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Do you sometimes feel like your life is one endless tightrope walk over a radioactive pond filled with giant sharks — one misstep, and you’re sunk? More people today face extraordinary pressures, often dealing with more strife than their parents and grandparents.
The pressure shows in poorer mental health outcomes. According to the United Nations, rates of anxiety and depression skyrocketed by 25% during the pandemic years alone. Rising inflation, worldwide unrest and lingering health concerns mean the problem hasn’t improved. Unfortunately, less than half of people with such disorders get the treatment they need.
Fortunately, there are self-care techniques you can use to manage your emotions as you navigate life’s challenging situations. Here are seven mental wellness tips for difficult times.
1. Learn to Breathe
Your breath is more than life — it can be a lifeline to sanity when you panic. Think about what happens physiologically when something elicits your stress response. Your heart rate and respiration increase, making your inhales and exhales rapid and shallow. Slow, deep breathing acts as a cue to tell your body you’re okay.
There are dozens of breathing techniques that you can use — experiment and discover which one works best for you. Pro-tip: practice these regularly when you feel calm so that they become a natural reflex when panic strikes.
Here are some variations you can explore:
- Boxed breathing: The Navy SEALs use this technique. Inhale for a 4-count, pause and hold for four, then exhale on a 4-count, pausing again as you empty your lungs.
- Alternate nostril breathing: This technique sounds like what it is. Pinch one side of your nose shut with your finger as you inhale and exhale deeply and smoothly with the other. Repeat on both sides.
- Diaphragmatic breathing: To use this technique, place your hands on your belly. Focus on expanding your chest and tummy as you inhale, then exhaling away all the stress as you hollow on the exhale.
2. Read Uplifting Books
Tons of people read to relax, but that all too often means scrolling social media these days. However, doing so can be unkind to your mental health. Why? It’s nearly impossible to sort the truth from exaggerations, and people can become toxic on such platforms, given the anonymity of the screen.
When it’s time to relax, unplug with a real book — or use a Kindle that downloads only books with no social media icons to distract you. Better yet, make it something uplifting. Perhaps you want to ease your mind by learning more about a topic that interests you or soothe your spirit with something inspiring, like the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series. You can also find self-help books full of sage advice.
3. Nurture Your Relationships
Humans have lost sight of the fact that they’re essentially tribal by nature amid modern society’s emphasis on rugged individualism and personal achievement. However, new research by UCLA professor Matthew Leiberman suggests that the need for social connectedness is as crucial as food and shelter to overall health and well-being.
When tough times strike, your friends can be your biggest support network. However, you must nurture those relationships — you can’t expect others to be there for you if you don’t reciprocate. That means saying yes to helping them pack and move, even if your back aches.
What if you don’t have many connections? While it’s more challenging to meet new friends as an adult, you can often do so through your favorite hobbies. For example, why not join a recreational basketball team if you can’t get enough of watching hoops?
If you’re in a relationship, prioritize your love — it’s one of the best mental wellness tips. Keep date night sacred and make it exciting — mix it up with some of these alphabet date ideas:
- A is for afternoon tea: Or archery if you’re more sporting.
- E is for exotic eats: Or an escape room that gets your adrenaline pumping.
- M is for musical: Or catch a meteor shower while camping in your backyard or visiting an observatory.
4. Improve Your Diet
Guess what? The foods you consume affect your mood. How? One mechanism is through your intestinal microbiota. These beneficial bacteria send messages to your brain, and a diet high in unhealthy fats and overly processed foods make them transmit “Uh-oh” signals. As a result, you develop the brain fog, lack of motivation, overall fatigue and blue mood characteristic of depression. In some, an unhealthy microbiome could trigger anxiety.
Certain nutrients also nourish your brain and promote healthy neurotransmitter levels. Try to get more of the following through your diet:
- Magnesium: This mineral is essential for healthy neural functioning. Some deficient patients recover from depression better with a supplement than a tricyclic medication.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These also nourish your mind and are found predominantly in fish, and incidents of depression are lower in regions where people regularly consume a diet heavy in seafood.
- Vitamin D: The “sunshine vitamin” is, in reality, a hormone. Researchers have found a connection between low levels and depression.
- Antioxidants: These protect your brain cells from oxidative stress. You find them in fruits and vegetables — the more colors and varieties you consume, the better.
5. Skip the Hard Stuff
When you feel anxious or depressed, you may reach for the bottle to self-medicate. Please refrain. Why? Alcohol affects several key neurotransmitters, including GABA, glutamate, dopamine and serotonin.
GABA is your brain’s natural Valium. Alcohol binds to the receptors and suppresses glutamate, its opposite number. Problems arise when your body tries to rebalance after a night of heavy drinking by increasing glutamate levels. This excitatory neurotransmitter lurks behind the dreaded “hangxiety.” Furthermore, frequent heavy drinking damages your GABA receptors, making it harder for you to relax without the sauce.
Furthermore, dopamine is your brain’s reward chemical. Alcohol spikes levels and binds to receptors, providing a temporary mood boost. However, prolonged heavy drinking also damages these receptors, meaning you may begin having trouble feeling good any other way. As a result, you drink more and more to recapture those positive feelings, leading to a substance-use disorder.
6. Move Your Body
Exercise is perhaps the best natural remedy for anxiety. That’s because it taps into the system nature designed to help you dispel excess stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol — fight or flight. A hearty 30-minute run or heavy-bag session creates a temporary spike followed by a refreshing drop that leaves you feeling relieved and smiling.
For maximum mental wellness, keep your workouts moderate and under an hour. Excessive exercise can increase, not decrease, cortisol levels.
7. Prioritize Self-Care
Self-care is not self-indulgence. According to the World Health Organization, it consists of those activities that promote and maintain health and prevent disease while helping you cope with existing conditions. It entails practices like:
- Caring for your oral and personal hygiene
- Eating wholesome meals
- Staying fit
- Practicing meditation
- Engaging in positive hobbies
- Getting enough sleep
The problem is too many people tend to everyone else’s demands before taking care of themselves. However, you can’t pour from an empty pitcher — you need to manage yourself before you can nurture others. Allow yourself at least 30 to 60 minutes each day to do soothing activities that encourage positive health and make you feel good.
Mental Wellness Tips for Difficult Times
People today face more pressure than previous generations. The results show in poorer mental health outcomes.
Implement the above mental wellness tips for difficult times into your daily routine. Practice them when you feel calm, and they’ll become second nature. You’ll have the tools you need to navigate life’s stormy seas.
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