Staying Sane in Uncharted Territory Pt. 3: It's time to take a breather

Staying Sane in Uncharted Territory Pt. 3: It's time to take a breather

So. It’s been well over half a year since the world was locked down, both literally and figuratively. Some businesses have opened up while others may never open again, and “normality” is still off mucking about somewhere beyond the sunset. Maybe you’re keeping an eye on the news and it feels like the world is imploding and maybe you’re thinking gosh, this new reality is just too much to handle sometimes.

The world is in a state of disarray, and our minds are too (at the very least, I know mine is). So what can we do about it?

Mental health is too little discussed, and when it is, it’s often portrayed in a negative light – but it shouldn’t be! Mental health is incredibly important, and just like you take care of yourself physically, whether it’s getting a check-up at the doctors, going for a walk, or forcing down that last bit of steamed broccoli, you should take care of your mental health, too.

If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve come up with some ideas that you can use as inspiration to help you decompress and take a step back from the chaos.

Decompress At Work

  • Some of these may be easier said than done, but if these options are available to you….
    • Schedule time to get up and move around or go on a short walk. Whether you’re working at work or working from home, this can be during lunch, a bathroom break, or just a set time throughout your work day. The goal here is intentional movement – plenty of studies suggest that just the act of moving away from your desk can help combat lethargy and improve your mood, and sitting at your desk all day is good for no one. If you’re not sure that you’ll remember to take a break, try the pomodoro method! I used this method myself when studying in school, but essentially it’s working on a dedicated task for 25 minutes or so, then taking a short break. After doing this a few times, you get to take a longer break! It’s like rewarding yourself for doing what you need to do, but without taking extra time, money, or effort. There are a variety of apps and websites that can help keep track of your breaks for you, and I can attest from personal experience that it can be highly effective!
    • Take time off. Maybe you’ve been working non-stop, and you’re feeling burnt out and overwhelmed – this might be a good time to take some time off. You don’t necessarily have to go away anywhere, or even take a whole day off! – but give yourself a break from the work environment for just a little while.
    • Request a remote work day. If you’ve been back in the building working for a while, then working remotely might be a chance for you to escape from the chaos and still get some stuff done from the comfort of your home (and possibly pajamas).
    • Prioritize work tasks. Oftentimes, we find ourselves juggling to complete multiple tasks that are all screaming to be done first and we get overwhelmed and eventually don’t get anything done at all. Or, if we do, it’s in the most inefficient way possible. If this sounds like you, take a step back and make a list of everything you know you have to get done that day or that week. Then, prioritize those things. However you need to do it (numbering them works best for me!), decide which one needs to get done first and then only work on that one. Focusing your work day like this will help you make the most of your time, and you’re more likely to be able to check off a completed task at the end of the day! (Sounds like the pomodoro method, doesn’t it?) And really, who doesn’t love checking off stuff from a list?

Stepping Back At Home

Technology & media
  • Take a break from information. Do you find yourself constantly checking the news or social media? Is the constant negativity and bad news stressing you out and making you overwhelmed? Step back from it! Instead of checking your phone or computer throughout the day, schedule a time in the morning and evening (or whatever time works for you) to see what’s happening in the world and life, and then set it aside to do something more enjoyable.
  • Take a hard look at your social media. Social media in particular can be pretty bad about concentrating the negative stuff in one big “in-your-face” space. If it’s becoming overwhelming, you have the ability to change its impact on your day. Whether that means filtering your social media feeds to cut down on it (by hiding or un-following people and pages that don’t make you feel good), taking a break from it (could be as simple as deleting the apps from your phone for a while, or deactivating your account for something a little more long-lasting), or even going out of your way to intentionally follow positive content (I KNOW there are countless pages and accounts out there devoted to sharing pictures of cute kittens and fluffy ducks), these are just a few simple steps you can take to weed out the negative and bring in the positive.

Mindfulness might be one of those buzz words you hear and you think, oh no, not this hippy crap again! But wait – don’t write it off just yet! Mindfulness is about just focusing on the present moment, and it can take place in many different forms. Like most things in life, it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.

