10 Unique Strategies for Boosting Your Mental Health

Guest Post by Lily Little of https://marriedwithdogs.com/

Life is a beautiful journey, but bumps along the way can leave you feeling defeated, deprived, and mentally drained from time to time. Neglecting your mental health can lead to serious consequences that penetrate every aspect of your life and derail your future. If conventional treatment, counseling, and medication don’t fit your lifestyle preferences, you can use many out-of-the-box tools to manage your symptoms of stress and anxiety.

1. Adopt a Pet

Adding a pet to your household can be a wonderful stress management tool. You may think you’re too tired or too busy to keep a pet, but you may change your mind when you start to reap the benefits of an animal companion, some of which include:

  • Sticking to a daily schedule
  • Experiencing unconditional love
  • Increasing confidence through caring for a living being

2. Telecommute More Often

The time you spend commuting each workday is time you could be using to relax, exercise, organize your space, or spend time with your loved ones. If you can negotiate a remote work schedule with your employer, you can reclaim precious moments for your self-care needs. This will not only improve your mental health but also make you a more motivated and productive employee.

3. Try Chess Therapy

There are many different types of therapy that don’t require you to lay on a couch and be emotionally vulnerable to a complete stranger. If you play chess or wish to hone your skills a bit, you can find a chess therapy practitioner who can help you find solutions to your daily problems while also teaching you how to focus, strategize and think ahead to your next move.

4. Retreat Into Nature

While the modern world offers convenience and connection, the disconnection from nature may be detrimental to your peace of mind. Studies show ecotherapy decreases anxiety and negative feelings.

5. Join a Book Club

Escapism through reading is an incredibly healthy exercise for managing mental and emotional stress. Joining a book club full of like-minded people with similar reading interests adds a social component to your self-care practice.

6. Declutter and Organize Your Home

Your home should be a place where you can relax. If your home is full of clutter, this can breed negativity and create tension. Take some time to declutter, organize, and let more natural light into your home.

7. Take Regularly Scheduled Naps

If you have trouble being still, you can try training your body to relax by implementing a daily naptime. The benefits of napping include increased energy, mood enhancement, and improved performance throughout the day. The key to successful napping is consistency, so you should commit to shutting off your devices and closing your eyes for 20-30 minutes at the same time each day.

8. Learn to Cook

Culinary therapy is a widely-used technique for treating restlessness, panic attacks, and depression. If you’re looking to address physical and emotional distress, learning to follow recipes and cook for yourself is a great mental health strengthening tool.

9. Build a Bookshelf

Finding a hobby is a time-tested technique for managing mental stress. Specifically, hobbies that result in a finished product, such as woodworking, build confidence by giving you a tangible reason to value and validate your abilities.

10. Celebrate Your Birthday

As you get older, you may not feel accomplished enough to celebrate yourself on a regular basis. However, your birthday is an annual reason to party and you shouldn’t feel guilty about planning a special event and indulging.

There’s no single solution for mental and emotional stress that works for everyone. Whether you’re adopting a pet, decluttering, or working from home more often, these unique tips can help you calm your mind and find peace within yourself.

Thank you to Lily Little of https://marriedwithdogs.com/ for providing this post.

Ash

Hello Friend,

I hope life has been treating you kindly lately.

I wish I could say my journey has been easy over the second half of October, but it’s been rough. As I keep saying to my friends, my sister, my counselor: “I’m okay, it has just been A LOT all at once.” I’m sure you’ve had moments like that in your life, too – maybe you are even in a situation like that now, where things just. keep. happening. over and over and over again one after another and yet another with barely a break to breathe and recenter.

When all you want is for things to pause for just a bit, just long enough to catch your breath, to rest, to recover. It sucks when it feels like the brakes have given out and we are frantically steering our way forward, trying to find the least dangerous and damaging way to slow to a stop. I’m trying to coast along right now, focusing on the good things I pass – the crisp autumn air, petting Gunny as he soaks up the sun, appealing to my inner child by wishing on the first star I see each night, and so on. These moments of happiness, of presence, of “in this moment, I am okay,” are serving as speed bumps, helping me slow down enough to figure out how to navigate the next curve in the path.

