I don’t know any softer way to put this than just coming right out and stating the obvious…. the collective energy (here, on IG, and in the world) is heavy. I feel it when I’m speaking with many of you, on social media, and in the voices of friends and family.
Things feel a little heavy right now.
I think we all had high hopes that 2022 would look and feel a little different than it is. But for better or worse, it looks like our year is starting off with some challenges – and it’s taking a toll on our mental health.
And while I’m not a mental health expert (and in no way giving out advice here) or a therapist or coach of any kind, I do have a few things in my mental health toolbox that have helped me a lot this past year, and especially now.
But before we dig into any specifis, I want to preface that however you’re feeling, it’s ok. It makes sense. And it’s ok. No feelings are inherently good or bad. And there’s no need to push or try and “fight through” however you’re feeling.
For so long we’ve been taught to just “shake it off” and “see the good” (which is now being referred to as “toxic positivity). And while maybe to an extent that helps, what we’re really doing is just pushing our feelings down even further and in turn, they grow stronger.
Instead, I offer you something a little different. What if instead, you welcomed those thoughts. You befriended yourself, and your feelings, whatever they may be. Without judgment.
Just by simply observing, witnessing, and allowing them to be seen & heard, these intense feelings (good or bad) lose their grip on us.
I‘ve found that the more honest I can be, and the more I can truly allow myself to FEEL, whatever it is that’s going on, the easier it is to release it. And I can breathe a little easier. It’s just a feeling.
So before we go any further, I want to reemphasize that tools are only here to help you witness whatever it is that you’re feeling. To allow you to feel more connected to yourself, more aware. Which gives you freedom. But they’re not here to “fix” or “change” anything. You are NOT broken. There is nothing you need to change/fix.
So no matter what you use in your own “mental health toolbox”, remember to approach all of this with curiosity, softness, and without judgment.
Here are a few things that are in my mental health toolbox….
I’m a huge believer in the power of meditation and have seen it play a huge role in my life over the years.
For a lot of us, meditation can feel intimidating because we have this belief that meditation requires us to “control our thoughts” to somehow slow down our minds. When in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth.
You are never NOT going to have thoughts. Our brains are literally wired to think thousands of thoughts a day to keep us alive. That’s what they’re literally built to do. You are never going to stop your mind thinking (especially when you’re trying to).
Rather meditation is simply just witnessing your thoughts. To recognize when we’re on a loop. And most importantly to recognize that we are NOT our thoughts. Which gives us freedom.
If you’re not sure where to begin. I get it. It makes complete sense. Unfortunately, mindfulness/meditation is not something we’ve ever been taught (which is kind of crazy). But the good thing is, it’s not something you need any formal training/practice in. You can literally just START. Right now. Today. Even just two minutes of sitting in stillness, done day after day, can add up to huge change.
I have a blog post here on how to begin your own meditation practice if you’re curious. I also love the apps Insight Timer and Superhuman. And if you’re looking for more support, community, and daily accountability to help get your practice going, I have a four-week meditation and mindfulness program that’s starting on January 17th. All are welcome and we’d love to have you.
“The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”
A state of being aware, conscious. Mindfulness can look like a lot of different things. Mediation is a mindfulness practice, but mindfulness so much more than just meditation.
On a practical level, mindfulness is simply being present. Staying IN the moment. It can be something as simple as washing the dishes and feeling the soap on your hands, the feel of the warm water washing them away. When you’re out for a walk noticing the wind against your back and your feet touching the ground. It’s bringing awareness and consciousness to how you move throughout your day, your thoughts, feelings, interactions.
Mindfulness means bringing attention & intention into everything you do.
Movement, of any kind, moves your energy. It literally and physically clears things out, gets the stale and stagnant energy. Whether you believe in God, Source, you name it, there is no denying that our bodies carry certain energy with them. You can feel the vibration in your own body, the tingle in your hands. You are more than just a body, there is a life force within you. Movement helps awaken that force and get energy moving.
