If you’re not protecting your mental health right now, you’re either struggling or a superhero. Even before the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench in things, there was plenty to stress about.
Concerns about everything from dirty dishes to climate change can affect your mental health. Just remember you control your mental state. You may not be able to solve all of life’s challenges, but you can keep them from getting to you.
Therefore, safeguarding your mental health isn’t just about keeping your stress levels in check, either. For yourself and others, it’s critical for a healthy, productive life.
How to Protect your Mental Health
Protecting your mental health starts with a simple commitment to separate your internal state from what’s going on around you.
Here’s how to protect your mental health in tough times:
1. Talk it out
The first and most important step to protecting your mental health? Speaking up.
Opening up to friends and family about your mental health challenges isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it proves you’re strong enough to show others the not-so-perfect parts of your life.
Need an easy way to start the conversation? You could say:
- “I want to share something with you.”
- “I’ve been thinking about…”
- “Can we talk about…?”
- “I’ve been struggling with…”
Any one of these will allow an easy in to a conversation you need to have.
2. Shrink your screen time
Tempting as it is right now, spending hours each day on social media isn’t good for your mental health. At best, you’ll distract yourself from what matters; at worst, you’ll internalize all the bad news and anger online.
3. Avoid drugs and alcohol.
Drugs and alcohol makes anxiety worse, few hours after having a drink, it will stress you out. Cutting back will get you back to your normal self.
4. Don’t neglect your diet
Have you ever heard medical experts call your gut “your second brain”? The reason is that the gastrointestinal tract has more nerve endings than anywhere in the body apart from the brain.
Every bite you take affects those gut nerves. Nutritious foods — the fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean meats your mother likes to talk about — nurture it, while unhealthy ones upset it.
Cook meals at home whenever you can, and keep an eye on your snack intake. Even if you’re eating salmon and broccoli for dinner, binging on processed snacks at night could be messing with your mental health.
5. Stay active
Your physical and mental health are more connected than you might realize. Regular exercise can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety as effectively, in some cases, as medication.
Which type of exercise is best for mental health? Opt for cardio, but realize that anything is better than nothing. Whether you like to swim, run, row, or lift, get some fresh blood to your brain.
6. Give yourself a break
Although perseverance is admirable, you have to cut yourself some slack when times get tough. Taking breaks is critical if you want to keep going for the long term.
How should you spend your breaks? Do something that rejuvenates you, such as:
- Reading a book
- Calling up a friend
- Taking a bath or shower
- Taking a nap
- Going for a walk
7. Get outdoors
Speaking of going for a walk, there’s no better way to get some headspace than to get outside. There’s just something about the smell of fresh air and the feeling of sun on your skin that melts stress.
Pair this tactic with others in this list. For outdoor exercise, you could go for a run around the neighborhood. Leave your phone inside, or stow it in your pocket while you’re enjoying time outside.
Although the outdoors can be a great break from work, it’s also a great place to work remotely. Most managers won’t mind you knocking out proposals from a picnic table.
8. Lose yourself in a hobby
Sometimes, an hour in the sun isn’t enough to take your mind off what’s bothering you. In that case, try diving into your favorite hobby.
Practicing a hobby helps you get into a “flow” state, which is when you’re so focused on what you’re doing that you lose track of the world around you. That mental break can be just what you need to get some perspective.
As with exercise, what the hobby isn’t as important as your ability to stick with it. If you don’t have much time or money to spend, good options include:
9. Ask for help
In rare cases, you might not be able to protect your mental health alone. If you’re feeling outgunned, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional. Although they mean well, your family and friends simply can’t provide the level of support a mental health expert can.
Whatever you’re going through, remember: Your mental health matters. Whether you’re weathering a pandemic or just trying to organize your day, protecting your mental health is imperative in order to stay productive and happy. Make time for yourself and do what you have to in order to conquer stress.