A little context on my personal path at the moment: my uncle passed from heart failure on October 16th but I didn’t receive the news until October 17th. My home’s electricity decided to add to the fun on October 19th. In doing repairs, we ended up with a full panel replacement, which also left us with a giant hole in the wall to be repaired separately and drywall dust throughout our entire downstairs. And I do mean EVERYWHERE. We are still working on cleaning it all up a week later. In looking at all the dust, I’ve been trying to think of the events of the past few weeks (uncle’s death, home repairs, my car bumper damaged in a hit and run, to name a few) as a sort of phoenix moment. If I can view these hard situations as the flames and ash arising from the death of the old me, maybe I can see this as a moment of rebirth, too. I can more easily see how I’m handling things better than the old me would have. I have been laughing more than crying. I can see how much I’ve grown in that this domino effect of bad news overlapping hasn’t shattered me. Sure, I’ve had plenty of moments of feeling overwhelmed, but they aren’t even lasting half the day and are rarely lasting more than an hour at a go – that’s a major improvement over past self. So if past self’s hardships led to me of today, who is coping far better than past me could even imagine, then I can see this as the moment when the phoenix dies and is reborn in flames. Sure, there’s a lot of ash to clean up (literally in the form of dust and metaphorically in terms of processing everything mentally and emotionally). And maybe cleaning doesn’t happen every day, maybe growth in this new version of me, after this current rebirth, is slow at first, but I’m still growing, still moving forward, still testing my wings over and over again. And maybe you can see your own hardships the same way, maybe you can see yourself as a phoenix, too.

When you have phoenix moments, too, moments of major change and shifting from an old you to the new, I hope you remember it is okay to mourn what used to be and what could have been as you settle in to what is. I hope you have support and comfort and people reminding you how much you are loved. I hope you have people reminding you to be gentle with yourself because change is hard and often painful. Most of all, I hope you know how strong you are and give yourself credit for how much you’ve grown and evolved from who you used to be.

Wishing you well today and always,

Katie

Pendulum Swing

Photo by lilartsy on Pexels.com

Dear Friend,

Hello again. I hope this finds you as well as possible. I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of “one step forward, two steps back” – kind of feels like that’s what my life has been over and over again this year. More realistically, I know I’ve made far more progress than I tend to give myself credit for making. I’m in a far different place than Katie of November 2020 would have imagined. I’m far more aware of my limits and where my boundaries stand – or maybe simply more quickly aware that they’ve been violated. It’s strange, somehow I feel a bit like I’m a teenager again, discovering who I am – but isn’t that something we do over and over again as we grow and change, anyway? Of course, it’s been many, many years since I was actually a teenager, but sometimes I still feel like I’m not the adult-ier adult I want to be, though I do have evidence to the contrary which I use to remind myself I can, in fact, handle the situation at hand, whatever it happens to be. I guess it’s more in the way I feel myself swinging between moods so quickly, if you know what I mean? To be fair, there’s been a LOT that’s happened over the past few months, on a personal level, so maybe swinging between moods so quickly makes sense. It’s exhausting, though, you know? I remember being excessively exhausted as a teenager, so maybe that’s why it feels so similar. I’m okay, just struggling a bit right now, and that’s okay, too. I’ve been working a lot on managing my stress and anxiety to try to be more resilient to the sudden shifts that keep happening.

If I’m honest, I think this particular post is mostly a way to remind myself that it’s okay to be struggling right now. I hope it helps remind you it’s okay to be in the struggle, or at the very least helps you feel seen in your own “one step forward, two steps back” dance, too. In my Handling Hard Emotions post, I talked about pitching a tent instead of building a house in the blue zone. I’ve been using that analogy a lot lately, and the affirmation “Keep moving forward” – but I’ve also been saying I feel like I’m in the blue zone, but the exit is nearby. Almost like I’m in a forest and I can see the clearing through the trees, but sometimes a new set of thornbushes block my way and I have to pause, rest for a bit, review the map, and find another way out. Last week, I spoke with my counselor about feeling like I had made it out of the woods, but like I was still walking the path beside them. I feel like the path turned back into the woods for a bit, and that’s okay. It’s frustrating, though, isn’t it? When we feel like we are back to good (or at least better) and then slip backwards again. I don’t know about you, but my initial reaction to backsliding is often self-recrimination. “Dang it, we are better than this. Stop backsliding. We should be able to handle this.” Does your inner critic say similar things? That sneaky “should” is something I’ve been working to avoid – looking at what IS not what I think it SHOULD be. I’ve been countering these thoughts with “Hey, it’s okay. It’s like a pendulum. Remember we thought about moving the base of the pendulum higher so we don’t swing as low? We’ve done that. Even if we did swing far lower, we know we’ll swing back to good, better, far better, too. It’s okay to be in the backswing right now, it happens, it’s normal.”