  • Meditation is one of the most common ways to practice mindfulness. It doesn’t have to be chanting and humming and monk-level meditation to be effective, either. There are so many different kinds of meditations available to you, and you can make it as short or as long as you feel like. If you’re not quite sold on the idea of meditation, consider this: meditation has strong correlations to improving sleep, reducing depression and anxiety disorders, and helping cope with chronic pain. I use the app Headspace for short, guided meditation sessions, but there are plenty of free apps and videos online to help get you started as well.
  • Yoga is another form of practicing mindfulness; having a yoga practice not only helps you improve your mindfulness, but it has the added bonus of being an excellent form of exercise!
  • Setting intentions for the day is another simple way to practice mindfulness. It’s a way to keep your mind and day on track, clearing away any mental clutter and helping you assess how you’re doing in the moment. Setting intentions is different than setting goals in that an intention doesn’t have a specific outcome attached to it, so there’s no pressure if you don’t get something done, but it can go a long way toward reflecting on things that are important to you, and making sure you exert energy in positive areas in your life.
  • Gratitude logs are one other thing to help with mindfulness. Once a day, you can sit down and reflect on one thing you were grateful for. Or, if you like journaling, you can make a page or paragraph about what you were grateful for that day, and keep a log of it to look back on. These can be handy when you feel like you’ve had a rotten week, and you’re worn down and tired – you can look back and say to yourself, see! There are good things that happen. (For me, my entries often say something along the lines of being grateful for people that use turn signals, and more recently, people who wear masks.)
  • Reach out to friends and family. There are so many people around you who care about you and who want to be there for you – reach out to them! Drop them a line to say hello, have a virtual hangout with them, or go visit someone. Likely they’re also feeling overwhelmed, and there’s nothing better than seeing a friendly face to make things better.
  • Try professional therapy or counseling. Sometimes things are just really tough – to think about, to talk about, to do about. And that’s where professional help comes in. While stigmatized in the past, therapy and counseling are incredibly useful for helping you get through difficult times, whether you need guidance dealing with certain issues, or some advice on how to cope with extreme stress and anxiety. I strongly believe that everyone, whether they think they have problems or not, should try therapy at least once in their life.
  • Join a support group. If your friends and family aren’t available, and therapy isn’t an option for you right now, consider joining a support group. They are usually free, and can be in person or online (although right now, online is probably the better option). A support group lets you talk about your concerns and anxieties in a safe space with others who have experienced the same thing as you, and just having someone there who knows what you’re going through can be incredibly comforting in times of stress.
  • Make some space for yourself. People can be great and wonderful, but they can also be demanding and overwhelming. Sometimes all you need to do is step back and say, “I need alone time right now.” And that’s okay. It’s also okay to tell people “no” if they ask something of you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself first.
  • Physically step away from the chaos. Go for a walk, hike, bike ride, whatever suits your fancy. Heck, go for a drive by yourself and enjoy the sights and solitude! It doesn’t have to be complicated. You can sit outside and read a book, or take a nap. (Of course, now that it’s getting chillier, it might be more optimal to do warmer activities, like go for a drive or have a bonfire.)
Treat Yourself Days

Self-care is making time for yourself intentionally, and that can appear in many ways. Sometimes it can be a one-off activity or you can make it into a routine. Enjoy this simple (but not comprehensive) list of ideas that you can pick from to treat yo’ self.

  • – Spa day (either visit the spa or try a face mask and bubble bath at home!)
  • – Movie night / marathon
  • – Make a nice dinner for yourself
  • – Make fun drinks (cocktails, fancy hot chocolates, smoothies, etc.)
  • – Play (video) games for an hour or two, either by yourself or with friends!
  • – Do something you haven’t done in a while (read a book, craft, nap, etc.)
  • – Cuddle up with your pet
  • – Set a skincare routine for the morning and evening
  • – Do any of the (far) above suggestions!

Well, that’s all I got for now, folks! I hope you find these suggestions helpful, and I hope you can take some of these ideas and implement them in your own lives. At the very least, the act of doing something “normal” may help you feel grounded and less overwhelmed, and that goes a long way in itself. Just remember that your mental health is important, and taking care of it is as important as taking care of yourself physically.

It’s time to take a break and breathe. You’ve earned it.

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