Movement of any kind is so good for you. I personally love yoga as a form of daily movement, but anything that feels GOOD in your body works.
When we’re thinking about movement as a tool for mental health, I like to think of it as a DAILY practice. Which may mean doing something less intense, and for not as long. Just like our meditation and mindfulness practices are things we want to do consistently, so is movement.
It doesn’t have to be much, even just 10 minutes a day moving and stretching. But get yourself MOVING, however, and whenever you can.
Geting in the elements
Water, sun, snow, wind. ALL of it. Connecting with the energy and life force around us is so grounding and calming for our nervous system.
When my kids were younger and it felt like our days would never end, I would break up our long days with water. Baths, in the tub, in the kitchen sink, it didn’t matter (Frankie and Sloan both spent so many afternoons in our kitchen sink). Just a simple break getting in water would change their energy, my energy, and even the vibe of our whole house. It was as if the water just washed our thoughts, worries, and stagnant energy away.
To this day, I take a bath almost every night and get out for a walk every day. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes around the block. Feeling the wind on my face, the sun on my skin, it wakes me up and gives me so much life.
There is such energy and life force in the elements all around us. Getting out in nature, of any kind, allows us to tap into that energy and draw from it.
I know for many of us we are in the dead of winter right now, but bundle up and get outside. A little fresh air, every day, is so good for the soul.
I’m a HUGE believer in therapy and have no shame in saying that over the years I have spent many, many hours in therapy.
I’ve said this before, but we aren’t meant to do any of this alone. There are people out there who can help us (and that may not always look like our spouse, family, or friends).
While there are many forms of therapy out there (I’m probably not even aware of all of them), I have found Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to be the most helpful for me.
Finding the right therapist takes a little bit of time though, so don’t get frustrated with the process. It may take some time. Fortuatnilyh right now there are so many options for therapy to be done virtually.
While we’re on the topic of therapy, I think it’s important that we also acknowledge that medication may be a great tool for many of us, and certainly has been for me in the past. About 10 years ago when I first had Illian, I struggled with severe postpartum depression and went on a low dose of Zoloft for about four months. I feel zero shame in sharing that and really opened my mind up to the possibility of what certain medications can do for us. Sometimes we need certain tools to get us over a hump. They may not always be long-lasting – but are most certainly an option for a lot of us.
Prioritizing my sleep
I can’t stress this one enough. Nothing else matters when it comes to our mental and physical health if we are physically exhausted. And chances are, we’re all exhausted. Especially now.
Last year I made sleep a huge priority for me, which meant also prioritizing it for our family. It meant going to bed (before we were tired). Creating evening rituals. Being consistent with our sleep habits to keep our circadian rhythm in effect. And moving our phones out of our rooms.
Whenever I share how my family and I go to bed early, I always get pushback. Which I get. I will just say that it’s not always easy, especially being parents (and teen parents whose kids sometimes go to bed later than me). But it IS possible.
Consistent, true restorative sleep changes everything. If you haven’t prioritized this in your life before, I’d encourage you to give it a try for a few weeks and see how you feel. It may just change everything.
While these are the main tools I find to be the most helpful when it comes to my mental health, there are so many others that play a role. Being mindful of what I eat, laughing with my friends or with the kids, physical touch, snuggling with my kids, or even just a long tight hug, getting bodywork done (massages, chiropractic care, acupuncture) are all things that help me as well.
Over the years, and depending on what my life looks like, these ebb and flow. It’s a constant mix of stepping back and asking myself, “what do I truly need, right now, in order for me to feel my best”, and then without guilt or shame, allowing that to myself.
At the heart of our mental health, there has to be a deep knowing that we are worthy of this type of care, whatever that looks like for you. Knowing that we are deserving of love, most importantly our own.
However you are feeling today (or you wake up feeling tomorrow), I hope these tools help you, even just a little. And remember, being alive and human is tough work, you’re doing better than you realize.
I love you.