Healing isn’t linear – ha, I know we’ve seen that shared over and over and OVER again. But we WANT it to be linear, don’t we? It would be so much easier if we could move straight from Point A to Point B, but that’s not the way the journey goes, you know? It’s a long distance path, full of twists and turns, mountain tops and valleys, too. I’m trying to remind myself – and you, too! – it’s okay to pause and rest, to backtrack and take detours and sometimes stop and shake our fists at the sky and the map because we’d like to have a word or two with the cartographer. Because jeez, who thought this was the best path anyway? 😅

All jokes aside, wherever you are on the journey right now, I’m rooting for you. If you are lost in the woods, or deep in the valley’s shadows, I’ve been there, too. I know how hard it is to keep trusting the path will wind back toward nicely paved roads and clear skies and flowers as far as the eye can see. I’ll be there again in the valley and the woods from time to time, and that’s okay. Because I know – and I hope you know, too – that we’ll make it back out into the sun soon. Maybe not as soon as we hope, but soon enough anyway. We just have to keep moving forward, while also allowing ourselves the space and grace to truly rest.

Speaking of rest – have you been getting rest in ways other than sleep?

Check out:

Nine Types of Rest

Nine Types of Rest 2.0

The 7 Types of Rest That Every Person Needs

I know I often realize I’ve been neglecting several forms of rest when I’m feeling rundown, overwhelmed, and/or less resilient than I like to be. Worth checking out and seeing where you might need additional rest, yeah? I know I’m currently lacking in the nap, safe space, and spiritual rest at the very least, so I’ll be focusing on remedying those shortly. Naps are almost always a surefire way to recharge and recenter myself – what’s your go-to recharge method?

Until next time, my friend, I hope your map is leading you to a lovely meadow or mountaintop view soon, or at least a decent place to rest, and that you have comfort when you most need it. Rooting for you always!

Love,

Katie

Maintaining Mental Health When Under The Weather

Dear Friend,

Hello! I hope this entry finds you well. On a personal level, I recently dealt with a major asthma flare for over four weeks, flirting between my yellow and red zones even with following my action plan, which understandably made day-to-day living a little rough. I’m doing much better now and have stayed in my green zone most days for the last two weeks. In chatting with my counselor, she pointed out that I was doing a good job of managing my mental health and self care while dealing with the fatigue and pain from the ongoing asthma attack. I guess I found that a little surprising because…well, it’s just asthma? I’ve dealt with long attacks before and they suck, but they don’t usually impact my mental health much. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I definitely felt absolutely awful physically, but mentally I was just slightly frustrated at how long it took to get back to normal. That said, there are definitely tools I use to take care of myself when I’m feeling under the weather that I also use to manage my mental health, so that’s a fair point.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is to offer myself far, FAR more grace and care when I’m low on spoons or otherwise not at my best (asthma, migraine, high anxiety, etc.). How?

Firstly, I still make my “to do” list for the day, but I remind myself at the start and end of the day that if I don’t check off ANYTHING other than basic self care (take my meds, eat, hydrate, hygiene), that’s okay. If I’m doing the best I’m capable of doing at the time, well then I clearly can’t ask for more from myself. I remind myself not to worry about what I “should” be able to do, and instead I focus on what I’m ~actually~ able to do.

Secondly, I make sure I make a gratitude list. I like to set a timer for at least a minute and write out all the things I’m grateful to have in my life, which usually starts with “I had coffee today, I got to pet Gunny…” and grows from there. Every little thing counts!

Thirdly, I let myself rest when needed, which often shows up as napping more frequently or going to bed really early. When I’m run down, I know if I’m not getting quality rest, I’m more likely to slip in keeping my mental health stable. So sleep is a big priority. If I’m struggling with sleep (hello insomnia), then I focus on resting my eyes – I like using my frozen eye mask until it isn’t cold anymore. I turn on some soothing background noise, like waves or an ASMR video. I give myself time to simply be. This may look like meditating for 15-20 minutes or more, or it may look like just letting my mind drift to whatever comes up, taking notes on anything I need to deal with later and going back to drifting.

For my fellow Spoonies and mental health journey buddies, do you find it more difficult to keep up your mental health and self care practices when you are sick for a day or so? What about when you are sick for a week or more? Or when you are dealing with a long-term or chronic condition?

Regardless of what battles you are facing with physical or mental health, I wish you an easier journey ahead (as much as possible) and comfort when you most need it. Rooting for you always!

