We are living in troubling times. The COVID-19 pandemic has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and completely upended our society while the world joins in protest against police brutality and racial injustice that have been part of our culture for too long. It's enough to stress out even the most calm minds.
It is important to stand up to injustice, but the battles can take a toll on a person's mental health. Here are five simple ways to take care of yourself.
You probably know this already, but it it bears repeating. If there is ONE thing that you can do to boost your mood, it is to integrate exercise in your life. Exercise oxygenates your blood and increases circulation to your brain, where it soothes the amygdala and hippocampus and releases feel-good endorphins.
You don't have to be a super jock to get the benefits. If you can work out to the point where you can talk but you can't sing, you're far more likely to lower symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Try it right now. Don't go High Intensity Interval Training, because that can increase anxiety and twitch symptoms. Instead, keep your heart rate up for 10-30 minutes 3 times a week. Take brisk walks, jog, swim, and do anything to keep your heart rate up.
For those of us who work from home, its easy to screw up your sleep cycle. I've gone full vampire since the coronavirus outbreak started and I know that many others have disrupted their sleep cycles due to stress. But sleep is critical to mental health, so practicing good sleep hygiene is essential.
There are a few things to keep in mind. Try to keep a regular schedule for your rest. Keep yourself away from screens for at least a half hour before sleep. A cool room makes it easier to fall asleep. Keep away from sugar, caffeine, and alcohol before bed. Pretty soon you'll be getting the rest your body craves.
Deep Breathing Techniques.
Deep breathing techniques are helpful to calm an anxious mind. "When you physiologically calm yourself, you actually change your brainwaves," said stress management expert Dr. Cynthia Ackrill. "I used to do neurofeedback, which is brainwave training, and I would have people hooked up to all kinds of machines. And after doing breathwork with them you could see these massive changes in the brain. It also lowered blood pressure."
There are a lot of YouTube videos and breathing apps to help set the pace, but the easiest way to start is to simply inhale, hold, and exhale on a six count.
"Anytime you intentionally bring your attention to your breath and slow it down, you've already done a good thing," Ackrill said. "That's just one simple tool that you can use and it gives you back a feeling of power and control. And it gives you that pause where you begin to realize that you are separate from what's happening to you, and you can choose a response instead of just a primal reaction."
Practice yoga, tai chi or qi gong
As a resting point between breathing mindfulness and exercise, practices like yoga and tai chi and qi gong help regulate mood. They're all forms of mindfulness training that help you settle into your body while providing enough challenges to help boost your heart rate.
"Yogic philosophy teaches that the body, mind and spirit are all interconnected — what you do in one area, for example, a physical exercise to strengthen your leg muscles, will have an effect in all of the other areas of your system," said Laurie Hyland Robertson, the editor in chief of Yoga Therapy Today, a journal published by the International Association of Yoga Therapists.
"So we can expect that leg exercise, especially when you approach it in a mindful, purposeful way, to affect not only your quadriceps but also your emotional state, your body's physiology and even your mental outlook."
Meditation and mindfulness have a well-documented positive effect on mental health. A study of Tibetan Buddhist monks has shown that years of compassionate mindful practices makes their brains calmer and more youthful.
"When these kinds of mental exercises are taught to people, it actually changes the function and the structure of their brain in ways that we think support these kinds of positive qualities," Richard Davidson, who is a professor of psychology and psychiatry, said. "And that may be key in producing the downstream impact on the body."
"Simply to bring to mind people that are in our lives from whom we have received some kind of help," Davidson said. "Bring them to mind and appreciate the care and support or whatever it might be that these individuals have provided."