October 10 is World Mental Health Day. The objective of the day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world. This day, which is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), has a particularly impactful opportunity this year as many have faced more grief, stress, anxiety, and depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, teachers and students alike are schooling in a new way. Social situations are limited. The simple act of walking down the street has changed. Old routines have been replaced with new ones.
As we take a minute to pause on World Mental Health Day, try thinking of ways you can incorporate these three simple practices into your life to improve your mental health.
Start a Journal
When in doubt, write it out! We aren’t talking about doodling in a notebook, we are talking about journaling with a purpose. When you intentionally journal, you are able to unravel complex emotions, track progress and even identify patterns. According to PositivePsychology.com, journaling offers many benefits for mental health, and can:
- Boost your mood/affect.
- Enhance your sense of well-being.
- Reduce symptoms of depression before an important event (like an exam).
- Reduce intrusion and avoidance symptoms post-trauma
- Improve your working memory.
Just writing words on paper won’t help. Be intentional:
- Find a quiet, private spot to start.
- Try writing at least once a day.
- Reflect on your feelings. Write them down. Don’t judge yourself or worry about making complete sense. Write down how you are feeling in the moment, about a particular situation that happened that day or even in the past.
- Make your journal yours — you may write and then draw a picture or bullet out points.
- Keep it private. Your journal is for your eyes only.
TIP: If you’d rather keep an online journal, try using the FNL (Fitness Nutrition Lifestyle) Journal as recommended by VEBA Resource Center’s Health Coach and Nutritionist, Teresa Guglielmo.
Practice Deep Breathing
It sounds so simple but by practicing deep breathing, you can help tame your anxiety. Ever heard of the “fight-or-flight” response? This is when your body automatically reacts to stress — you either “fight” or you take “flight.” Your body is triggered to go into high alert, your heart may beat faster and your breathing rate may increase. By paying attention to your breathing and taking deep breaths, you are bringing more oxygen to your brain which can help you think more clearly.
The next time you are feeling anxious or on high alert, practice deep breathing:
- Gently place your hand onto your stomach.
- Inhale deeply for 10 seconds and exhale slowly for 10 seconds. As you breathe in, you should feel your hand move out; as you exhale, you should feel your hand go down.
- If 10 seconds is too long to start, try starting with five seconds and working your way up. Repeat five times.
There is always something to be thankful for — even if it’s just waking up every morning. Expressing gratitude for things in your life, and also explaining why you are thankful, will help you acknowledge your thoughts and forces you to focus on positive thinking.
Every morning when you wake up, before picking up your phone (which may lead to anxiety), think of three things you are grateful for that day. Take it one step further and journal them and write about how they make you feel. By focusing on gratitude, you will shift your mindset, improving your overall emotional well-being.