For me, mental health is something I take stock of – and work on – daily. It is as integral a part of my holistic health as diet and exercise.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or MentalHealth.gov, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”
Essentially, our emotions drive everything we do, every decision we make. There is no logical decision we make that is not biased through some sort of emotion. But in the end, emotions are chemical. And it is up to us how we use and manipulate these chemicals for our overall happiness.
I have a history of adolescent depression, and I know many family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that have suffered from some sort of depression, anxiety, mental or mood disorder at some point in their life. This isn’t something that happens in a vaccuum. Life gets tough; our environment, our genetics, and all sorts of other factors come into play. So for me, my mental health is negotiated daily.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that if I don’t stake stock of my emotions and stress level regularly, I become overstimulated by all the trouble in my life and just shut down. The threat of recurring depression is very real, and it is not a place I want to be. So I strive daily to interface with myself and my emotions, to ensure I am mentally healthy and set myself up for success.
I give my daily practice the same priority as I give to my diet or physical activity. It is just as important, if not more, to manage my stress as it is to manage my organic produce.
Now de-stressing can be done in a variety of ways: watching TV, playing video games, drinking alcohol, eating a tub of ice cream. But to me, these solutions come with baggage as they are not holistically healthy, and they don’t usually address the problem – our need to interface with our emotions, to see them for what they really are, and take action on how we want to manage our stressor.
Here are 8 healthy ways I de-stress and check in with myself daily:
I keep myself hydrated.
If I don’t drink enough water, I’m in a constant state of brain fog and lethargy. My muscles get dehydrated and I tend to feel my spinal pain far more than usual. Chronic pain is terrible for mental health, so I try to alleviate it before it begins, and staying hydrated helps with that. Try filling up a gallon milk jug with clean, cool water, and marking 1-inch notches up and down the length of the jug with a sharpie. Every hour, drink to the next notch. See how you feel at the end of the day. Though you may need more restroom breaks, you’ll be surprised by how much more focused you are!
I eat the rainbow.
Remember, all our brain and body functions are chemical. Our happiness, our sadness, our pride, our shame – these are all chemical. Getting enough of (and a variety of) vitamins and minerals through colorful fruits and vegetables is essential to making sure the chemical reactions in our brain occur efficiently. To put it in highly simplistic terms: misfiring of chemicals means misfiring of emotions. It is not truthful to say, “If we eat happy foods, we will feel happy emotions.” It is, however, truthful to say, “If we eat the correct foods, our body will create the correct chemical reactions, so that our emotions are regular.” Food will not control environmental factors, but it will give you the right tools to deal with the environmental factors in the most efficient and healthy way.
Whether it’s a simple yoga stretch, some walking, or a heart-pumping workout, I ensure that I move everyday. This not only helps with my pain management and thus stress, as I mentioned earlier, it also helps with getting endorphins pumping through your blood and brain. Endorphins give you a natural high, so that you feel exhilarated. Exercise is such a simple way to convert stressful, paralyzing emotions to energizing and happy emotions.
I interact with the elements.
Normally, I’d say “I go outside,” but I think interacting with the elements in more all-encompassing. What I mean by this is that I use fire, water, air, or earth to calm myself down. We are natural beings, and the elements have an incredibly calming and humbling effect on us. Interacting with the elements could be anything from jogging in a cool breeze outside, to taking deep calming breaths (air), from taking a hot bubble bath to watching the rain (water), from sitting around a campfire to lighting some aromatherapy candles (fire), or from gardening with our hands deep in dirt to cooking with fresh herbs and veggies (earth). I try to do any one of these things daily to remind myself that I am not all screens and ideas, but that I am a real physical being that exists in harmony with these elements.
I recount my day.
Whether your journal, blog, talk to a loved one or pet, recounting your day is essential in dealing with the highs and lows you may have experienced. I keep a moleskine or sketchbook in my purse always, so anytime I have an idea, an emotion, or an event happen, I can quickly jot it down. At the end of each day I look at what I wrote and decide what to do with them. I also talk to husband, and my pet (Ari, my cockatiel), and tell them about my day, even if it was a completely mundane, boring day. Doing this allows me to put the excitable, stressful, and boring moments of my day into perspective and I can then distill what I have learned from these moments and apply them to my life. This is how we grow.
Along the same lines, meditation provides a great way to review your experiences and come to new perspectives and solutions. I call it interfacing with myself, as this is the time I take to really be with myself with no other voices in my head. If I am stressed from having too much to do, or I’m hurt from someone’s actions, meditation allows me to truly think about the situation, address it, and then let it go, so that all I am left with is myself – and that is enough! My favorite thing to do is use the Calm.com app, which I have recommended many times in the past. It is a simple app for your phone, tablet, or computer that allows you go through a 2-, 5-, 10-, 15-, or 20-minute meditation break. You can choose to have it be a guided mediation or not. A lovely voice tells you to relax each muscle group, breathe, and focus on the present, as you listen to the sounds of nature. I have an alarm set on my phone for 10PM, so that every night, if I haven’t already, I’m reminded to take a few minutes to just be calm.
Wiccanism has a saying, “As above, so below,” which means that things that exist in a higher, grander realm, are very similar to things that exist on a smaller, lower plane. Think of the solar system and atoms; the positive and negative path of electricity, and the pathways of our veins and arteries. On a far deeper level, I take it to mean, “As we are created, so should we create.” Creation, to me, is one of the most spiritual things we can do. Whether we get lost for hours in painting, cooking, building, writing, composing, singing, or dancing – there is always a satisfaction that happens from the sense of “losing ourselves” in a task that produces a concrete result. I feel these inspirations come not from us, but through us, and that connects us with the Divine, or to our truest sense of Self. Creating is a highly selfless act; we forget who we are and become the action we are taking, which like meditation, leaves us feeling refreshed and content. So every day, I take the time to create something – a quick meal, a small doodle in my sketchbook, a few lines of my next blog post – anything.
Every morning I have coffee. Every evening I have hot water with turmeric and honey. Everytime I leave the house, I have to brush my teeth. Everytime I start something, a new task or endeavor, I say a short prayer. These rituals help ground and sustain us; they give us a sense of comfort and continuity that our daily struggles just don’t provide. Introducing simple rituals into your day, especially those that mark the passage of time, can be highly beneficial in grounding yourself against daily stresses. For example, when I have my hot cup of water at night with turmeric and honey, the scent and taste and feel of the warm mug in my hands signal to me the end of the day, the close of one chapter. Because I’ve done this so many times, it is an automatic trigger for my brain to calm down, relax, and know that sleep is near.
I hope these eight daily ways to de-stress give insight as to how I maintain my mental health and provide ideas for how you can manage yours.
Let me know what you do to de-stress in the comments below!