Love,

Katie

Handling Hard Emotions

Pitching a tent instead of building a house.

Dear Friend,

I hope you are doing well. I received some news that upset me recently, which provided me with the opportunity to review my current response versus how past me would have reacted.

In the past, when I found myself sad or deeply upset, I would often fall subject to “ugh, why does this always happen to me?” or “I’m so unlucky” types of thoughts. I’ve worked very hard over the past few years to at least identify when I’m having those thoughts – to observe them and counter them. Not easy, right? Necessary though, I think.

With the news that bummed me out a bit recently, I decided to allow myself a few days to grieve what could have been before facing what is. I think a lot of us have been faced with these moments of “I wanted things to be different but here we are” throughout the course of this pandemic. It’s hard, isn’t it? And that’s putting it excessively mildly, right?

I keep going back to this post I saw on Instagram months ago, where @yasminecheyenne was talking about healing/shadow work and how it’s important to remember you can’t live in that energy of processing trauma and inner healing 100% of the time – it’s important to come up for air, to take breaks, to pause and recenter and notice what’s happen here and now. To focus on what’s still good. To practice the self nurturing care that we need, especially while working through hard emotions.

Lately, my sister and I have had many discussions about how heavy things have been – on a personal and on a world news level – and we’ve both noted that it is so easy to become overwhelmed and to find ourselves spiraling and focusing solely on everything going wrong. We’ve actually been having weekly “What worked, what didn’t, what can we change moving forward” meetings every weekend for the majority of the pandemic, just as a way to force ourselves to pause, acknowledge what’s happening, how we are handling it, if there are any ways we can make things easier for ourselves, and also making sure to try to balance our “what didn’t work” list with an equal or higher amount of “what worked” – it has been very helpful for us to create those gratitude lists alongside the acknowledgement of everything else. It’s helped us pitch a tent in the bad moments instead of building a house and living solely in the negative.

It’s like this song, which comes to mind for me when things are especially hard:

I really like the tent vs. house analogy. Sure, it is easy to get stuck in the blue zone, even so deep in the blue zone that it looks black and inescapable. But if we look at our presence in those feelings as sitting in a tent, well then, sure, we still have a lot to carry with us – sometimes so heavy that we can only move forward by a fraction of a millimeter, moving so slowly forward that it can feel like we aren’t moving forward at all. But each increment of a millimeter forward is still forward. Looking at it as a tent instead of a house helps me remember that progress is progress is progress – and progress makes it easier to maintain hope.

I hope allowing yourself to camp in the blue zone when necessary gives you the space and safety to process the hard emotions while knowing you won’t be there forever. Regardless of where you are on the road out of the blue zone, I’m rooting for you.

With love,

Katie

Life Update & Spoon Replenishment

Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem from Pexels

Hello Dear Friend!

Thank you for your continued patience with me when it comes to updating this blog. It’s been a weird couple of months, but I feel like I’m growing through them. To catch you up, I did take a new job from April to June. I really enjoyed the quality assurance/editing portion of the new position, but the changing scope and deadlines quickly triggered memories and feelings from my previous job that left me feeling like the new job wasn’t the best fit. It didn’t help that the content to be reviewed was rather graphic (medical devices & their uses) – apparently I am far more squeamish than I previously thought, but hey – learned something new about myself, so that’s a win! Biggest takeaways are: editing the work of others is fun for me, offering quality assurance suggestions to ensure the best product delivery is fun for me, working on multimedia video edits is NOT fun for me, shifting deadlines and scope is NOT fun for me, medical content is NOT fun for me. All good things to know as I continue to try to figure out what I want to do next.

I’ve done some freelance writing through textbroker.com, some transcription work through Rev.com, and I’ve started sharing my creative writing on Vocal (check it out if you’d like!). I’ve also signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo this month. It has been really nice getting back to writing creatively. That’s another thing I’ve noticed over the past few months – when I’m not making time to be creative, my mood tanks much more quickly. I’m sure I’ve talked about spoon theory on here before, yeah? Anyway, I have a lot of self-care/mental health toolkit tasks I can do that are neutral in terms of spoon drain (neither add nor subtract – reading, watching a film, playing a game), I have some that subtract in the short-term but add in the long-term (cleaning, exercising, etc.), and I’ve noticed being creative (crochet, sketching, writing, etc.) is a good activity for actually replenishing spoons/helping with the ongoing deficit (time with friends, playing with my pup, and actually resting help replenish spoons, too). I was talking about it with my therapist (I rejoined BetterHelp in April) and discussed how spoon drain kind of works like credit card debt rather than washing spoons in the dishwasher. Every time I borrow spoons from future self to deal with various crises, I increase the deficit. I often feel like I’m at a constant small spoon drain – like carrying a small amount of debt from month to month – sometimes the drain is higher and sometimes it is low enough that when I am able to do activities that actually replenish spoons/leave me feeling energized afterward, I feel like I am actually making progress to someday being at “full spoons” again. So I’ve been trying to make creative activities a priority lately. There’s something really rewarding about seeing something you’ve created take shape and come together – maybe that’s today’s dinner, a dessert recipe you’re finally trying, finishing that shawl, responding to a writing prompt, coloring in a coloring book, whatever – there’s a joy in the creating and a joy in the finishing that I think is really beneficial.

