Have you ever felt like you’ve got everything in order, you know what you want to do with your life and have an idea of how you’ll get there — and then everything changes? Like the world is testing your dedication and resilience, and as soon as you feel like you’ve made progress, your map is turned upside down and you are once again disoriented? Directionless?
I’ve been feeling this way recently. It’s taxing, and it’s happening to everybody right now. Every person, every business — we’re all scrambling to keep up with the quick changes of the world, and honestly? I could use a break. My guess is you might want one, too.
May is Mental Health Awareness month and every single one of us needs to take care of our minds. No excuses. And if we see others who might need some help taking care of their minds, it is our responsibility to check in on them. Because mental illness is isolating in normal times. Mental illness in a time of so many unknowns can be lethal.
We are all walking through this new world together, and while nobody knows exactly what to do to make it out to the other side, there are some things we can all do to ensure we’re equipped to handle what lies ahead.
Here are some simple ideas for how to take care of your mind right now.
Bestselling author and student of Stoicism Ryan Holiday frequently says if you want to learn about the world today, read about the world in the past. Stay away from the news and instead learn how we have historically overcome obstacles. Today’s pandemic is a good example. Instead of obsessively checking how many cases of COVID-19 your state has, which I used to do constantly, we’d all do well to read up on the 1918 Flu Pandemic. How did we overcome it? What mistakes did we make? What can we do differently today? While not totally realistic, learning about what we’ve done in the past and applying it to today is a more beneficial use of time — and a much-needed relief for the anxiety building up in your head.
Avoiding the news ties into something else I find to be very valuable: taking a social media break. Do you find yourself opening up Instagram and not even realizing you’re doing it? It’s become a physical reflex for most of us at this point. For someone who has a lot of projects and goals I’m working toward, scrolling through Instagram is usually the least productive thing I could be doing. Whenever I take a break, I notice myself instinctively reaching for my phone to check it. Every time I catch myself, I put my phone back down and go do something else. The self-control and redirection feel terrific. When I come back to social media, it’s novel and fresh, and actually enjoyable.
When you’re not feeling your best, doing something generous for another person helps to bring you back to yourself. This is because kindness promotes empathy and compassion, which leads to a sense of interconnectedness with others. You’ve heard of the runner’s high, but have you heard of the helper’s high? It’s when your body releases neurochemicals resulting in a sense of well-being, which is activated by kindness and compassion.
Mother Teresa said we cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love. Small things with great love are easy. Here are just a few ideas of small things you can do right now:
- Send a text thanking someone for inspiring or supporting you.
- Write a letter to an old friend and put it in the mail.
- Venmo your friend $5 so they can go get a coffee or tea.
- Lift someone up by sharing their work on social media.
- Bake cookies and leave them at a loved one’s door.
There are innumerable other things you can do but these are simple ones that will quickly get you feeling better, knowing you’ll brighten up someone’s day.
Not everybody likes to write for fun, I understand that. It’s painful for many (writers included) and it’s time-consuming. But for me, writing is cathartic to such a degree that I always, without fail, feel better afterward. It’s like going to the gym: It’s not always enjoyable, nor is it easy, and sometimes it’ll make you sweat, but you won’t regret it when you’re done.
Writing takes your fears, stresses, and anxieties out from your head and puts them onto a physical piece of paper, removing a small weight of the mental burden.
Writing will not eradicate your worries, but it will help you name them, challenge them, and process them. Those actions all make the invisible visible, and once you can put shape to your worries, you can begin to address them.
If you don’t like the idea of writing, consider simply doing a bulleted list, like you might create before a grocery run. And while you’re writing, I encourage you to write out what’s not worrying you. Maybe it’s a gratitude roundup or a list of things that are contributing to your wellbeing right now. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, take a look at that list and see if you feel any better.
I am obsessed with taking classes. When I can’t attend physical classes, I find them online. There is a world of opportunity at our fingertips, and many online classes are affordable. Name a skill you’d like to practice and there will be a dozen different classes you can find on the topic.
One amazing thing about the world right now is the ingenuity happening all over the place. Companies are offering incredible opportunities that were otherwise unapproachable due to cost or proximity. People are getting creative, and we can all reap the benefits if we choose to.
Learning something new stretches our brains in ways we wouldn’t normally do otherwise.
Research reveals that learning something new can actually help you stave off stress by giving your brain a new challenge to work through. It increases the elasticity of your brain, it provides you with a new skill or new knowledge and, let’s be honest, learning is just fun.
5. Get outside.
The outside world is blossoming into a kaleidoscope of colors and textures. Getting outside is a delight for nearly all of the senses, specifically if you’ve just undergone a long winter. Harvard Medical School backs up what we’ve all heard: that being outdoors reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. And it doesn’t have to be walking through a forest; just taking a 20-minute walk around your neighborhood is enough to benefit you. Nature noises like bird calls and the breeze rustling through the leaves are shown to lower blood pressure, and looking at things like trees and greenery can reduce negative thinking, distracting your mind from worry.
If you can’t get outside, or if your outside is a cityscape, bring nature inside with houseplants. Studies have shown plants elevate your mood, lower your heart rate, reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and may even help you focus. They also provide you with something to care for, and caretaking has a slew of benefits of its own.
If you’re looking for more ideas on how to care for your mind, here’s a comprehensive list of suggestions from Wit & Delight readers on how to keep your spirits up right now.
I will be working on these ways to care for my mind right there with each of you. Let’s remember to be patient and to give ourselves some grace. We are not perfect and our minds are not perfect, but if we do a few things each day to care for them, we will all be better equipped to deal with what lies ahead.
This post originally appeared on Wit & Delight.