Here are some simple and intentional steps you can take to help you ground, relax, regulate, and cope, when your wellbeing and mental health needs a boost. Experiment to find out what works best for you, and keep these tips in your “self-care” tool kit for when you need them the most.
- Pause. Take a deep breath. Notice your suffering/stress/difficulty in the moment, and acknowledge your experience, rather than pushing it away. It might help to label the emotion (e.g. “this is sadness, grief, anger, anxiety”), or simply say to yourself, “I’m having a hard time right now.”
Researchers at UCLA found that simply naming an uncomfortable emotion improved people's ability to calm down, and even decreased activity in the amygdala (the part of the brain that's responsible for detecting threats and fear).
- Say something kind to yourself. What would you say to a loved one if they were in the same situation as you right now? Say those same words to yourself. For example, “I’m here for you.” Or, “I care deeply about you.” What do you need (or long) to hear? Try saying those same words to yourself right now.
- Remember you aren’t alone in your suffering. Other people suffer too. Feeling connected to others through our difficult experiences, rather than isolated, can sometimes make all the difference. Even though other people’s personal stories may be different than yours, there are still people who have similar experiences of suffering. This is what Dr. Kristin Neff calls “Common Humanity”.
- Try putting a hand over your heart and taking a deep breath. This is a physical gesture that you’re here for yourself. Take that in.
- Self-Compassion may seem simple, but it can be incredibly powerful for increasing your happiness and resilience! One study showed that when college students practiced basic self-compassion for only 3 weeks (using the practices above as a rough guideline), that their wellbeing, self-efficacy, and life satisfaction increased significantly, while ruminating on troubling thoughts, as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression, decreased.
2. Mindfulness. Have you ever noticed how fast you mind races when you’re stressed or anxious? Mindfulness helps us to get into our bodies and ground in the present moment, rather than worrying about what happened in the past or might happen in the future. It also helps us to appreciate our surroundings and experiences, rather than racing from one thing to the next. Here are a few tips to practice:
- Use your senses to ground and bring you into the present moment.
- What do you See? Hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?
- Take a moment to feel your feet on the ground. Notice their weight and sensation. Without judging your experience, notice how your body feels when it's sitting on a chair, standing, or walking. Notice the coming and going of those sensations, without clinging or holding onto them.
- Take a deep breath – feel the air as it passes through your nose and into your lungs. Then feel the warmth of your out-breath. Be with the simple sensations of breathing for a few minutes, or even just a couple of breaths. When you notice your mind wander, you can gently guide yourself back to the sensations breathing.
- What are 5 things you’re grateful for? These can be simple. (E.g. warm water, fresh air, friends or family, your hot coffee this morning...) See if you can get specific.
- Share some of these things with a friend or loved one. Ask them to share their ‘gratitudes’ with you. Notice how you both feel after this.
- Remember that things don't need to be perfect in order to be good! Gratitude for the simple things in life can help us to gain a little perspective for when we feel like we're in over our heads.
4. Exercise. Getting your body moving can be as powerful as taking an anti-depressant. Although people have been talking about this in the public for years, psychology researchers are now saying that aerobic exercise is an evidence-based treatment for depression. Even a quick walk in nature, trip to the gym, or bike ride can begin to boost your endorphins and dopamine levels.
5. Reach out. As Brene Brown says, “shame thrives in secrecy.” Unfortunately there can still be a lot of shame attached to mental health issues, even though we know this is something that affects so many of us. Know that you aren't alone, nor do you need to go through this alone.
- Share with a friend or a trusted family member how you’re feeling. You can even let them know that you don’t want advice, but just to share and have someone listen.
- Seek out counselling. Getting professional support from a trained, caring, mental health counsellor can make all the difference in gaining perspective, coping with a loss or challenge, or helping you to thrive at your best.