I should probably get back to working on my daily word count for Camp NaNoWriMo now. I hope you take time this week, or as soon as you can anyway, to do something fun and creative for yourself. I hope you find time to play, to learn something new, to make low-risk mistakes (for example, working on art skills and turning to a new page or erasing and trying again), to do something that helps replenish your spoons. I know sometimes it can be hard to find enough spoons to even have the energy to do something that will actually help, and that’s okay, too. Please be gentle with and kind to yourself right now, friend. You deserve to be treated with kindness, especially from yourself. Wishing you ease and comfort on your journey and sending you so much love and supportive energy, always.

With love,

Katie

The marks we leave…

Dear friend,

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but sometimes the days blend together so quickly that I can hardly believe weeks, or even months, have actually passed while I’ve kept moving forward as best I can. I’ve been thinking a lot about my journey lately – how far I’ve come since this time last year, and the year prior – and how my journey might have changed if I had made different decisions during moments that are clearly pivotal in the rearview…

Read More »

Miracle Pill…

So this came through my email a few minutes ago thanks to Live Nation…I don’t even have this artist listed as a favorite, so why this came to me today, I don’t know. That said, it REALLY makes me angry when people judge others for using medication to manage mental health.

Dear Goo Goo Dolls,

Not cool. As someone who takes medication to manage suicidal ideation and panic attacks, this facetious “Are you sad? Take a pill.” commentary is not only offensive, but blatantly adds to the already overwhelming stigma other mental health warriors face. And given National Suicide Prevention Day just passed, I find this even more unsavory- how insensitive can one be? It makes light of the many struggles people face before they even muster up the courage to seek help. Do you know how long and hard I fought with myself before I chose to seek medical help over taking my own life? Do you know the hell I went through when my first medication failed and I had to taper off it entirely before I could even begin to try another one? Do you honestly think I wasn’t also in therapy, surrounded by concerned love ones, and still fighting with every breath not to give in to the overwhelming urge to end my life?

Do you know what it’s like to feel like the you that is “you” is no longer in control of your body? Do you know the overwhelming guilt and shame I felt, knowing I was hurting everyone around me? Do you know that the real issue isn’t that I was “being selfish” and “only thinking of my own pain”, but that I honestly believed I was such a burden to EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING GOOD IN MY LIFE, that the only thing I could do to make things right by those I love, would be to remove myself permanently? Do you know, can you even possibly imagine, how it feels to have that thought running through your head at full volume 24 hours a day for months on end? As the you that is “you” keeps trying to remind yourself that you aren’t a burden and people would be hurt if you left? Do you know how hard it is to convince yourself that you need to stay when everything in you is saying you should go? Do you know what it is like to be afraid to breathe too deeply because it isn’t “you” controlling your body and you are literally terrified that any small move you make will be the one that allows the depression to fully take over, to lift your body off the couch and head to the kitchen and…? Do you have any idea, any at all, how scary that is? How much it hurts? How much I still look back and wish I never had to face those thoughts? Do you know that I TRIED to heal myself without medication? Do you know it is simply one of the MANY tools in my mental health kit to keep myself sane and functioning as a member of my family, my friend circle, my job, and society in general? 

How DARE you belittle the struggle the goes in to even contemplating using medication. And how DARE you shame those who are willing to use ANY tool they can in their battles to KEEP. MOVING. FORWARD. To keep surviving. To keep choosing to stay. Shame on you.
So no, I won’t be buying your new music. Ever. And yeah, you probably don’t care. That’s fine. I got this off my chest. And if someday you see it and it makes you pause for just a moment, that makes this rant worth it.
With all due respect, I sincerely hope you grow up. 

Yours Sincerely,
Katie