How to Improve Your Mental Health in Times of Crisis
COVID-19 and fear are taking its toll. Take your life back.
It’s amazing how much time can go by when we doubt, fear and hesitate to make decisions. What starts as a one or two day struggle can quickly balloon to weeks and even months. We may need an awakening — some change agent that provides a spark to get us going. It’s a wise idea to shift course and try something new. This is how we grow.
Let’s face it, COVID-19 is taking its toll on our mental and emotional health. I’ve found myself playing the “What if” game a bit too much about future plans. This is common and to do so is human. To some extent, we all fear the unknown and we can all get concerned about what’s coming up next in our lives.
The difference between those who live with greater mental health and clear mind and those who struggle with clarity is the conscious choice to focus energy on the moment and immerse yourself in the things that matter most to you. When we stop living for today and for the causes, things and people that we love and inspire us, we wander and drift toward worry about the future.
You’ve probably gone through some tough times of late. Finding myself in the midst of one, I felt compelled to better understand why I got here. And better yet, what to do about it. I turn to research, empirical evidence and making sense of my own experiences during these times.
I also find it’s better to talk things out and think big picture about the life we truly want. Not what we fear or what we think we want. We can power forward through these tough times with the advantage of lessons learned and personal growth. Here’s how:
Movement Creates Magic
We should never underestimate the importance of physical exercise. This includes cardiovascular exercise, weight lifting, and any methods we can take to increase our heart rate, improve our muscular strength and push ourselves to new physical limits. This helps us increase our energy, which is vitally important for living a more focused, successful life.
Dr. Scott McGinnis, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School found the following:
“Regular exercise associated with a reduced risk of depression and anxiety… it slows cognitive decline and may reduce the risk of dementia. “There is good evidence that exercise behaves like medicine to improve brain health and thinking skills.”
Similarly, it’s so important, even when we’re mostly stuck at home, to still find time to get outside and get some fresh air. Clarity comes from self-reflection or simple relaxation. I always find this time in nature. This serves as mental cleansing and re-calibration of our thoughts and desires.
One way to grow in this area is simply by spending some time outside in nature, particularly in solitude. Take this thought from a study by Stanford University professor, Gregory N. Bratman: “In a study, led by Bratman, time in nature was found to have a positive effect on mood and aspects of cognitive function, including working memory, as well as a dampening effect on anxiety.” Source: Stanford University
Create New Rhythm
I’ll start out this lesson with a curve ball — sake for the sake of change is pointless. When you have a routine or way of doing things that works, there’s no need to change. But in times of uncertainty like these, you have to seek out answers. You have to explore new opportunities and processes that will inspire you.
You have to change.
Many of you follow a daily routine, whether you know it or not. You get up at a set time. Brush your teeth, walk the dog, make your breakfast, etc. Then you’re out the door. Do you have a game plan? Do you take the time to ask yourself whether your routine is actually working? It may not be. And you may need this rut or down time to help you make sense of that.
Your productivity will increase exponentially when you become more focused around root causes for why you’re not succeeding. Once you know the basis for why you do what you do — and why you’re not living the life you want — the picture will become clearer for how to begin to build a new routine that will yield results. Don’t let your routine consume you. Be willing to change when you know there’s something deeper and bolder out there.
Another way to mix things up is to talk about our issues, feelings and emotions with someone we trust. In my life, those people have been my wife, my mother, brothers and father. I’ve been blessed to have a great support system of family. For you, it could be those people, but it could also be a friend or trusted adviser in academia or the workplace.
Get on Zoom, pick up the phone and make it happen!
There’s immense therapeutic value and growth waiting for us when we open up about our problems. We’re interdependent creatures meant to share our experiences and situations with others. Not only will we grow, but in the process we can help others grow. Don’t internalize your situation at the risk of your mental well-being. That’s not smart or tough. It’s foolish.
Think about what matters most to you — energize and inspire your mind to think more passionately and creatively. Don’t get bogged down by a daily routine or way of doing things that is no longer working. Think about solutions. This will improve your mental health.
Truly practice deep thinking that’s focused on solving problems. You’ll find your answers a lot sooner.