boost self-esteem. Now, there is a lot of toxic thinking out there about exercising for the sake of physical appearance. That is not at all what I am talking about here. Don’t exercise because you want a certain shape for your body, exercise because it is balm for your brain! If you are fairly inactive, start with walking at a moderate pace, and build from there. See where it goes!
Sleep—Have you ever had a computer that gets progressively slower the longer that it has been on without a reset? Our brains are not too different. There is a large and growing body of research that demonstrates sleep has a variety of tremendously positive effects on our bodies. Number one, it is how we consolidate all of our learning over the course of the day, committing new information to our long-term memory, and integrating it with our prior experiences. Sleep also acts as an emotional regulator, smoothing out the sharp, jagged emotional edges of painful experiences. Some say time heals all wounds, but it’s really sleep! It will also keep your immune system robust, and everyone knows it’s much harder to be in good spirits when you’re sick. We live in a society that deeply values output, and people often sacrifice sleep in order to get more waking hours to complete tasks. Ironically, we work much more efficiently, and get much more done if we are consistently getting a full night’s rest. Examine your relationship with sleep. What steps can you take to improve that?
Diversify Your Self-Worth—When we first meet somebody new, we often ask what they do. When we ask this, we’re usually asking what their job is. The U.S. has built a culture that borders on obsession with careers. While taking pride in your work is important, you are so much more than your job. It is important to diversify your sense of self. If you put all of your sense of self-worth into your job performance, you are placing yourself in a precarious situation. No matter how good you are at your job, you will have days when you come up short. If your whole sense of self-worth is placed upon how well you do one thing, those days where you are less than proud of yourself can be excruciating. Remember, you are so unbelievably multifaceted. You are comprised of relationships, passions, interests, and so much more. In addition to your role in your job, you might also be a parent, a romantic partner, a sibling, a mentor, a confidante… When you are not working, how do you fill your hours? Maybe you love to cook, or write poetry, or read, or play chess, or swing dance, or play board games… When you have a bad day at work, remember you have so many other pillars of identity that you can rely on for support. Do not put all your eggs in one basket: diversify your sense of self-worth.
This is all easier said than done, and none of these suggestions are quick fixes. These are habits that require intentionality, and practice. But in the battle for mental health, we know there are no shortcuts. It may be difficult, but the cause is good, and the results are worth it. Good luck.