by Melissa Riddle Chalos
It almost goes without saying, but knowing human nature, we’ll just say it anyway: How healthy you are physically won’t matter much if, mentally and emotionally, you’re on life support. So, while you’re resolving to hit the gym at least five days a week, completely give up carbs and/or drink more water than wine, you might consider your mental half — your mind over matter — and add these “New Year, New You” to-dos for a mentally healthier you.
Good Fences Make Good Everything
My grandpa used to say that good fences make good neighbors. And as a kid, I always thought “What the heck does that mean?!” But as an adult, I totally get it. In fact, it wasn’t until I understood how essential boundaries are to living a healthy, balanced life — thanks, in part to Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend’s book series — that I began to rediscover my sense of self in the chaos around me.
Boundaries — physical, emotional, mental and even spiritual — define, as Cloud and Townsend say, “who we are and who we are not.”1 Life is short. Saying “no” is not only necessary, but healthy. People who make you feel “less than” should get less and less of your time, energy and emotional bandwidth.
Meditation, Prayer, Silence and Deep Breathing
People who pray do so as a way to connect with their higher power. The act of prayer centers the mind and heart in the moment. The result is a sense of calm, awareness and place in the universe. Many people of prayer begin their day in this sacred space. Why? Because it sets the tone for the day.
Whether you’re religious or not, setting aside a specific place and time for silence, meditation and deep breathing can completely change the tone of your day. Anxiety, negative self-talk and other unhealthy feelings can be laid to rest in these moments. And over time, this posture of peace may become a constant companion.
Take a Technology Break
Your phone, the TV, your laptop or tablet — our entire world seems digitized, often untethering us from what matters most. Our social media lives, it seems, almost take precedence over real conversations and community. It’s why we check our iPhones 80 times a day (that’s a real stat from Apple) and why most of us feel so wired and brain tired.3
“Almost everything will work again, if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you,” writes author Anne Lamott. Powering off does such great things for mental health. It prioritizes creativity over consumption, self-esteem and self-awareness over constant comparison with others, contentment over the fear of missing out, and what’s real over what’s projected as real.
There are all kinds of ways to unplug. And all kinds of tools to help you do it. Start by unplugging at night to prep for and get better sleep. Then try other ways to reclaim more of your real life, unplugged.
It sounds rather simplistic to say, but here goes: Nothing is more important than carving out time, every day, to do something you love. You’ve got 30 minutes in your day somewhere. Claim it and let nothing else take it from you. Whether it’s a bike ride or arranging flowers or playing with the dog or watching the sun rise with your favorite cup of tea in hand — these times of self-care are healing in ways we can only begin to understand. And when we care for ourselves by doing things we love, we are empowered to do all the other things we’re obligated to do, without losing focus on what matters.
Give Gratitude Some Land Legs
Each and every day brings with it golden moments. The reason we miss them is because we’re not looking for them. Oprah put it this way: “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”4 Lip service is easy, but to make gratitude ever-present in our minds requires intention.
Give your gratitude some land legs (and your mental health muscles a workout) by surrounding yourself with reminders of what you’re thankful for. Write it down. Keep a journal. Take a picture and make it a screensaver. Stick Post-It note reminders on your mirror. Start with the big stuff (your home, friends, family, job, etc.), then aim smaller (the great conversation you just had with a friend, the glorious apple you just ate with a hint of peanut butter, the scratch on the sofa). The more you practice intentional gratitude, the more you’ll want to share it.
Reconnect With Mother Nature
Turns out, fresh air really IS good for you. No, seriously, getting some time outside is one of the best things we can do for our mental health every day. The influx of Vitamin D from sunlight not only boosts your mood, it also boosts creativity and productivity and, best of all, improves your sleep at night. Natural sunlight (even if only near a window while at work) helps with concentration, decreases anxiety and even lowers the stress hormone cortisol and blood pressure.5 Take your lunch outside. Walk in the park, where there are no signs or sounds demanding your attention. Relax in nature, instead of indoors. Find a quiet bench or spot under a tree to read a book. It may not sound like a big deal, but 15 minutes in nature can change your life.
Find Your Tribe
We are not rocks, and we are not islands, no matter what Simon and Garfunkel might have said. Loneliness is a killer. Relationships are crucial. Whatever your story, whoever you are, there’s a community of people who get you, who like what you like, who struggle with the same things you struggle with. I know what you’re thinking: That’s easier said than done. And yes, it certainly is. But once you find your people, you’ll never regret trying.
It starts by understanding yourself. You can’t find your community if you’re not honest about who you are. If you struggle with depression, bipolar disorder, loneliness and/or self-esteem issues, there are plenty of people who share that part of your story. There are support groups, activity/hobby groups, entrepreneurial groups, full of interesting people with stories like yours. Once you find a group you’re interested in, don’t just stand in the online corner, watching silently. Like posts, stay positive and get involved. It may be a little awkward at first — it is for everyone — but the relationships you’ll build will make life richer and more fun.
Be Your Own BFF
Even if you’re not one to keep a journal, get out a sheet of paper and a pen. Now, write a short list, off the top of your head, of the characteristics of a good and loyal friend. The very best kind of friend you can imagine. Go on, make a list: She is kind. She makes time for me. She tells the truth. She goes out of her way to help. She laughs a lot. She is understanding. She is encouraging. Once you’ve got your list, read it back to yourself.
This is what mindfulness looks like, being aware of emotional pain and wounds you carry with you. And in those moments, become your own best friend or advocate. One who can do more than acknowledge the hurt places. When negative self-talk begins or something emotionally upsetting happens, what would your BFF do? She’d step up, speak encouraging truth to you, reminding you of your worth. She’d take you out of that negative headspace with a healthy distraction. She’d be compassionate, understanding and kind. This friend is IN you. Let her speak.
1 Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1992.
2 Scott, Daniel. “Meditation for People Who Don’t Meditate: A 12-Step Guide.” MBG Mindfulness, January 3, 2014.
3 Stible, Jeff. “Why you’re addicted to your phone … and what to do about it.” USA Today, July 3, 2017.
4 Greathouse, John. “23 Leadership Tips from Oprah Winfrey.” Forbes, September 27, 2012.
5 Whitley, Amy. “7 Mental Health Benefits of Being Outside.” Rodale’s Organic Life, December 19, 2016.Share